23, of North Kingstown, R.I.; assigned to the 64th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas; killed June 27 by small-arms fire when his convoy was attacked in Baghdad.
On 16 August 2015, I met with the family of fallen Maine hero – 2LT Matthew S. Coutu at the Run for the Fallen in Brunswick, Maine and the old Naval Air Station.
Matt’s father, Mike, his stepmom, Joanne and brother, Andrew had travelled from Rye Beach, NH to join in this final RFTF event to honor and sustain the memory of their loved one, and all the fallen heroes from Maine.
I had agreed with the family ahead of time that they would meet me at the RFTF to donate a TSP tribute stone for Matt. I was very much looking forward to learning more about his heroism, his character and his service to this great nation.
We spent some time together under the shade of a big white tent and I listened to Mike, a former Marine himself, talk about the predisposition of his son – to gravitate to all thing military. As a boy Matt relived gunfights, and fought battles pretending he was a soldier and imagining he was the action figure inside his incredible imagination. He had an affinity for the toughest of assignments and the most elite combat warriors – the famous Navy SEALS. He loved the Charlie Sheen movie from the 80’s and wanted to find his own adventures, testing himself to the limit.
Matt had already met and exceeded so many of his own limitations and proven his ability to lead others as the captain of the wrestling, football AND track teams as a high school student athlete. When he reached his senior year he knew for sure his calling was to serve in uniform and lead his troops in combat. He wanted to serve others, lead others and nothing was going to stop him. Perhaps his hardest decision was deciding between the two schools that made his final cut – Norwich and the University of Maine in Orono.
Thanks to his choice to attend UMO, we can honor a Maine hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice and keep his memory alive. And Matt is certainly a hero we want to remember and whose service and sense of duty is something that continues to inspire others all the time.
Matt excelled in the UMO ROTC program and was in the Ranger program there. Upon graduation he selected Military Police and became an MP Officer. While he was a dedicated leader, he also had a sarcastic and healthy sense of humor. He led with conviction and sense of purpose, focus passion and commitment.
Matt’s dad recounted a great story when Matt was training in Fort Benning Georgia and during a routine parachute jump his deployed parachute became tangled with another jumper. Matt assessed the situation, saw what needed to happen, and remaining calm, cool, and collected; he untangled the chute, saved his comrade and himself, both of them averting a potentially very dangerous situation.
Matt was awarded for his leadership skills and ability to inspire others. To this day there is a leadership award in his name that is bestowed on young Army officers who are HONOR graduates from their training programs and Matt himself received an award for leadership named after George Marshall.
There is one more story that struck me during our time together on a Sunday afternoon, clear skies, no enemy and in a free country far, far away from any hostility.
During one of his deployments, Matt recognized that his troops did not have adequate protection from small arms fire because the flak jackets they wore were insufficient for the threat. 2LT Matt Coutu, demonstrating that his troops were vulnerable and taking initiative, blazing his own path, he spent his own money to equip his men with the proper protection they needed. He didn’t take this action for personal praise or for some honor, he wanted to keep his men alive and accomplish the greater mission that was before them.
In summary, Matt Coutu was dedicated, focused and a driven leader. He took his OWN path, would not take no for an answer and as an athletic and smart leader, he inspired his team to accomplish that which they thought was impossible to achieve.
I was able to see the pride that his Dad and Stepmom had for him, and most of all, I could see in the eyes of his brother, Andrew, a young man who had been strongly influenced by the example of this brother. Matt’s legacy must be shared with others.
Through the work of The Summit Project, we hope to do exactly that but inviting volunteers to carry the stone and the story of 2LT Matt Coutu all across Maine and all across the world. The stone that uniquely represents Matt was retrieved on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in early August 2015, when Andrew and Matt’s other brother, Derek, spent two nights on the river, paying tribute to their brother and paddling 32 miles through Maine and enjoying the freedoms and security that was guaranteed by heroes like their brother.
Maine Heroes are NOT Forgotten.
Matt attended the University of Maine, Orono where he was a Dean’s List student all four years and a member of the University’s ROTC program. “Matt was an exceptional young man,” Capt. Jeffery Weston said. “It’s easy at times like this to toss around all sorts of superlatives but Matt was head and shoulders above his peers. He was one of those guys who was larger than life; he just stuck out. He was a natural leader who inspired confidence and served as a mentor to the younger cadets.”
A distinguished military graduate, Coutu received the George C. Marshall Award, which is given to the top cadet at each university. He was ranked in the top 6 percentile of all ROTC cadets nationally. Matt was a history major and graduated with a 3.4 grade point average, Weston said. University of Maine President Robert Kennedy said the community was saddened to learn of Coutu’s death. “He was an outstanding member of the UMaine community and we will honor and always remember his selfless service to our country.”
Matt graduated from high school in Illinois where he was captain of the football, wrestling and track team at Lake Forest High before graduating in 2000, said principal Jay Hoffman. “He was a great guy, both in the classroom and outside. He was kind of man’s man, all-around great guy in all avenues,” said Hoffman.
Following his graduation from UMaine and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army, Matt attended the Military Police Officer Basic Course in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri. Upon completion of the course, he was assigned to the 64th Military Police Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas. Matt and his unit transferred to FOB Rustemiyah, Baghdad in February, 2005. On Monday morning June 27, 2005, Matt together with a squad from his platoon in the 64th MP Company, were en route to the Al Ademyiah Iraqi Police Station in east Baghdad when they came upon a vehicle which apparently hit an IED and engulfed in flames. While directing his men to secure the area, he was killed by sniper fire.
The day following his death, Lt. Colonel Robert Taradash, Commander of the 720th MP battalion in Baghdad called Michael Coutu, Matt’s father, saying how hard his death was being felt by his fellow troops adding “Matthew was perhaps my best platoon leader — someone who earned the admiration and respect of his fellow officers and the men who served under him. His loss will be grieved no less than that of a brother, parent, spouse or dear friend. He was an exemplary role model to all in this (Army) family.” At a memorial service held in Baghdad, Captain Meeks, Matt’s company commander, said “He loved the Army, the Guardians, and his Soldiers. He reminded us every day that he was committed to being the best and that he took care of the Wolfpack. His dogged will to succeed inspired leaders at every level. He maintained the same intensity day in and day out of this deployment, he did not waver one bit. While doing so he paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. For that, I am humbled and honored to have known and served with him.”
Among his awards and medals, Matt posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. With its inaugural dedication on February 6, 2006, the 2nd Lieutenant Matthew S. Coutu Distinguished Honor Graduate Award is given to the top graduate of each Military Police Officer Basic Course class. In the memorial dedication speech, Colonel Taradash described Matt as a “young man who loved to lead Soldiers; lived by the Warrior Creed and Army Values; loved and lived his life without hesitation; and epitomized heroism. From the moment that I met him, I recognized that Matt led his Soldiers from the front and put every ounce of his being into leading his Soldiers.”
Matt made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we often take for granted. Matt is a hero but not because he fought for our country and died in battle. He fought and died because he was a hero. He was a young man who lived his life with honor and high purpose. He was much loved and will be greatly missed by all whose life he touched.
UMaine ROTC graduate killed in Iraq
ORONO, Maine – A 2004 University of Maine graduate who was the cadet commander of the Army ROTC battalion in his senior year has been killed in Iraq. Second Lt. Matthew Coutu, 23, of North Kingstown, R.I., was killed Monday in Baghdad when enemy forces engaged his convoy with small arms fire, the Defense Department said Wednesday. Coutu, who was assigned to a military police unit, was remembered by a member of the university’s Military Science Department as a natural leader who inspired confidence and served as a mentor to the younger cadets.
“Matt was an exceptional young man,” Capt. Jeffrey Weston said. “It’s easy at times like this to toss around all sorts of superlatives, but Matt was head and shoulders above his peers. He was one of those guys who was larger than life, and he just stuck out.”
A distinguished military graduate, Coutu received the George C. Marshall Award, which is given to the top cadet at each university. He was a history major and graduated with a 3.4 grade point average, Weston said. UMaine President Robert Kennedy said the community was saddened to learn of Coutu’s death. “He was an outstanding member of the UMaine community, and we will honor and always remember his selfless service to our country,” he said.
Coutu graduated from high school in Illinois, where he was the captain of the football, wrestling and track teams at Lake Forest High School before graduating in 2000, said principal Jay Hoffmann. “He was a great guy, both in the classroom and outside,” said Hoffmann. “He was kind of a man’s man, an all-around great guy in all avenues.”
Hoffmann said a group of about 20 of Coutu’s classmates gathered Tuesday night and called his mother who confirmed that he had been killed. Coutu’s older brother, Derek, graduated from Lake Forest High School in 1998, he said.
Coutu is survived by his mother, Donna, who lives in North Kingstown, and his father, Michael, of North Hampton, N.H.
Michael Coutu told The Boston Globe that he is taking some comfort in the realization that his son was so well regarded. He said he even took notes as his son’s battalion commander, an Army colonel, told him how hard his son’s death was hitting his fellow troops.
“Matthew was his best platoon leader … someone who earned the admiration and respect of his fellow officers and the men who served under him,” Michasel Coutu said, reading from the notes. His “loss will be grieved no less than that of a brother, parent, spouse or friend.”
Matt is survived by his mother Donna who lives in Rhode Island, his father, Michael, of New Hampshire and two brothers Derek and Andrew.
On July 7, 2005, Mr. Michael Coutu shared these words at his son’s funeral —
We are here this morning to pay tribute to my son, Matthew. We mourn his death and we honor his life. As family and friends, we give comfort to one another at a time of overwhelming grief and sadness. There is no greater sacrifice than to give one’s life for his country but no platitudes or words can ever soften the loss of a child, the greatest loss a parent can endure.
As a combat Marine in Vietnam, I was perhaps more aware than most of the perils of war. Yet it did not prepare me for the visit from two Army officers ten days ago. With the words “Matthew was killed by enemy fire,” my mind deadened; all sound became muffled but for the heavy pounding of my heart. As the men in uniform carried out their unenviable duty, a flurry of thoughts abounded – – how did he die, was there a chance that his life could have been saved, did he suffer, did he have time to make peace with God, when will he come home? The Army has since given the answers they could but the most important questions rest with God.
Matt’s last note came in an email four days before he was killed. I have reread his final words many times. With each reading, I could hear his voice almost as if he were reading it to me. It was my way to somehow reach out to Matt, to share a final moment, to say a final goodbye. He spoke of two of his men getting wounded; it was the first occurrence of casualties within his unit since he left for Baghdad on February 9th. I wrote back to Matt on Sunday midday, my last note to him. I will never know whether he had the chance to read it on what was to be his final night. I can only hope that he did for it was my last opportunity to tell him that I loved him.
Matt was 23 years old, no longer a boy but barely a man. He had just completed college at the University of Maine, a time when life and life’s opportunities truly take wing. Matt had chosen a different path than the majority of his fellow students. While attending the University, he joined the Army ROTC and became a member of its Black Bear Battalion to fulfill a lifelong desire to serve in the armed forces. Consistent with his strong desire to be the best, Matt pursued and achieved excellence as both a student and a cadet. He was a Dean’s List student throughout his four years in college and was selected the top ROTC cadet of his unit’s class three years in a row. In his senior year, he was named the recipient of the George C. Marshall Award, the ROTC’s highest honor. On May 8th of last year, Donna and I were very proud not only to see our son graduate with honors, but also to have the honor of pinning him with the bars of a Second Lieutenant at his commissioning as an officer in the US Army.
Despite his achievements, Matt stayed away from the limelight. He was introverted, and at times even painfully shy. While he never sought attention, he was well respected by his fellow students and athletes for his commitment, drive, fortitude and focus. He was always serious about his goals whether it was weight lifting, staying in shape for sports, academics, his leadership role within ROTC or his career aspirations. But Matt’s goals were not merely short-term. He did not see the armed forces as a career but rather as the beginning of a lifetime of public service. His ultimate ambition was to become either a Secret Service or FBI agent once his four-year military commitment was completed.
Matt had many admirable qualities. As I collected my thoughts for this morning, two events among many came to mind that testify to the kind of person he was. In his senior year of high school, he was having an outstanding season as the leading rusher on Lake Forest’s football team. Unfortunately, during a mid-season game, Matt fractured two ribs yet; he continued to play the entire game saying nothing until after the final whistle. The injury forced him to the sidelines for the remainder of his final season. Nevertheless, he not only attended every game, he attended every practice as well, supporting his teammates and perhaps providing a measure of inspiration.
After the football season ended, the wrestling coach was having a difficult time fielding a full complement in each of the weight classes. The coach asked Matt to join the team. He was initially reluctant, in part, because he had never wrestled before and, in part, because his recovery was still fresh particularly for a sport as physically demanding as wrestling. But true to Matt’s commitment to school and team, he joined. On the basis of his won/lost record, it did not prove to be a memorable season. What was memorable was that he never missed a practice and finished out the season.
Won/lost records are not the only measure of success; courage, commitment and dedication are more important. Those qualities define a person. It is not in the best of times but rather in the worst of times that the true measure of a man becomes evident. Matt showed me that he had great character. It was evident to others as well. The qualities which defined Matt were in large part the basis for his selection as team captain in football, wrestling and track.
Matt was unwavering in pursuing the goals he felt important. If there is one worry which I have felt about Matt over the course of his brief life, it was that he took life too seriously. Matt never had that casual, fun loving, sometimes wild and carefree attitude that we adults often attribute to the young. He approached life with a maturity beyond his years. And he was frugal beyond belief. Like his older brother Derek, he received a spending allowance while in college to cover everyday expenses. But unlike Derek who made good use of the money and then some, Matt saved virtually every dollar. To the often-asked question of what he would like for Christmas or his birthday, his response was always the same, “I have everything I need.” What I wanted most for Matt was to see someone who was truly enjoying life and to be happy. What Matt wanted most was to accomplish his goals in an exemplary manner. He certainly did that and I believe this was what made him feel most happy.
As a newly-commissioned officer, Matt worried incessantly about the men under his command, members of the “Guardians,” the 64th Military Police Company. We visited with Matt at Fort Hood in late January, just before his unit shipped out for Iraq. It was the last time we saw each other. On the Saturday of our trip to Texas, a good number of soldiers went out on the town for a final night’s celebration before going to war. A few managed to celebrate a little too much. Matt stayed up all evening, ferrying his men from local bars to their homes or quarters. He felt totally responsible for his soldiers, a view he carried with him to Iraq. It was always their welfare that came first. There is no question in my mind that Matt would never hesitate putting himself in harm’s way to protect any of his men. To him, their well being was his first and foremost mission. He was a Guardian among Guardians.
Matt was never selfish or self-centered. Unlike his father, he was not a demonstrative or overly expressive person nor was he verbose as I have sometimes been accused. Matt spoke with great economy but his quiet heart was indeed good and caring. He was a good man, a wonderful son, a great brother. In the days since Matt’s death, many have come forth to say he was a great friend, an outstanding soldier, a true leader and hero.
He will be missed. With his passing, there will be no more holidays to share, no wedding to celebrate, no wife to love and comfort, no children who will call him Dad. I only wish he could have lived longer so that we could have loved him more.
Matt made the ultimate price for the freedoms we often take for granted. Matt is a hero but not because he fought for our country and died in battle. He fought and died because he was a hero. He was a young man who lived his life with honor and high purpose. The Iraqi conflict commenced while Matt was in ROTC yet it did not deter him from staying the course of duty and responsibility he embarked upon. I lost more than a son on June 27th; I lost one of my heroes.
We will be forever proud of the man Matt was, the values he held most high and the courage of his convictions. As a nation, we may disagree on the merits of the Iraqi conflict, and indeed Matt and others fought to protect our right to disagree, as well as our lives and security. But we should never be divided in the belief that a soldier who dies for his country deserves the honor befitting the sacrifice he made. Thank you for joining us in our time of grief. In doing so you honor our son so that as in life, his death has purpose and meaning.
To my son, I bid you farewell and know that God will keep you safe for eternity. Know that we will always love you and remember you for the outstanding man, son and brother you were…
Michael A. Coutu