By Marine Corps Cpl. James Clark
2nd Marine Expeditionary Force
LUMBERTON, N.C., March 29, 2012 – A grove of dark green slacks ending in immaculately shined dress shoes stands at rigid attention. Vibrant dress jackets adorned with a collection of medals and ribbons add a dash of color, like budding apples in an orchard. Each right shoulder bears a patch, modest in color and unassuming, which reads “JROTC.”
Matt Ellis, a former Marine sergeant, speaks during his Purple Heart ceremony at Lumberton High School, N.C., March 27, 2012. Ellis, who graduated from Lumberton High School in 2007 before joining the Marine Corps, now works as a deputy sheriff for Hokes County. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Clark
The Junior ROTC cadets – students at Lumberton High School here, stood in their campus auditorium. Their eyes rose toward a uniformed figure on stage, but he was not a student, although he once was. He wore the same outfit as the students during that time – until he graduated, and months later, donned the uniform of a United States Marine.
Matt Ellis, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, received his second Purple Heart in a ceremony at his old high school for injuries he suffered in an improvised explosive device strike during his second deployment in 2009 and 2010, where he served in Marjah, Afghanistan. Ellis graduated from Lumberton High School in 2007.
“I wanted the military experience, and it’s helped me a lot in life,” said Ellis, who attributes much of his drive to enlist to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I was in my seventh grade science class when it happened, and at that moment I decided I wanted to go into the military. I graduated a year early from high school and joined at 17. I wanted to go to combat, and the Marines were the first to fight.”
“It’s just something Marines do,” said Ellis. “We had a five-man truck team, and I was the vehicle commander. One man missing can slow down the battle tempo, and it’s just one of those things where you feel you need to be there with your boys. If something happens, you don’t want to feel it was because you got hurt.”
Ellis, who now serves as a deputy sheriff for Hoke County, said he views his military time and now, his civil service time, not as a means to an end, but rather as a gratifying experience in and of itself.
“I wanted to find another way to continue serving,” he said. “I felt that law enforcement would be a good window to transfer over. I felt I could physically do it, and therefore felt it was something I should do.”
William Brown, a former lance corporal who served alongside Ellis during their deployment to Marjah and was with Ellis through both of his injuries, commented on Ellis’ selfless nature.
“[He] provided a great service to his country, and now he’s [home] and he’s still providing service, now to his county,” said Brown, who has been friends with Ellis since they graduated from boot camp in 2007 and were both assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
“He’s continuing that legacy of honor, courage and commitment,” Brown continued. “I think it speaks for his character. He got blown up twice, yet he still wants to serve others. It shows what kind of person he is, what kind of man he is. People should strive to be like him.”