2 years ago

Meet the Alabama Marine who did seven harrowing tours of duty disarming bombs


(Audio above: Retired Marine Matt Pierce discusses his combat experience on Yellowhammer Radio with Cliff Sims)

Alabama-based Marine Matt Pierce did a total seven combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring from active service in 2012. He is an expert dog handler and explosive ordinance disposal technician (EOD Tech), meaning Pierce was often called upon to disarm improvised explosive devices in hostile territory.

“You can only screw up once, that’s the rule,” Pierce said during a recent Yellowhammer Radio interview. “You screw up once and you’re a pink mist. That’s just how it operates.”

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Pierce’s job led to him enduring numerous serious blast injuries in 2010 and 2011 and made him well known in combat medical circles as a result of a VA Hospital study on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and battlefield concussions.

“The Boston VA was running a program on PTSD and traumatic brain injury and they were looking for somebody that had experienced multiple concussions, that had been exposed to a lot of horrific things,” he recalls. “By the grace of God I’ve been lucky enough not to be cooked by (a bomb), but with all my concussions I was the perfect candidate for the study and the story got picked up by USA Today and they ran with it back in 2012.”

Here’s how USA Today described Pierce’s role in the study:

Medical technician Marge Ahlquist straps a blood-pressure cuff around Matt Pierce’s left bicep, the one with the wrap-around Arabic script tattoo he got after his combat tour in 2006. Translated, it reads, “For those I love I sacrifice.”

(…)

For the next several hours, researchers will take a medical history from Pierce and administer a regimen of tests…

He will be asked to detail each blast he survived that left him with a mild traumatic brain injury — the time three artillery rounds detonated under his armored vehicle, blowing out the engine and leaving him briefly unconscious; and the time he was pulling a disarmed improvised explosive device, or IED, out of the ground and a secondary booby trap detonated, knocking him off his feet.

“I never remember the sound,” he says.

Then there is that day in 2007 in Iraq. He and a close friend, Sgt. Justin Noyes, were on either side of a road moving a barbed-wire barrier in preparation for disarming a buried bomb when Noyes stepped on another IED no one saw, and Pierce saw his friend blown apart.

He will explain to a psychologist about graduating from EOD school in 2004 with Noyes and two other Marines. How they grew close. And how Pierce is the only survivor.

“A lot of bad things happened to really good people,” he explains later.

He will talk about the nightmares, vivid images in his mind of the carnage he witnessed after suicide bombers detonated explosives and dozens of civilians died, many of them children he and other Marines rushed in trying to assist.

“(I’m) waking up screaming, fighting, kicking (at) nothing in the dark. It just feels like I’m re-enacting everything that happened,” he says.

EXPERIENCE AT THE VA

According to USA Today, the VA study concluded America’s newest veterans “appear to be growing old before their time. Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later.”

“I’d love to talk good about the VA because they have some great programs,” said Pierce. “But when it comes to primary care… If I went in there with a broken bone, they’d say, ‘Ok we’ll get you on a list and see you in six weeks.’ That’s an exaggeration, but it was about that bad.

Alabama has seen more than its fair share of VA scandals.

A Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) employee even took a recovering vet to a crack house in Tuskegee to buy illegal drugs and solicit a prostitute, but was still employed by the VA over a year after the events occurred.

An internal investigation also found the employee to be guilty of a wide range of other infractions, including “patient abuse, misuse of government vehicles, filing false overtime requests and multiple ethics violations.” But according to the CAVHCS employee directory, the individual is still employed by the VA. It is unclear if any administrative or criminal action was ever taken against the individual.

“All the VA employees are locked in so they don’t have to work as hard,” says Pierce. “They don’t have to go further because they can’t be fired.”

PIERCE’S WORK IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR

Pierce’s work is much less stressful now, but he continues to put his skills to use for Alabama-based defense contractor Xtreme Concepts and its dog-handling operation IK9, which is working on a new partnership with the VA that Pierce is particularly excited about.

“The program right now is under study, but we are training service dogs and emotional support dogs to be paired with veterans and increase their mobility and happiness in life,” he said. “So far the study is going great… The VA will give us people to pair with an emotional support or service dog.”

He is also working with the non-profit First Foundation.

“We’re taking dogs coming back from combat and placing them with former military or first responders that may have psychological or physical disabilities,” he explained. “We try to improve the life of both the K9 and the individual. We’ve placed about 30 dogs in the last several months.”

CHOCOLATE MOUNTAIN AND SCRAPPERS

Pierce laughs off his short-term memory loss, and it’s clear from his Yellowhammer Radio interview that his sense of humor has remained intact in spite of the tumultuous past decade.

One of his favorite stories involves Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, a half-million acre aerial bombing range used by the U.S. Navy and Marines for practice. At some point each year there is a month-long training exercise during which hundreds of planes drop thousands of explosive devices on practice runs.

At the conclusion of the exercise, the military closes the range for about three weeks and sends out the EOD techs to detonate any unexploded bombs, and, according to Pierce, “have campfires and things like that.”

Unbeknownst to Pierce and his colleagues, individuals living in the local area were sneaking onto the range to steal the aluminum off of the bombs to sell them for scrap metal.

Pierce recalls what happened next:

The problem was they were coming into what’s called a submunitions range. To sum it up quickly: A jet drops a payload, it opens up, and anywhere between 21 and 60 baseball-sized submunitions fall. These are touch sensitive. If the wind picks up, these go off. You don’t want to go in there. We won’t even go in there if the wind is over five miles per hour. Well, these guys are going in there and picking them up like nobody’s business.

So I get a phone call that I have to go to a post blast stateside. That never happens. An explosive device had detonated somewhere in Arizona and I had to respond to it…

So I go up there and I’m looking — it’s at somebody’s trailer in the middle of nowhere — and I look in the back the guy’s pickup truck and it’s all these submunitions. I physically won’t pick one up and he’s got 100-150 of them just riding around in the back of his vehicle! You hit a bump and they could go off.

So my only course of action is to blow it where it sits. I bring out my demo bag, line up the C-4, and I took out his pickup truck, I took out his house! There was no other safe way to remove them.

THE RUSH OF WALKING UP ON AN UNDETONATED BOMB

Pierce still vividly remembers the first time was called upon to disarm a roadside bomb, and the self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie says he and his fellow Marine EOD Techs usually did it without wearing the Michelin Man-style bomb suit often seen on TV and in movies.

“Because it is so hot out there, we don’t wear the bomb suit,” he explained. “Other branches use it, the Marine Corp was given the option to use it or not use it. The bomb suit is great against the blast pressure, but horrible against fragmentation. It would cut right through it, so it’s kind of pointless.”

Here’s how Pierce describes the feeling of walking up on an armed explosive device:

But walking up on it, my first thought is, what kind of initiator is this? Is it command wire, is it cell phone, is this victim actuated, like a pressure strip or something like that?

Basically I’ll work a helix — start from the outside and work my way in making circles checking for secondary devices, searching for trip wires or a command wire that’s in the ground that may lead to this device. Then I’m also carrying a system that blocks radio signals. Then it just comes down to, do they have an anti-tamper device in it? That would mean they are all about killing first responders, either the first guys on scene, or they love getting us EOD Techs…

Honestly, walking down on an IED, 99 out of 100 times, I’m just focused. It doesn’t bother me. I do what I have to do, then when I get back to the truck I dang near poop myself. That’s when the adrenaline wears off and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, what just happened?” After multiple IED, over and over and over again, you just kind of become immune to it.

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2 hours ago

#FakeRacism — Alabama cops were justified in Waffle House arrest

They’re out here saying those white cops who arrested that black lady last weekend at the Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama were racists.

Reality Check: When a cop places you under arrest and you do anything other than passively comply, you may wish for him to say, “Oh, you don’t want to be arrested? My bad. I’ll just leave now.” But here’s what will actually happen, every time, and like Michael Jackson sang, “it don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

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“Outrage growing over black woman’s arrest … by white police officers,” read the headline on AL.com, followed by an article reporting that local protestors were then “confronted by white police officers and one black man was handcuffed.”

Are y’all as sick of these #FakeRacism stories as I am?

That ugly scene could have been avoided if that lady had followed the advice my father gave me years ago.

“Don’t argue with the cops, son,” he told me. “Whether you’re wrong or right, the police deal with criminals all day long and don’t need any lip from some kid.”

“So if they ever say ‘Get out of here,’ or ‘Sit on that curb and shut up,’ then do it without a word of backtalk,” he warned. “Or they might crack you upside the head with that baton they carry or you’ll spend the night in jail.”

A version of that advice called “The Talk” is given in the black community because of their experience with the law enforcement, especially in decades past.

I personally believe those days of systemic racism are gone, but the advice should remain — obey the law.

Or you might end up looking like a fool on Youtube for being arrested at a Waffle House … and it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

@jpepperbryars is the editor of Yellowhammer News and the author of American Warfighter

3 hours ago

Alabama judge tosses charge accusing ex-warden of leaking to blogger

An Alabama judge is dismissing criminal charges accusing a former jail warden of illegally leaking information to a blogger critical of a sheriff.

The Decatur Daily reports that a judge dismissed the charge of computer tampering at the request of former Morgan County jail warden Leon Bradley after several days of testimony.

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Bradley was fired in October by Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin. His lawyers claimed Franklin and three employees lied to get warrants and have Bradley arrested.

The blogger’s grandson testifies that Franklin threatened to arrest him and derail his plans to join the Army if he told anyone about being a confidential informant or didn’t provide information harming his grandmother.

Two law enforcement officers testify Franklin asked them to issue search warrants they believed unjustified.

Franklin denies wrongdoing.

(Copyright Associated Press 2018)

3 hours ago

Steve Marshall and Troy King most well-known, well-liked Republican candidates for Alabama attorney general, according to poll

New polling obtained by Yellowhammer News offers a peek into Alabama’s attorney general race, with the edges in the Republican primary bid at-the-moment being given to current Attorney General Steve Marshall and former Attorney General Troy King.

The poll, conducted by WPA Intelligence, found that 24 percent of Republican primary voters have a favorable view of Marshall and 26 percent have a favorable view of King, while 5 percent have an unfavorable view of Marshall and 15 percent have an unfavorable view of King.

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The other two Republicans running, former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Judge Chess Bedsole, have 13 and 8 percent favorability, respectively.

King has the highest name identification at 61 percent, with Marshall’s at 43 percent. Martin’s name identification is at 32 percent and Bedsole’s at 28 percent.

(WPA Intelligence)

Survey Methodology: WPA selected a random sample (n=500 Republican primary voters) of registered voters from the Alabama voter file using Proportionate Probability Sampling (PPS) who were contacted by phone April 15-17, 2018. The sample was stratified based on geography, age, and gender, and the study has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent in 95 out of 100 cases.

The primary election is on June 5, and the state-wide general election is November 6.

Rep. Byrne: A tax code that works

Each April, Americans across the country face great frustration and inconvenience in filing their taxes.

Fortunately, this Tax Day marked the last time Americans would file their taxes under the old tax code. Thanks to passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans will now have a simpler and fairer tax code. I was proud to work with President Trump to reform our tax code and make the process easier for taxpayers.

Starting next year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will bring Americans relief when filing their taxes under a more streamlined, straightforward tax code. However, making the overall filing process simpler and more convenient was just one of the many ways we worked to create a tax code that benefits and works for the American people.

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One of the most important reforms under the new tax code is the doubling of the standard deduction. This provision increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. Combined with new lower tax rates, almost every Alabamian should see a tax decrease.

Also important, the new tax code prioritizes American families by doubling the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child. It is no secret that raising a family is not cheap; so, this increase provides additional support for families struggling to pay for childcare and other necessary expenses associated with parenting.

To provide even more support for families, the bill preserves the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the Adoption Tax Credit. Even more, the bill makes improvements to saving options for education by allowing parents to use 529 accounts to save for elementary, secondary, and higher education.

Most people will not have to wait until the next tax season to see the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Already, many hardworking Alabamians are seeing more money in their paychecks each month. That means your hard-earned money is ending up back in your pockets, rather than the coffers of the federal government.

Tax reform has also helped spur overall economic growth. Our bill helps to level the playing field for American businesses, creating new job opportunities and finally causing wages to rise after years of stagnation.

Many businesses have also handed out bonuses and improved benefits to their workforce. Since passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, I have had the pleasure of personally handing out bonus checks at multiple businesses in Southwest Alabama. Trust me, these workers were thrilled with the extra money.

We aren’t stopping now either. The House passed a package of bills last week to help cut down on identity theft and to hold criminals accountable for IRS scams. It is important that these crooks be punished for trying to defraud hardworking Americans, including our nation’s senior citizens.

Equally important, the House also passed bills to make the IRS more efficient, effective, and accountable. The IRS should be a customer-friendly organization that responds to the questions and concerns of the American people.

In the past four months, we have seen tremendous growth right here in Southwest Alabama because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. From our small business owners handing out bonus checks to our single-income families taking home extra money in their paychecks, evidence shows that allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money is a huge boom for our economy.

As we bid farewell to an old, outdated tax code, Americans can rest easy knowing they have a simpler, fairer tax code to work with in the future.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

4 hours ago

Abortion is not a human right, says State Dept. official

The State Department released its Human Rights Report for 2017 on Friday, and State Department officials acknowledged it purposely left out a section on “women’s reproductive rights,” which had been included in previous reports during the Obama administration, noting that the administration does not consider abortion a human right under international law.

“When the State Department is talking about this represents our values as Americans, the removal of sections on women’s reproductive rights – why is that not included in values as Americans?” a reporter asked State Department officials.

“I’m going to explain why it was removed. It was introduced six years ago into the report. It hadn’t been there before,” Michael Kozak, ambassador for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said.

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“It’s one of the few terms that are used in the report that isn’t derived from an international treaty that has a definition or derived from U.S. law, where there’s a clear definition to the term, and in this case, the previous administration intended it to mean look at the availability of contraception, at the – whether the government tried to impose or coerce people in making decisions about reproduction,” Kozak said.

“In the statements that were made – this was derived from the Beijing Declaration that was done in the ‘90s. At that time, it was very clear and our delegation made a very clear statement that this has nothing to do with abortion. It doesn’t mean abortion,” he said.

Kozak said the use of the term “reproductive rights” means different things to people on both sides of the issue.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, groups on both sides of that issue domestically have started to use the term, and both seem to think it does include abortion and then argue about it,” he said. “So our thought was let’s just not use a term that has the opposite meaning from the one we intend.

“We went back to the term that’s used in the U.S. statute that requires the Human Rights Report, which is coerced family planning, namely coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said. “I might mention too, because I went back and looked at last year’s report, the question being asked was, ‘Were there obstacles opposed to getting contraception information and means?’

“The answer in virtually every country was no, there were no obstacles other than, in almost every country, including our own, the availability in rural areas is less than it is in urban areas. But we were taking a lot of space to explain that,” he said.

“So what we’ve done, we’ve kept that information in there. We’ve done it now by a hyperlink. We used to take that information from the WHO report and put it in. We said let’s just use a hyperlink, and then there’s actually more information available that way. So that’s the rationale behind that,” Kozak said.

“It’s not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it; it was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend,” he added.

A reporter later questioned whether Kozak was saying “there are no obstacles for women to get contraception in any country except for if there’s a remote issue.”

“I said with some exceptions, and the exceptions were and still are – and we’ve really gotten at it by flipping back to the original U.S. statutory language. It’s in places like China, where in order to enforce their two – now two-child policy, that there are reports of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said.

The ambassador said North Korea also engages in forced abortion, although it’s usually used for political punishment. Also in the country of Belarus, women in state hospitals or who are institutionalized are forced to have abortions or if the woman or baby has disabilities.

“In North Korea, where the government also coerces or forces abortion – although sometimes that’s for political punishment rather than family planning, and we uncovered it,” Kozak said.

“So as we were digging through trying to reduce the bulk of some of this report, I found in the old country I served in, in Belarus, that it turns out that the doctors in the state hospitals, and particularly in the institutions there, if they have a woman who is pregnant and who is a woman with disabilities, the doctors insist on an abortion. Or if they believe the fetus has a disability, they’ll insist on an abortion. So we’ve called that out too,” he said.

“So it’s not – those were the cases, though, in the – under the previous formula where you would say there was a restriction on family planning, freedom of family planning. For most countries, it said, there isn’t any restriction except for the ones imposed by economics and rural-urban type thing,” Kozak said.

“So just to be clear just on that, so taking out the language about those cases therefore means that the U.S. doesn’t believe that the inability for women to get an abortion physically or by law is an abuse of human rights?” a reporter asked.

“Correct, under the previous administration and this one and the one before that. We have never taken the position that abortion was a right under – a human right under international law,” Kozak said.

“This is supposed to be internationally recognized human rights, and it’s an issue on which – some countries prohibit abortion. Some countries, like our own, pretty much no restriction on it, and we don’t say one of those is right and one of those is wrong. We don’t report on it because it’s not a human right,” he said.

“It’s an issue of great policy debate. You can have a good discussion, but there’s no internationally recognized standard as to what’s the right treatment, but the other, yes. The – it is internationally recognized that somebody shouldn’t coerce you to have an abortion or force you to be sterilized,” Kozak added.

(Courtesy of CNSNews.com)