3 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.

7 hours ago

Playoff committee ranks Alabama No. 5, Auburn No. 12 – Five takeaways

The college football playoff committee announced its next round of rankings on Tuesday evening, and sent a few messages in the process. Here are five takeaways:

1. The committee has now taken two inconsistent approaches to ranking Alabama. Committee chairman Rob Mullens went to great lengths last week to say the committee held the Crimson Tide in high regard for its personnel and overall ability. Yet, in this week’s ranking, the committee dropped Alabama below a Georgia team which has shown it does not have an elite unit on either side of the ball and has a home loss to a bad South Carolina team on its resume.

Georgia beat a mediocre Missouri team last weekend. Alabama took a close loss — now the best loss in the country — to No. 1 LSU with a hobbled Tua Tagovailoa. If the committee indeed held Alabama in high regard last week, this week’s events should have done nothing to vault Georgia ahead of the Tide.

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2. “Auburn is the most important non-contender in all of college football.” Those were the words of ESPN studio host Rece Davis. Perhaps that was the network’s finest analysis of the evening. The fate of three highly-ranked teams is tied to the outcome of Auburn’s remaining games. The No. 12 Tigers face No. 4 Georgia this weekend and No. 5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl in three weeks. We wrote earlier this week about how Crimson Tide fans will want to practice saying ‘War Eagle’ heading into Auburn’s matchup on Saturday. An Auburn win is good for Alabama any way you cut it.

Oregon is sneaking around the top-four itself, and so for Auburn to keep winning would help their loss in Dallas look a little more forgivable. Auburn will now have a few hundred thousand extra fans in its corner by kickoff on Saturday.

3. Alabama now gets to see how the other half lives. The reality is that by this point in any season most teams get into the playoff as a result of some other teams’ misfortune. That’s rarely been the case for Alabama. The Tide have largely steamrolled into the playoffs year after year. At No. 5, with some future conference champions right behind them, Alabama needs some help. Clemson looking past one of their remaining inferior opponents and choking away a game would help. But so would some losses from one of the teams behind them. Which brings us to…

4. The committee sure wants to place a PAC 12 champion in the playoff this year. It’s been three years since a PAC 12 team made the playoff. There have only been two teams from the conference to ever make the top-four. The committee seems to be angling for that to change this year. Oregon came in at No. 6 this week, and Utah came in at No. 7. It certainly look as if the committee is setting up a strategy to put one of those two in the playoff as a conference champion. Alabama could use Utah and Oregon to take another loss to become a two-loss champion. A statement win against Auburn (who beat Oregon) in the Iron Bowl would help make its case, as well.

5. The Big 12 will be sitting this year’s playoff out. The committee does not think highly of the Big 12 — at all. One-loss Oklahoma is ranked No. 10, while undefeated Baylor is ranked directly behind two two-loss teams at No. 13. The message from the committee is clear: the Big 12 should make other plans for New Years. Even seven-time national champion Minnesota made the leap to respectability with its No. 8 ranking this week. Oklahoma and Baylor can only dream.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

10 hours ago

Dale Jackson: You’re the real MVP, Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is still the MVP of the Trump administration.

Sessions’ tireless work in his time as a U.S. senator laid the groundwork for President Donald Trump’s America First agenda, and his early endorsement gave Trump the legitimacy he needed to win over conservatives to put him in the White House. He was one of the president’s most trusted advisors on the campaign trail, traveling all over the country with him to pitch their unified agenda.

The two were united because most of the policies that make Donald Trump so popular in the state of Alabama were championed by Jeff Sessions for decades before Trump sought public office.

Without Sessions, Trump probably doesn’t make it into the White House.

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The former attorney general joined WVNN radio on Tuesday to discuss why he jumped on the Trump train so early, saying, “What I felt so good about was that I’d come to take a very strong stand on immigration, on defending American manufacturing, even I thought we needed to be more careful, a lot more careful on getting involved in wars around the globe. And boy, President Trump came forward, he seized the public’s attention, he advocated those issues and I thought he would follow through with them, and he has.”

Despite that, the unfair criticism from the president has flowed relatively freely, but Sessions has refused to, as he called it, “waffle” in his support of Trump.

Sessions told “The Dale Jackson Show” that he thinks Trump is still doing a good job to this day.

“I traveled with him all over the country, and I believe in him and his agenda and he’s performed, I think, exceedingly well,” he shared.

Of course, every one of Sessions’ opponents in this Senate race will try to diminish an honorable and successful career to one thing: His time as AG and Trump’s reaction to his reasonable recusal from all things Russia.

In the interview, Sessions addressed concerns about his recusal in the Russian collusion investigation, explaining he felt it was clearly black and white.

“I believe that [recusing] was the only thing I could do,” he explained. “I believe we reviewed it carefully, and the regulations in the Department of Justice are specific. If you are a participant in a campaign, and I was a high level, full, just totally campaigned for Trump. I held a title of foreign national security advisor. So that was the deal. And it says explicitly, you can’t investigate your own campaign.”

Sessions also argued that as a member of the campaign, he knew there was no collusion, adding he was not afraid of an investigation into it because he knew nothing had happened.

My takeaway:

As the Mueller report reflected, Sessions was 100% correct. He was right to recuse himself.

And not only was Sessions 100% correct on that, but the president gained some major political points by being cleared by Robert Mueller, who was heralded for years by the left-wing media as being above reproach.

He will also gain from beating the media and their Democrats on impeachment.

But if the president had just listened to former Attorney General Sessions, he would have been a lot better off, both legally and politically, because everything Sessions predicted about the investigation bore out as he said it would, with a full exoneration of the president.

Meanwhile, Sessions was fighting to help build the wall, expand free speech to college campuses around the country, fight back on DACA, defend religious freedom, and most importantly, begin the investigation into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation.

Everything good about Donald Trump has the fingerprints of Jeff Sessions all over it.

For that reason, Sessions remains the MVP of the Trump administration and is someone the president should be very thankful he had, and still has, on his team, regardless of how the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary plays out.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

11 hours ago

Jessica Taylor endorsed by GOP State Rep. Will Dismukes in AL-02 race

PRATTVILLE — Conservative Republican congressional candidate Jessica Taylor on Tuesday was endorsed by State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02).

A group of supporters braved the cold to stand behind Taylor, as Dismukes stood alongside her, at Heritage Park in historic downtown Prattville for the announcement.

Dismukes, a first term state legislator, recently withdrew his candidacy for this same Second Congressional District seat, citing not being able to raise the requisite funds to competitively continue in the race.

Speaking on Tuesday, he enthusiastically threw his support behind Taylor, who is a businesswoman and attorney from Prattville.

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“As a candidate for Congress, I highlighted my conservative plan to end abortion on demand, protect our Christian values and enact term limits on members of Congress to help President Trump drain the swamp,” Dismukes said. “However, after thoughtful prayer, I decided recently that it was not my time to seek election [for AL-02].”

“Our country desperately needs a new generation of conservatives to take on radical socialists like AOC, Ilhan Omar and their ‘squad.’ That’s why, today, I’m endorsing Jessica Taylor for Congress. Because she will go and fight socialism that is a major threat to our democracy, and I believe in my heart that Jessica is the right leader for this district, for this state and for this country,” he continued.

“She has the courage, the principles and the hook-shot to take on the radical leftists, protect the right to life, defend the second amendment and help President Trump drain the swamp!” Dismukes added, referring to Taylor’s viral campaign announcement video.

Taylor expressed her appreciation for Dismukes’ endorsement before speaking briefly on some of her campaign’s focuses.

“As conservatives, we must push back against the radical left’s teaching of our generation that socialism is an ideology that we should embrace,” Taylor stressed.

“As your congresswoman, I will go to D.C. to protect life, the Second Amendment and support President Trump,” she continued. “We need a new generation of conservatives who can fight “The Squad,” AOC — all of the folks who are brainwashing our generation.”

She outlined that a recent poll stated that over 70% of millennials responded that they support socialism and approximately 1/3 even responded that they support communism.

“This is something that we cannot accept,” Taylor commented.

You can view a video of Tuesday’s announcement event here.

Other qualified GOP candidates in the race include Wiregrass businessman Jeff Coleman, former Alabama Attorney General Troy King and former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise).

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt names Kerry Knott chief of staff

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) on Tuesday officially announced the hire of Capitol Hill veteran Kerry Knott as his chief of staff.

Knott most recently ran Knott Strategies, LLC, where he helped Ravi Zacharias International Ministries focus on Washington, D.C.-based ministry opportunities. Knott notably helped create “At The Table,” a new event series designed to bring influential people together across industries to address important cultural and policy issues.

In a statement, Aderholt said, “I am very excited to be bringing Kerry Knott onboard as our new Chief of Staff.”

“Kerry is extremely talented. His many years of service in both the public and private sectors give him a great wealth of information and the skills needed to oversee my office staff and achieve our legislative priorities. As a native of Guntersville, Alabama, I know Kerry will always make serving the people of the 4th Congressional District the top priority in our office, everyday,” the congressman added.

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Knott’s congressional experience is extensive, including serving from 1985 to 1998 as the chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. In this role, Knott helped craft the 1994 “Contract with America,” which helped Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

“Congressman Aderholt has a great heart for our nation and for the state of Alabama,” Knott stressed. “It shows by his character, his integrity and in his effectiveness. It’s an honor to join his team and to help him accomplish his plans for our nation and for the 4th District of Alabama.”

Knott and his wife, Michelle Morgan Knott, live in Arlington, Virginia, with their three children: Sydney, Charlie and Austin. He is a native of Guntersville and graduated from Guntersville High School in 1978 and Auburn University in 1982.

Knott fills the void left by former Aderholt chief of staff Brian Rell, who recently departed to lead the D.C. office of Birmingham-based Balch and Bingham.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Schumer deputy fundraising for Doug Jones

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the highest-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership besides Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is now publicly raising money for endangered Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

In a recent tweet, Durbin urged his followers to donate to Jones’ campaign.

The tweet links to a fundraising landing page with Durbin’s own campaign logo on it.

“Contribute now to help Doug Jones beat Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s Senate race,” the page urges.

This follows a trend of national Democrats fundraising for Jones based off of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions entering the crowded Republican primary to reclaim his old Senate seat.

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Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) presidential campaign launched a fundraising blitz with contributions split between her campaign and Jones’, and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have followed suit. Schatz also serves on Schumer’s Senate Democratic leadership team as chief deputy whip.

Per Murphy, his and Schatz’s respective fundraising appeals raised $40,000 for Jones’ campaign in the first day alone.

Jones welcomed the support, tweeting, “It is awesome to be in the company of such great friends – and true public servants.”

In the past three quarters, Jones raised 77%, 88% and 88%, respectively, of his individual itemized contributions from outside the state of Alabama.

Californians and New Yorkers have been Jones’ largest sources of funding, with the Washington, D.C. area and other liberal metropolitan strongholds like Chicago also playing major roles.

In addition to Sessions, the competitive GOP Senate primary field includes former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn