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Marine fights for his future

23 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

Making decisions on the battlefield usually depends on two key elements, communication and leadership.

Lance Cpl. Matthew W. Swan is keenly interested in both.  Swan is a field radio operator with C Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in Fallujah, and has future hopes of becoming a Marine Corps officer.

As a kid, growing up with a family history of serving in the military, he knew he wanted the challenge of being a Marine. But he not only wanted to be a warrior and fight for his country, he wanted to lead other warriors as well.

“I was going to enlist into the Corps as soon as I got out of high school, but I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to go in as an officer,” said Swan, of Yarmouth, Maine.

His decision carried him through three years of education at Norwich University, a military university in Northfield, Vt.  Nearing graduation and looking forward to earning a commission, he made a decision to enlist in the Marine Corps reserves.

“I changed my mind and enlisted because I wanted to be a Marine before I could lead Marines,” he said.

Swan spent long hours carefully choosing what specialty he would carry as an enlisted Marine. Knowing that he would deploy soon after he joined and would have to put his schooling on hold, he chose something that would benefit his plans to someday lead his own troops.

“Field radio operators work close with officers and being that I wanted to be an officer, this would be the best way for me to see how they worked with the Marines,” he explained.

After completing basic training, Marine combat training, and communications school, Swan was assigned to the “New England’s Own” battalion.  The unit was gearing up for a deployment to Iraq.

Twenty three year-old Swan’s company conducts counter-insurgency operations inside the city of Fallujah.  When he isn’t teaching Marines about radio equipment and preparing his own gear for combat, he’s along side the company commander relaying information to the battalion’s headquarters through his radio.

“A constant professional, that is what I think of when Swan comes to mind,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Paul D. Errico, C Company’s lead corpsman, who spends a great deal of time patrolling Fallujah’s busy streets with Swan. “He knows his job and does it extremely well.”

The responsibility of communicating detailed information while under fire, which could directly reflect the outcome of the situation, is not an easy task.  The combat zone here is a complex one, requiring the junior Marines’ utmost dedication.

“Urban communication is a nightmare, everything that has a wire is transmitting,” said Sgt. Jerome L. Vahai, the communications chief for C Company. “Others will lose ‘comm,’ but Swan will get it. No matter how dangerous it is out there, he loves to do his job for the Marines who rely on it.”

Errico recalled a recent firefight in the city where Swan was forced to sling his weapon and call-in reports to the command center.

“There were shots ringing out everywhere and the Marines were firing back with their weapons, but Swan was on his radio reporting,” Errico said.  “He’s our guardian angel.  ‘He can get us out,’ was what I was thinking when I saw that.”

“It can be frustrating sometimes. When the bullets are flying you want to shoot back and help destroy the enemy, but I know that I have to focus on my job because in the end it could kill more of the bad guys or save the lives of the Marines,” Swan explained.

The average Marine here is toting an average of 80 pounds of gear into combat. With the addition of a radio, extra batteries, and antennas, Swan is carrying an additional 25 pounds.

“He is ready to do whatever it may be to get ‘comm,’” said Errico, 40, of Groveland, Mass.  “With his rifle in one hand and his radio in the other he knows his role out there.”

Halfway through the deployment, Swan is making no plans to change his future in becoming a Marine officer.  With one year left before graduation, he plans to attend officer candidate school and earn a commission.

“I can’t explain why, I just think that everyone should do something for their country, and what better way to do it than lead Marines and be a Marine,” Swan said.