From Grosse Pointe to Afghanistan: Former student now private first class

From Grosse Pointe to Afghanistan: Former student now private first class

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KIERA VALENTE ’13 | Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of Matt Rajt| Serving as a gunner in Afghanistan, Rajt poses with members of his Combined Anti Armor Team one with Third Battalion Sixth Marines out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
Photo Courtesy of Matt Rajt| Serving as a gunner in Afghanistan, Rajt poses with members of his Combined Anti Armor Team one with Third Battalion Sixth Marines out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

The Latin phrase “Semper Fidelis” means ‘always faithful’. These are the words that Private First Class Matt Rajt has been living by since September 2010, three months after he graduated from South.

“I’m a member of the United States Marine Corps,” said Rajt. “I’m serving as a gunner with Combined Anti Armor Team one as an Anti Tank Guided Missileman with Third Battalion Sixth Marines out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.”

In regards to the military terms above, it means that he works with a group of 40 Marines, Rajt said. Gunner is the billet he serves under where he serves as the Missileman, which means that he operates the trucks they drive.

Rajt said he knew he wanted to join the military since he was a junior at South. Even though joining the Marines was not what many students did, he still saw himself as just an average student.

“In high school, I was pretty average,” said Rajt. “ I played rugby for the school, and had average grades. I wasn’t super popular, but I had friends. They were all very supportive of my choice to join the military.”

Since joining the military, Rajt has come back to visit South numerous times, he said. His visits have given students and teachers an opportunity to see the changes the Marines have had on him.

“It was a complete 180,” said English teacher Jodi Stevens. “I was shocked by the change; he had focus, direction, a purpose, a plan and he found something he really enjoyed.”

One of the hardest parts of being in the Marines (and any other branch of the military) is being away from family, Rajt said.

“My family is really close so the separation was hard for them, too,” said his sister Courtney Rajt ’13. “It almost completely took over my mom’s life. Our dining room table was filled with care packages all the time and we have Moto (Marine) stuff everywhere in our house.”

Having a brother who is always gone is hard to deal with, Courtney said. Usually an older brother is just off at college, not off at war, which makes the situation much more difficult.

“I knew when I signed up for the Marine Corps Infantry that I would be deploying to a combat zone,” Rajt said. “Somewhere possibly very hostile, so I was mentally prepared to go to Afghanistan. Everything goes through your mind when you first hit country, from ‘what’s my family doing’ to ‘am I going to be coming back on this plane or under it.’”

“He’s my best friend and we’re super close, so it really sucked when he was gone for seven months with little contact,” said Courtney.

Besides being away from his family, combat is another challenge, Rajt said.

“The hardest part is the uncertainty,” said Rajt. “Not knowing what’s going to happen. If you’re going to make it back to base that day, if you have enough supplies for the patrol you’re on, whether you’re going to be able to see tomorrow. It all takes a huge mental toll on you.”

After being deployed in Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan for seven months, Rajt realized just how different things in combat are.

“Everything is different about Afghanistan,” he said, “from how they talk to even how they sit.”

Along with the people many other things are different in Afghanistan, Rajt said. There are many things that he misses while away.

“On deployment, some of the things I missed the most were mattresses, hot showers, because I didn’t shower for 66 days (and) having a roof to sleep under,” said Rajt. “Electricity was a big thing too, light dictated all of your activities.”

Knowing that deployment is just around the corner, there are many things that need to be done in preparation, Rajt said.

“The thing that prepared me most for the Marines was playing sports,” said Rajt. “The Marines are really just a huge team, and having that team mentality going in, and the mental toughness helps you out a lot when things get tough when you first join.”

Rajt said that there are many changes that come along with joining the Marines, both physical and mental.

“Even as a lower man on the totem pole I’m still tasked out with a lot of responsibilities,” said Rajt. “So it (being in the Marines) has definitely made me more mature, especially as a member of the infantry, because I realize that many others lives can depend on the decisions I make in combat.”

When Rajt made the decision to join the Marines, he was still in high school. With any decision comes risks, the risks for this decision can be very dangerous.

“I don’t get excited about any kids going off to service,” said Stevens. “I’m afraid they’ll get hurt or even worse. But for Matt it was the right decision, it really seemed like a perfect fit.”

Being in the military comes with a lot of responsibility, Rajt said. Responsibility like that in high school is hard to achieve. But with help from the Marines, Rajt reached the responsibility needed.

“I knew when I signed up for the Marine Corps Infantry that I would be deploying to a combat zone,” Rajt said. “Somewhere possibly very hostile, so I was mentally prepared to go to Afghanistan. Everything goes through your mind when you first hit country, from ‘what’s my family doing’ to ‘am I going to be coming back on this plane or under it.’”

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