Strength in Diversity: Small town upbringing key to success for NCO
March 17, 2010
HOHENFELS, Germany -- When he was fresh out of a small, Louisiana high school, Matthew Black left home to join the Army. Not only did he want to see the world, but he wanted to grow as a person and improve himself.
"I wanted something more. I felt I could get it in the Army," Black said.
Nearly 16 years later, the 34-year-old Sergeant 1st Class Black, a veteran with 27 months in a combat zone, serves as the motor pool sergeant responsible for keeping hundreds of mission-essential vehicles operational for Observer/Controllers (O/Cs) to use during training rotations at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, one of the U.S. Army's premier maneuver and training areas in Europe.
At the age of 18, Black, a native of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, a small farming town of less than 10,000 people, which is located half way between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, left home. But, he says it's the lessons learned growing up in the town known as the strawberry capital of the world - because of its annual strawberry festival that attracts more than 200,000 people, have guided his life and military work ethic.
Made up of strawberry farmers, commercial fishermen, and offshore construction workers, Ponchatoula, Black said, is a place where people work hard but don't complain about it.
The bedrock of the community is people like Black's father, a truck driver who has worked the same job with the same company for 30 years. Black's mentor is his father, the one person from whom Black draws his work ethic and sense of loyalty.
"I watched my father walk out of the door everyday no matter what - sick, tired, sometimes hurting, but he went to work every day to provide for his family," Black said. "No matter how tough things got, that company was always there for him, and he maintained that loyalty to the company."
Black is the motor sergeant of the Recovery and Maintenance Support Section that oversees 427 vehicles at JMRC. He also coaches, teaches and mentors 28 soldiers, as well as, provides family support to their dependents.
Taking a cue from his father, Black has developed a sense of loyalty to the Army that permeates his own military work ethic.
"If you're going to do something, don't do it half way. Complete it. Give it your best. Give it 100 percent every day and it comes back to you," he said.
Loyalty and giving his best are the forces that make it easy for Black to get up every day and strap on his boots. He treats each day as a new opportunity and every assignment as a new challenge and learning experience. That outlook is what Black emphasizes to his Soldiers.
"If an O/C team losses coverage because of a maintenance deficiency, the unit that came here to get real-world training loses out," Black said.