By Jacqueline M. HamesMarch 31, 2009
Staff Sgt. Matt Zedwick, an Iraq veteran and the only living Silver Star recipient in the Oregon National Guard since World War II, competed in a special holiday airing of "Deal or No Deal," in December. His appearance on the show was prompted by his impressive career as a Soldier, especially when he rescued fellow Soldiers after insurgents ambushed his patrol.
Zedwick joined the Guard in 1998, straight out of high school. His decision to join was influenced by his grandfathers and several uncles, who had served previously.
"It was somewhat of tradition, but it wasn't required," Zedwick laughed. "For me it was a way to take my own independence and do something for myself, kind of like a passage to manhood."
During a deployment in 2004, his patrol came under enemy ambush on June 13-a Friday.
The patrol inspected an asphalt factory a little ways off the road they were traveling on, but something didn't feel right.
"It looked a little peculiar because the shop was actually closed," Zedwick explained. The patrol continued on after the inspection and soon saw a vehicle parked on the side of the road.
Zedwick, who was driving that day, heard the call over the radio to "steer wide," and veered away from the vehicle. As he was making the turn, the other vehicle exploded.
It was an improvised explosive device.
"From what I heard from the vehicle behind me, it lifted me up like 10 feet in the air," spinning the Humvee around so it faced the opposite direction. After the explosion, the Humvee caught fire and Zedwick was taking small-arms fire from insurgents. He checked for a response from his squad leader and received one, but the gunner was not responding.
"My door was on fire, and the only way I could get out was to kick through it," Zedwick said. Once outside, Zedwick ran to the opposite side of the vehicle and pulled his squad leader free. While rescuing the squad leader, Zedwick saw that the gunner-a good friend of five years-was dead.
Other vehicles in Zedwick's patrol laid down suppressive fire while he performed the rescue. Insurgents began firing mortars on them, but they fell short of their position. Just as the patrol was getting into a defensible position, another IED went off. The explosion injured another Soldier trying to help Zedwick.
The patrol was trapped in the open, on a barren landscape that stretched "several hundred meters in both directions," with only their vehicles for cover, Zedwick said.
"There was nowhere to hide," he said.
Once Zedwick got his squad leader to safety, he ran back to the burning Humvee and retrieved some sensitive items, another radio and weapons. He and other Soldiers from the patrol loaded the wounded onto an operational vehicle and moved south of the "kill zone." They set up security, using the Humvee for cover, where they waited until reinforcements came and neutralized the threat.
Once the immediate danger passed, the wounded were medevaced from the scene.
"That's when I found out I was injured. I had so much adrenaline going through my body I didn't know what was going on, I just reacted," Zedwick said. He had taken a large piece of shrapnel to the wrist.
Zedwick was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for pulling his squad leader and another Soldier from the burning Humvees. To honor his achievements further, the Army has incorporated Zedwick as a character in the America's Army Real Heroes program-complete with his very own action figure.
Zedwick said he believes his experience with the America's Army Real Heroes program helped him become a contestant on the show. He said the action figure seemed to intrigue producers, and he soon found himself on the popular game show's set, bumping fists with Howie Mendel.
Zedwick appeared on the show with his wife Kristin to compete for a top prize of $1 million. In addition to his wife, Zedwick's brother Dan and friend Ryan Tuttle joined him on stage to provide support. Several friends, family members and fellow Soldiers were in the audience cheering him on.
"The show was really fun," Zedwick said, though he was "cooped-up" in a green room with only soda and energy drinks to sustain him and his on-stage guests until filming.
Zedwick thought that the show probably wanted to keep him energized for filming, which took three hours.
According to the "Deal or No Deal" Web site, 26 sealed cases containing various amounts of money are presented to the contestant. The contestant picks one to keep or bargain away as he chooses, in hopes that the chosen case contains a large amount of money.
After each round in which a predetermined number of cases are opened, "the Banker" makes the contestant an offer. If the amounts eliminated from the remaining 25 cases are small, the offer gets higher with each round. If the amounts are high, the offer could disappear all together.
Zedwick won $227,000 in prize money on the show, and believes he made a good deal. There was only $400 in the case he chose to keep at the beginning of the game.
"I think I made an excellent deal. After knocking out the million bucks for the first choice, I think I did pretty well," he laughed.
A full-time student, Zedwick plans to use the winnings to help pay for college, where he is studying business and marketing with a minor in military science.
"I'm not going to go out and splurge," he said.
He also intends to save a portion of the money, and wants to donate the rest to charities that hold a special meaning for him.
"I am going to donate some of it to a scholarship fund, a charity (in honor) of some of the guys who served in our battalion who lost their lives there, for their children. And also, my gunner-there is a skate park named after him as a memorial. I was going to invest a little bit in that," Zedwick said.
For more information on Zedwick's participation in America's Army Real Heroes, visit http://www.americasarmy.com/realheroes.