Capt. Daniel Mathews, the public affairs officer for 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, was the first public affairs officer to earn the Expert Soldier Badge in the U.S. Army October 9, 2020.
The ESB is designed as a special skills badge to be awarded to soldiers that exhibit proficiency in warrior tasks and drills, improve lethality, and increase individual readiness. Just as when the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge were created to increase effectiveness of soldiers assigned to combat jobs, the ESB entered the service in October 2019, to provide the same experience and training to all soldiers tasked with support roles.
“I always want to remind soldiers that what we’re doing is elite..."
Soldiers who wish to obtain the ESB must first pass a fitness test and earn an expert qualification on their assigned weapon system, usually the M4A1 carbine. Afterwards, the soldier must complete a 12 mile foot march, perform day and night land navigation, and complete multiple days of testing on a variety of individual tasks such as first aid, chemical biological radiological, nuclear (CBRN) procedures, communications, and movement under fire.
Few soldiers recognize public affairs, or even combat camera, as an official job in the Army. Mathews said soldiers assumed he was just the picture-taking-guy or the social media guy and that’s it. Those assumptions drove him to attain the ESB.
“I think it’s important for people to know that public affairs is my job. This is what I do, but I’m still capable of still executing those basic Soldier skills, and I’m capable of executing them at an expert level,” Mathews said.
Public affairs in the army helps bridge the gap of information between the Army and the American people. Public affairs officers are also tasked with broadcasting and advising the commander’s intent to internal military audiences. Along with supporting and broadcasting these messages, a public affairs officer would also handle: media relations, community outreach, digital media and countering disinformation and propaganda.
Mathews has dealt with his share of adversity that helped to shape him into the person he would become today. He grew up in a humble environment outside of Spokane, Washington where occasionally money was tight. His parents got divorced in middle school and his older sister passed away at a young age.
Despite these events, Mathews credits his upbringing and involvement in the church that helped provide him motivation and purpose. He was put into leadership roles inside the church youth group, jobs in the church kitchen and even worked as a camp counselor. He was also drawn to sports at a young age, particularly wrestling, which gave him discipline for the future.
“I grew up modestly, so I always thought that wrestling would pay for my school. When I was a senior in high school I got asked to go wrestle for the Air Force Academy,” Mathews said.
Mathews said, “I ran into some guy at church who said, ‘hey why not Gonzaga?’ I said I’m not rich and they don’t have a wrestling team and he goes, ‘what if I could get you a full ride?’” Little did he know, the man who offered this opportunity was Lt. Col. Allen Patty, who was the professor of ROTC at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wa.
Mathews went to both Gonzaga and Whitworth Universities and obtained his theology degree with the intent to become an Army chaplain but ultimately his calling to serve led him to switch jobs to military intelligence officer, which he served mostly in Korea.
Sitting behind a desk for his first four years in the military didn’t quite mesh with Mathews’ outgoing nature, even though he felt like his unit was providing great intel. Mathews said he always felt they were missing the purpose behind the information and wanted to establish a personal and cultural connection with the people the army interacted with.
It was at this point he changed his military occupational specialty to civil affairs, which falls under special operations, and the army taught him Korean. As a civil affairs officer Mathews got his wish to cooperate with foreign civilian and military populations, and to have a positive influence on foreign relations with the U.S. Army.
While deployed in Micronesia, a country comprised of hundreds of islands spread across the western Pacific Ocean, he noticed a lack of information flowing towards the public and the internal military community.
“I saw the great things that we were doing in an area that had strategic importance that nobody knew about because there wasn’t a lot of news coming out of there,” Mathews said. He then stated there were so many humanitarian and training missions going on in the area, the lone Navy public affairs officer couldn’t cover it all by himself.
After serving five years as a civil affairs officer, Mathews applied to be officially re-designated under the 46 series as a public affairs officer. He attended classes virtually due to the emergence of Covid-19. Since becoming a PAO, Mathews says he enjoys letting soldiers see themselves in a different light.
“I always want to remind soldiers that what we’re doing is elite, because a lot of times Soldiers forget how elite they are.” Mathews said.