Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Oceanside CA-Standing beside three-time purple heart recipient and retired United States Marine Corps Colonel John Bates, was nothing new for wounded warrior Marine Sergeant Matthew Koetting. He’d spent months with the retired Colonel during his rehabilitation time at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay as a member of Marine Wounded Warrior Battalion West - Detachment Hawaii.
Far more comfortable maneuvering under the cover of darkness with his fellow First Reconnaissance Marines, instead he now found himself spotlighted in front of his peers- his brothers.
It wasn’t the first time that Koetting had been recognized for outstanding service, his official military records jacket was thick with such praise from as high up as the Secretary of Defense. What made this day unique was his platoon commander, Captain Steven Uziel, acceptance of an offer by the nonprofit American300 to have Veterans spend the day with his unit and present Koetting with a special gift.
Like Sergeant Koetting, Sergeant Bates ( at the time ) chose to stay in the Marine Corps after getting severely wounded, albeit it took the retired Colonel over double the three years of rehabilitation time experienced by Koetting, to get back to the front lines of duty.
Chief Matt Tatum, US Navy
As the Colonel shared stories of Sergeant Koetting’s time in the wounded warrior regiment he in many ways was retelling aspects of his own journey to recovery. “We both bombed out of college and joined the Marine Corps, we both were machine gunners and we both got blown up. I just know that Matt’s the kind of outstanding Marine we need more of and hope he never adds stars to his purple heart,” reflected Bates, referring to his own three time purple heart status.
“What makes this gift so unique is that a Navy Chief from Marine Corps Air Station Hawaii created this custom surfboard, which we’re honored to present to you. Chief Tatum put his heart and soul into making this board for us to give to you and we all hope it creates loads of great memories.” said John Bates.
Memories which will always include seventeen of Koetting’s brothers-in-arms names which the Navy Chief embedded in the surfboard just above the inscription: “Never Forgotten - OIF/OEF Will Always Be A Part Of You”
About American300- Created in 2008, the nonprofit provides the Department of Defense and Department of State with subject matter experts in resiliency. Utilizing volunteers who have resilient rich biographies, and are expert communicators, American300 Tours engage with service members around the world.