The chilling, misty rain of the Pacific Northwest was a welcome climate change from the blistering-hot, 120-degree weather in Afghanistan for the 971st Transportation Company.
After being deployed nearly a year, Matt Mitchell returned to life as a Seattle mechanical general foreman April 16. He continues to serve in the Army Reserve, currently carrying the rank of captain.
He oversaw 20 soldiers and 151 contractors in Afghanistan as they moved equipment out of an active combat zone. He received the Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal because all of his soldiers returned home safely and his company accomplished the mission.
His soldiers were based in the Pacific Northwest. Of the 19 other commanders active in Afghanistan at the time, Mitchell was rated the top commander. “I was fortunate to receive the Bronze Star,” he said. “I had a great team. Everyone was cohesive and watched out for each other.” It is unique for a manager to take such an extended leave of absence. Mitchell is grateful for the support he received from the railroad. “Amtrak always has been supportive of my Army career,” he said. “I serve on the weekends without issue or concern. I have been able to step away and attend to military duties when necessary. The company has been understanding.”
Before he left for combat, Mitchell’s co-workers shook his hand and thanked him for his service. When he returned safely, they welcomed him back with enthusiasm. “I was trained to serve my country, and I have dedicated myself to do that,” he said. “It’s something to do because it’s the right thing to do. I was fortunate to be given the command of a company of soldiers.”
Before going to Afghanistan, Mitchell and his company had 55 days of training in Fort Hood, Texas. They spent 277 days in Afghanistan and then two weeks de-mobilizing in Texas before returning home. When his team faced difficult times, he encouraged them to close their eyes and think of Oregon and Washington. The memory of the love of their families and friends and the cooler weather comforted them.
As Mitchell tallied how long he would be gone, he compared it to the length of the football season. “I thought to myself, ‘Football season has to start and end before I’ll be back,’” he said. “And then Seattle won the Super Bowl. All of the people in my company were excited about the win. It was an encouragement to us.”
Mitchell and his company posted a 12th Man Flag in support of the Seahawks. Several of his company members watched the championship game at 3 a.m. in the USO tent. Safety was his top concern when he was deployed. The strengths of both his military and railroad career overlap. He stays vigilant and attuned to safety concerns. Many of his co-workers also are in the military. Mitchell appreciates the bond military service brings. “A military background brings a cohesion and cooperation,” he said. “We still have similarities, even in our differences. I am glad Amtrak hires veterans.”
Mitchell joined Amtrak in 2010.
In a continued effort to support the nation’s service men and women, Amtrak has set a goal of ensuring 25 percent of its new hires are veterans by 2015. For more information about Amtrak careers for U.S. Veterans visit our career site at jobs.Amtrak.com.