Op-Ed

Eagle Scout to Silver Star, Captain Matthew Roland cared for his brothers

John Roberts
John Roberts

Captain Matthew Roland was recently awarded a posthumous Silver Star for gallantry. Roland was a Lexington native and a Lexington Catholic alumni. He was also an Eagle Scout. That is how I knew him — not as Captain Roland, but as Matt.

We were not in the same Boy Scout troop for very long, because he was several years older than I, but there were several years of overlap.

In the Boy Scouts of America, young men are taught to live their lives in accordance with the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. They repeat them until they have them memorized. They use phrases like “on my honor” to promise that they will be loyal, helpful and brave, and they swear to help other people at all times and to keep themselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. And these things describe Matt.

He was a quiet leader, reserved and self-assured. He did the jobs that needed doing, and he didn’t leave them unfinished. He didn’t shy away from hard work. He just dove in and got it done. He was friendly and always took an interest in those around him. He reached out to younger scouts, and he liked to laugh. He took the brotherhood of scouting seriously.

When I heard that he had become a member of an elite Special Forces unit, I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew that what he had learned and internalized as a scout had been crucial in getting him where he wanted to go. I also knew that it would serve him well as a soldier.

Matt continued to be a leader in the Air Force. He completed grueling training regimens. He deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to North Africa. He operated deep in enemy territory. He faced the rigors of combat. He volunteered for tough jobs. He earned a Bronze Star for valor. He led from the front and he led by example. He was brave and he did his duty.

When he was killed last August in Afghanistan, after quickly reacting when the convoy he was leading came under attack, I felt shocked and deeply saddened. At the same time, I was gratified to know that even at that moment, Matt had taken steps to protect the lives of his teammates.

As his father, retired Colonel Mark Roland, said about him, “he was a servant leader whose first thoughts were for those he served.” He counted their lives more valuable than his own and he served them even as he died. He was everything that a soldier and Eagle Scout should be.

In our troop, we have a tradition called the Eagle circle. When a scout completes all of the necessary requirements and earns his Eagle badge, an award ceremony is held. Near the end of the ceremony, all of the Eagle Scouts in the room are asked to come forward, cross their wrists and join hands. One member of the circle turns to the new Eagle Scout and says “today the Eagle brotherhood opens to accept a new member.”

The circle represents the close bond shared by all Eagle Scouts. Few young men who begin the scouting program achieve the Eagle rank. It is more than a badge on a shirt. It requires commitment and consistency, perseverance and self-reliance, and years of hard work and service. It represents a common experience, a set of shared ideals and a high view not only of what people can achieve, but of what they have it within themselves to be. Matt and I share that bond. He was an exemplary member of that brotherhood.

Now the Eagle circle has tightened with his loss. It is stronger and better for having had Captain Matthew Roland as a part of it. Matt is a credit to his family, his Scout troop, his city and his country. As one of his teammates said “he is the type of man other men strive to be.”

The world is a lesser place without him in it. He is greatly missed.

John Roberts of Lexington is a University of Kentucky graduate student. Reach him at johnt.roberts@yahoo.com.

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