NATHAN MAYBERG | DEMOCRAT
MATT MCQUILTON, CENTER, holds daughter Lila while posing with, from left, father Mickey, mother Pat, daughter Olivia, wife Natalie and sister Maureen.
County Native Completes Tour of Duty In Iraq
By Nathan Mayberg
ROCK HILL January 16, 2007 When Captain Matt McQuilton returned from fighting in Iraq last month, it was “the best Christmas and New Years present we could’ve gotten, said his father Mickey.
The 29-year old graduate of Monticello High School has been in the thick of battle from hot spots like Mosul to the center of the fighting in Baghdad more recently off and on for the last three and half years.
He has risen to the prestigious rank of Commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters I-24 Company Infantry, the first brigade of the 25th Infantry Division of the United States Army based in Alaska.
He arrived in Northern Iraq back in 2003 as part of the invasion force. After less than a month of warfare, things settle down. The northern section of Iraq, which is made up largely of Kurds has been the quietest spot of the country since the war began. And after a few months of calm there, he and his company returned home.
But in August of 2005, he and his men returned to Iraq. This time they were in Mosul, a city which faced stiff resistance from insurgents led by Al Qaeda’s Abu Musab Zarqawi. His force engaged in firefights, and witnessed a number of suicide bombings, and other bombings. Most of the firefights weren’t sustained though. McQuilton said the insurgents preferred hit and run tactics.
At first, McQuilton’s jobs was to write operations orders. But eventually, he began to lead the troops. His brigade was known for their success in Mosul. Zarqawi was eventually killed with a missile. The brigade lost a handful of soldiers there, he said. He helped train Iraqi soldiers to take over security there.
He explains the daily bloodshed in Baghdad as sectarian, between sunnis and shiites. He also believes it is meant largely to weaken the resolve of the American public in order to force the Americans to leave the country.
“A lot of what goes on in Baghdad is to make the news in the U.S. The insurgents are smart. They are strategically trying to make the Americans have less confidence in the war,” McQuilton pointed out.
In the capital, he has worked in civil affairs, delivering equipment such as generators to schools and hospitals.
His force has searched over a million homes there, and recovered AK-47s, mortars and improvised explosive devices the weapon of choice in this war. The IEDs are hard to find, he said which makes the enemy that much tougher.
Last Sunday, friends and family gathered at the Rock Hill Firehouse for a surprise welcome back for the 1995 Monticello graduate, Eagle Scout and SUNY Albany graduate.
Since being in command of his company of approximately 200 soldiers, one has been killed in action by a precision shooter. The loss of the soldier, a medic, was tough on his group. “It is very difficult. You undergo a lot of training as a leader to deal with it. But you can never know how to deal with it,” he said.
Despite the setbacks of 3,000 American soldiers killed in action and tens of thousands more Iraqis, McQuilton is optimistic about this war.
“Fighting an insurgency is a slow business. I think our army is doing well. We’re doing the right things and we’re getting better,” McQuilton said. “Everyday, we’re handing things over to the Iraqis. We make progress everyday. Small progress.”
His father Mickey just retired from the Rock Hill Post Office after 32 years. His mother, Patricia, is a kindergarten teacher at St. Peters in Liberty.
In a couple weeks, he will return to Alaska to train for the rest of the year. After which, his unit will be redeployed not necessarily to Iraq. However, if the war in Iraq continues at that point, they may likely go back.
He and his wife Natalie have two children, Lila (2 months) and Olivia. Matt also has a younger sister, Maureen, who graduated from Monticello.