Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller, 35, of Catlettsburg, Ky.

SFC Sluss-Tiller was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Feb. 3, 2010 in Timagara, Pakistan, from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Army Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman and Army Staff Sgt. Mark A. Stets Jr.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller was born on Feb. 14, 1974, in Ashland, Ky. He graduated from Lawrence County High School in 1993.

He died of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device in the Lower Dir District of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, Feb. 3, while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

He enlisted in the United States Army Reserves as a heavy construction mechanic in 1991 and served at the 261st Ordnance Company located at Cross Lanes, West Va. In 1993, he enlisted in the U. S. Army as a signal specialist and served at Fort Bragg N.C., Kitzengin, Germany, and Kuwait.

He was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C., in April 2009 and has served as a civil affairs noncommissioned officer in Civil Military Operations Cell and most recently as team sergeant of Civil Affairs Team 622.

During his career, he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Joint Guardian, Kosovo.

His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq Campaign Medals, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He was also awarded the Senior Parachutist’s Badge, Gold Recruiter’s Badge, and German Jump wings.

Sgt 1st Class Sluss-Tiller is a graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne Course, U.S. Army Jumpmaster Course and Master Jumpmaster Course, Air Movement Operations Course, Military Transition Team Course, Civil Affairs Qualification Course, and the Advanced and Basic Noncommissioned Officer courses.

Matthew Sluss-Tiller, a 1993 graduate of Lawrence County High School, was one of three American troops who died in the blast, which occurred outside a girls’ school in northwestern Pakistan. Three students also died in the blast.

Various news organizations reported that Sluss-Tiller and his fellow soldiers were part of a small unit that trains Pakistani Frontier Troops responsible for security near the country’s border with Afghanistan. Their deaths were the first known U.S. military fatalities in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions near the Afghan border.

Journalists traveling with the American convoy said the blast hit the vehicle in which the soldiers were riding, an indication that the soldiers were targeted.

Brenda Thornbury, an art teacher at LCHS, said Sluss-Tiller was one of her students in high school, and that the two remained friends even after he graduated.

She said Sluss-Tiller would always stop by her classroom to visit whenever he came to the school to see his mother, Jane Blankenship, a special-needs teacher.

On Thursday, Thornbury recalled Sluss-Tiller as a “wonderful, well-mannered and respectful” young man who expressed a desire to be in the military all throughout high school.

“He was always eager to do whatever he needed to do to serve his country,” she said.

Sluss-Tiller also was deeply religious and had a strong faith in God, she said.

Thornbury said she learned of Sluss-Tiller’s death Wednesday night, and that the news hit her hard. “It just doesn’t seem real,” she said.

She also said Sluss-Tiller’s death was a major topic of conversation among the adults at the high school on Thursday.

Thornbury said she hadn’t spoken to Sluss-Tiller since his mother retired several years ago and moved to North Carolina to be closer to her son, his wife, Melissa, and the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Hannah.

“She wanted to be able to baby-sit and help take care of her grandchild,” she said.

Sluss-Tiller called her last year and used her as a reference for an overseas mission, she said. “He called me his school mom,” Thornbury said.

The military never called her to talk about her former student, she said. “I knew it was dangerous,” she said.

"Both Matthew and David are heroes in my mind — they volunteered to come to Army Special Operations and the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, they both believed in what they were doing, and they were committed to helping people in a place where violence against innocent populations was too often commonplace,” brigade commander Col. Michael J. Warmack said in a statement. “In the pursuit of what they believed, they made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Sluss-Tiller and his wife were high school sweethearts, Thornbury said, although she said she didn’t know Melissa Sluss-Tiller very well. Matthew Sluss-Tiller was based out of Fort Bragg. His wife works as a counselor at the base.

He is survived by his wife, Melissa, and daughter Hannah of Sanford, N.C., his mother and stepfather Jane and Forest Blankenship of Sanford, N.C., father and stepmother Edward and Von Tiller of Sevierville, Tenn., and stepsister Selena Dawn Pack.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller was killed in action on 2/3/10.

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