EDITOR’S NOTE: CBS 6 reporter Greg McQuade is telling the stories of veterans who have returned to Central Virginia after serving their country in Iraq or Afghanistan. Look for Greg’s reports each Wednesday on the CBS 6 News at 11 or click here to view them on WTVR.com. If you know a veteran whose story Greg should tell, let Greg know on his Facebook page.
HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – Did you ever have a side job working in retail or a restaurant to make a little extra money?
Did your part-time job send you to a war zone? One man from Henrico never knows when he will be sent into harm’s way. But it is a job he relishes, that he even does with pride.
Whether in his office or on the road, Matt Wheeler never leaves his mobile phone ringing for long.
“It stays busy. It’s a constant. Hold on a second. I need to take a phone call. You really have to respect the phone call because you don’t know who is calling you from where.”
Matt juggles two jobs. One full. The other part-time. Matt’s full-time job is as the officer in charge at the Glen Allen Post Office.
Matt says, “It’s like taking one hat off and putting another one on.”
We caught up with Matt as he was preparing to receive dozens of mail trucks at the sprawling mail facility in Henrico’s West End.
“These next two hours will be pretty busy.”
While his full time job keeps him occupied, it is his part-time job that sometimes can be much more trying.
“It was 12-14 hours a day. Seven days a week,” he said.
Matt serves in the U.S. Navy reserves. Last summer, the Citizen Sailor received his marching orders from Uncle Sam.
“Definitely an eye opening experience,” he said. “Our plane is an all weather plane so rain, sleet or snow it’s got to go.”
Matt’s mission? Maintain EA-6 Prowler jets in Bagram, Afghanistan.
“Getting them up there and launched is always a challenge. You look to perform without making any mistakes.”
It’s a pressure-packed job he and his fellow Star Warriors from the VAQ 209 tackled night and day.
“Every time it goes up, those four lives are in our hands to make sure the maintenance we did–and checks–is 100 percent accurate.”
He said there were close calls on the base, in the form of Taliban mortar attacks.
“That will put some gray hairs on your head especially in the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.”
Ten years after the attacks on September 11th, Matt and his fellow service members paused to remember the victims in the attack, but they remained vigilant as they prepared for an all out attack by enemy forces.
“As we got closer to the anniversary it was on everybody’s mind. What is going to happen? What is going to happen?”
From serving in the barren landscape of Afghanistan, or on a carrier during the first Gulf War, Matt takes pride in serving his country. “Knowing there was danger along the way I was willing to do that.”
Last November, Matt, the sailors and the planes in his unit returned from Operation Enduring Freedom unscathed.
He says laughingly, “My part-time job is more intense that my full-time job.”
These days Matt is back coordinating the delivery of tens of thousands of pieces of mail.
“It goes hand in hand with both jobs,” Matt says. “You adjust to change real quick. And you roll with it.”
Matt doesn’t know when or if he’ll get another phone call sending him in harm’s way. It is a part-time job he accepts, with not one regret.
“I just focus on the job at hand now. I can’t get caught up with whether we’re going to go or not go. If we have to go again I’ll be there.”
Matt isn’t the only person in his family to serve in the military.
A brother and two cousins also joined the armed forces. Each one was deployed to Afghanistan at least once over the last decade.
Matt’s dedication to his part-time job was recently recognized when the U.S. Navy named him Tactical Support Wing Reserve Sailor of the Year in 2011.