LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (Oct. 3, 2020) – “In real life, you have to apply whatever lessons life gives you to what other people might be going through.”
This is the guiding philosophy for Master Sgt. Matthew Patnaude, 944th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight chief. A soft spoken man with years of deployment experience, Patnaude lives his daily life sharing his knowledge and experience to help mentor others.
Patnaude’s journey began on Sept. 11, 2001, known to many as 9/11.
“I was in MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) ready to swear in on that day but they didn’t let us swear in because they couldn’t guarantee us a flight out after the planes crashed,” Patnaude said. “It didn’t really change my mentality. I already knew I was moving into the military and that was going to be my direction in life.”
Patnaude enlisted into the Explosive Ordnance Disposal career field six days later. Throughout his career, Pautnaude has served on five combat deployments to locations in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“My first deployment was in 2003,” he said. “I remember thinking it was going to be an experience and something completely different from anything I had ever done in my life, so I was determined to learn as much as I could.
And I knew I was going with a good team.”
Patnaude sustained injuries during two of his five deployments. Patnaude’s second deployment took him to Kirkuk, Iraq. During a post-blast investigation, his team leader stepped on a secondary Improvised Explosive Device, injuring the two and rupturing Patnaude’s ear drum.
Patnaude’s next injury occurred during a route clearance mission with members from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“One of my team members had been shot by a sniper not too long before the day of our mission, so we knew we had a sniper threat in the area,” he said. “During the operation, I was loading the robot with an explosive tool and bringing the command wire back into our truck when I was shot by a sniper.”
Patnaude’s teammates quickly grabbed him and placed him safely behind cover while calling for help and providing first aid.
“I remember I was temporarily paralyzed, more or less in the fetal position,” Patnaude recalled. “I kept saying the same three things over and over again: ‘Did it go through? Did it hit my spine?’ And ‘sniper that way!’”
Patnaude was transported to various locations, eventually bringing him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he reunited with his family.
The sniper incident gave Patnaude the opportunity to shift his focus to the medical field and begin his career as a registered nurse. It seemed then that his EOD career was coming to an end.
“Shortly after being shot, I realized I was done with doing my [EOD] job,” Patnaude said. “I didn’t know what my future was going to be, but I knew I had to focus on myself because no one else was going to make me better.”
Patnaude left active duty to go to college and pursue a nursing degree. He decided not to end his military career but instead, transitioned to the U.S. Air Force Reserve to continue serving.
Today, Patnaude serves as the 944th EOD flight chief while currently working under backfill orders with the 56th Fighter Wing EOD unit, proving that his career has indeed come full circle.
“The flight chief at the 56th loves having him on orders because he stays engaged and he wants to share with the Airmen what he’s learned through the years,” said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Hunter, 944th CES EOD program manager. “When Patnaude joined us from active duty 10 years ago, he brought his active duty expertise and his deployment expertise. He dove right in and took a role in mentoring and sharing his experiences and continues to do that today.”
While the EOD career field slowly moves away from deployments, Hunter is grateful for Patnaude’s experience and his willingness to share it with others.
“Patnaude’s role as mentor is multi-faceted,” Hunter said. “He approaches day-to-day in military fashion and he holds people accountable, which is a strong characteristic you don’t always see. But he does it in a fair, thought-out approach.”
The EOD flight chief hopes others can benefit from his experience and use that knowledge to help mentor others.
“Hopefully my experience helps younger Airmen,” Patnaude said. “I’ve never argued with the saying about experience as a teacher. People will not receive the knowledge from experience until they can apply it to themselves.”