I met Matt Rierson at the Special Forces Underwater Operations (SFUWO) Academy on my second attempt to pass that course in Key West, Florida, in 1986. I was, at that time, assigned to Combat Dive Team ODA 155 at Ft. Lewis, Washington. Matt was attending that same course coming from 2/75 Ranger Battalion, also out of Ft. Lewis. Being thrust together into a class of some 60 students coming from any and all Special Operations units, Matt and I deemed it sensible to hang together for the simple reason that we were both from Ft. Lewis. I, being reverent toward and appreciative of U.S. Army Rangers in general, was confident that Matt would not be quitting anything anytime soon. That would be yet another good reason to hang out with Ranger Rierson.
It took less than a day to conclude that not only was Matt a bad-ass Ranger, but also an all-around solid fellow of strong character and immense courage. He was a devoted family man with a wife, and at that time, just his one son, Kaleb. Matt had no vices; I kept mine in check for those next 30 days out of respect for him. We hung together as as much as was practical, ate all three meals together daily, chilled near the barracks on the weekends, and even gravitated toward each other during class breaks for a quick sanity check and motivational ribbing.
Every morning, there was the infamous PT hazing session that lasted for only about an hour, but was designed to crush the spirit in all but the most motivated participants. I knew from my earlier experience that the two-mile runs the sessions started off with were nearly impossible to stay with as a formation. As the first run of the first morning was shot from a cannon, I found myself behind the formation by about a dozen meters. Low and behold, there was Matt plodding along at my same pace, his feet slapping the ground loudly, reminding me of Frankenstein’s monster running alongside me. We didn’t talk, we just maintained our pace. By the time the two miles were up, we found the formation slowly collapsing back on us from the front. We ultimately always finished with the formations, and we always shook hands quietly at the end of each run.
We both graduated that course and flew back to SeaTac, Washington together, where I briefly met his wife, Trish. We shook hands a final time and returned to our respective units to resume usual duty, now qualified as combat divers. I soon requested an assignment as a cadre member at SWUFO a couple of years later, as I was due for a mandatory Special Warfare Center (SWIC) levy to serve a term as an instructor in one of the many Special Forces training venues. I moved to take charge of my fate and make the best of the levy. After all, what duty could be better than that spent as a combat dive instructor in Key West?