Graduate student, Army officer to help soldiers in major way

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KINGSTON, R.I.—April 7, 2011–Little did Matthew Pierce know on the day he graduated with a psychology degree from the University of Rhode Island in 2001 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, that the world would change dramatically within a few months and shape his life. Nor did he realize that 10 years later he would be a URI student again, pursuing his master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology. But this time, it would be as a recently promoted Major.

Pierce was stationed at Fort Bragg, N. C. when terrorists hijacked four commercial planes and attacked America. Within a year and a half, he was part of the initial invasion of Iraq, working as medical platoon leader for the 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division for 11 months.

When he returned from his deployment, he was assigned as a human resource officer and eventually as a company commander with the 28th Combat Support Hospital at Fort Bragg.

“During my time as a company commander I was able to see the effects of post deployment issues, as well as, day-to-day stresses on soldiers and their families, which includes but are not limited to domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual assault, PTSD, and all the little things that add up as well,” says the 35-year-old graduate student. “While many commanders saw their troubled soldiers as the worst part of their job, these individuals inspired me to want to contribute more to the military.”

His journey to graduate school included an assignment as a medical operations combat development officer for two years at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.

Not surprisingly, his deployment and experiences since have influenced his educational focus. He will examine post traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders among returning veterans for both his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation.

He counts himself lucky to be collaborating with Dr. M. Tracie Shea, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and the Providence Veterans Administration. His biggest form of mentorship comes from URI’s Dr. Mark Wood, a social psychology professor in URI’s behavioral psychology program.

The Major hopes to finish his URI studies within the next two years and then complete a required two-year internship needed for licensure at one of the Army’s five medical centers. Based on the needs of the Army at that time, he could serve as a clinical psychologist in a variety of positions. “My only hope is that I will be making a significant difference towards improving the mental health among those in need because our soldiers and their families deserve the best support we can provide them,” says the Army officer.

His graduate education and Army internship obligates Pierce to an additional six years of service, extending him past the normal 20-year retirement framework. But the career solider is fine with that.

His Army career actually began three years before the Brunswick, Maine native enrolled at URI the first time. During his undergraduate studies he met his future wife Amanda Rose. The couple, married between his junior and senior years, now have an 8-year-old daughter named Abbiee. The family lives in Westerly with Chloe and Rhody, their two St. Bernards while the Major attends school.

Amanda and Abbiee were present when Pierce was promoted to Major this past winter. “When I found out I was being promoted I wanted to do something for my family. My daughter wasn’t old enough to remember the last time I was promoted, and I always like to involve my family in these occasions because they are what make it so special.”

Pierce asked LTC Deb Wilson who heads the ROTC department if his promotion ceremony could be held in Keaney, which would provide an opportunity for the cadets to question him about his experiences and educational opportunities.

“Our ROTC program definitely helped develop me into the leader I would like to think I am,” Pierce says. “My undergraduate psychology degree was just the beginning of my understanding, but it taught me enough about human behavior, social dynamics, and communication, which helped me in relating to and understanding the soldiers I have been blessed to work with.”

Pictured above

Major Matthew Pierce, wife Amanda, and daughter Abbiee.

Photo submitted by Major Matthew Pierce