LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Matthew Sheley is a prior active-duty Marine, an Arkansas state trooper and not too tough to ask for help.
“Earlier in my life, I had three things that stopped me from getting help when I needed it the most: I was a Marine, a trooper and a male,” Sheley, who is currently assigned to the 913th Airlift Group, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, said. “Bad things happen to good people. I believe you have two choices when tragedy hits – drown your sorrows with bad choices or choose
Sheley met his wife, Andrea, online while he was an active-duty Marine in North Carolina and she was attending college in Texas.
“I used my leave to visit my then-girlfriend, spend time and build that relationship,” he said. “Once I left the service, I moved to Arkansas to obtain my degree and work as a state trooper. I continued to spend my free time visiting her in Texas.”
Shortly after Andrea’s graduation, the two were married and they embarked on the next chapter of their life together.
State troopers are trained to handle just about any situation, but all of the training in the world could not have prepared Sheley for what he would find when he responded to a horrific two-car crash in early in his career.
As he approached one of the severely mangled cars, he found his bride of 55 days wedged among the twisted metal wreckage.
He crawled inside to assist paramedics as firefighters used the Jaws of Life to pry open the debris. Once she was freed, the medics tended to Andrea on the road. Holding on to his wife and hope as they waited for a medical evacuation, Sheley’s life came crumbling down around him as his wife took her last breath.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Sheley threw himself into his work, avoiding emotions and responding to offers of support by saying everything was fine.
“I was physically and emotionally drained,” Sheley said. “I felt lost, confused and hopeless with no desire to face my family, friends or coworkers.”
To add to the stress, the crash created a financial hardship from the unexpected bills and funeral expenses.
After five long years and some failed relationships, Sheley recognized that he was truly suffering. “I found Bobby Smith with an online search looking for state troopers who also suffered tragedy,” he said. “He was a trooper who was shot in the line of duty and lost his eyesight. He dedicated his life to provide counseling to others. After talking with him, my healing journey truly began.”
From the ashes of tragedy, Sheley rose to a good life which includes the Reserve.
After reaching out for help, Sheley joined the Air Force Reserve in 2011 to continue his military service.
“I’m currently engaged to a wonderful woman,” he said recently. “Once again my life is looking up. My career is also doing well as a state trooper and a Reservist.
“In hindsight, I wish I would have reached out for help sooner. I’ve shared my story in hopes of helping others, from colonels to young Airmen. No one is too big or bad to need help.”
Sheley said everyone has lost someone or something along their life journey. He hopes to help others find healthy ways to deal with these hardships in life. #ReserveResilient
(Walker is assigned to the 913th Airlift Group public affairs office.)