After years of serving in the military, Ken Colin knew that the presence of a military chaplain at his front door was not good news.
Ken was given the news no parent ever wants to hear: His son, 22-year-old Private First Class Matthew C. Colin, was killed by an improvised explosive device while his unit was on a routine patrol outside Kandahar, Afghanistan Nov. 16.
Unable to tell his wife, Kathy, on his own, the chaplain drove with Ken to Pensacola where Kathy worked. She was surprised to see her husband, asking joyfully if the two were going to go out for lunch.
Then she saw the chaplain, and she too, became silent.
“That’s when my life came crashing down,” Ken said, choking back tears as he recalled the day he lost his oldest son.
Matt was raised in Navarre, along with his brother Michael. He attended Navarre schools his entire life and graduated Navarre High School in 2007. He spent two years at Pensacola State College before enlisting in the U.S. Army.
Matt was more than just a soldier to the many family, friends and colleagues who now grieve the loss of the young soldier. He was also a vital part of the community that has now come together to help the Colin family celebrate Matt’s life.
An avid hunter and fisherman, Matt loved the outdoors. Sleeping in a tent with no electricity while in country was not a hardship for him, Ken said.
Matt played sports through the Navarre Youth Sports Association (NYSA). He was involved in soccer, baseball, basketball and of course, flag football.
Matt and his older brother Michael would put on all of their gear, padding, uniforms and helmets and cram themselves into a go kart so they could drive themselves to practice at the football field.
Michael and Matt got along the way brothers do, a lot of love mixed in with an occasional wrestling match.
Ken made a point to spend time with his sons, even when that conflicted with their school schedule.
“I would go down to school and check them out and on the form when it asked for the reason, I would put hunting,” said Ken.
While that may not be an official reason to leave school according to district guidelines, Ken has no regrets.
“I knew as a father, I had a certain time frame with my sons before they left,” he said.
The hunting trips were not exactly successful in a technical sense. Often, Ken would be in the deer blind waiting for the animals to approach, while young Matt was on the ground exploring and scaring away anything and everything.
If he wasn’t frightening the deer away, it was just as likely that Ken would find Matt in the blind, asleep. But that didn’t matter for Ken.
“You aren’t there to hunt,” said Ken, “You’re there to be with your sons.”
Matt carried his love of all things outdoors with him to his first duty assignment with the U.S. Army in Ft. Wainwright, Alaska with the Army’s 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment.
Many Navarre natives would balk at the freezing temperatures and feet of snow on the ground, but Matt was thrilled by his new home. Alaska is an outdoor sportsman’s paradise, and Matt made full use of that.
He wasn’t able to enjoy the Alaskan wilderness for long; his first deployment came just four months after he arrived.
Ken said that far from feeling nervous about going downrange, Matt was elated. He and the other soldiers from his unit were more than prepared to do the job they had been training for all along.
“They could not wait to be over there,” said Ken.
“God placed certain individuals on this planet to be soldiers, and Matt was one of them,” said Ken.
Ken takes comfort in knowing that Matt died doing what he loved. He said his son wanted to be a part of something greater than himself; he was excited to enter the Army.
The loss of his beloved son, however, has not been easy.
He and Kathy flew to Dover AFB to be there when Matt’s body came off the airplane from Afghanistan.
Watching the flag-draped casket escorted off the plane was “a very touching, powerful moment” for Ken.
Funeral and memorial plans are still in progress, but Matt will be buried at Barrancas Cemetery in Pensacola.
For now, Ken is intent to celebrate Matt’s life rather than mourn his passing.
The outpouring of support from the Navarre community has overwhelmed and strengthened the Colin family. Friends have gathered to provide food, a shoulder to lean on, and some much needed social interaction.
A tent and space heaters in the Colin family yard was provided by Nationwide Tents N’ Events; friends and family gather there in the evenings to tell stories about Matt and honor his memory.
Ken plays the song “American Soldier” by Toby Keith three or four times a night.
“We stand in a circle and salute Matt,” he said. “It brings everybody to their knees.”
The same people who go to Ken’s house to celebrate Matt’s life and his sacrifice for his county are the very people Ken credits with helping shape him into the outstanding young man he was.
“You know that saying ‘it takes a community to raise a child’? Our community raised my child. That’s how he was molded into a soldier.”
In addition to all the people that Matt has touched in his brief life, there’s one special family member who is missing him more than usual, according to Ken.
Spartacus, the caramel colored dog that belonged to Matt has not been himself lately. The night the Colins learned of Matt’s death, Spartacus climbed on top of a table and sat next to Matt’s picture for what seemed like the longest time.
“It was very spiritual,” said Ken. “All through the night, he was different. I knew that was Matthew reaching out to him.”
PFC Matthew C. Colin was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service to the U.S. Army and the sacrifice he made for a grateful nation.
A fund has also been set up at Regions Bank in Navarre for the Colin family.
It’s with a heavy heart I write this, I pray to god you knew how much I loved you. There isn’t a person whose smile could lift my day like yours. A day will not pass when I will not think of you. I have lived a relatively short yet very blessed time because in my 23 years on this earth you were my best friend for 13 of them, my first friend in Navarre hanging out at the playground after football practice. I could write a book on the memorable things we did together whether it was Panama City or Bust, or clearing the dance floor at prom so we could show everyone our dance moves. I lost a best friend that fateful day but the world lost a great man. I wish you knew how proud of you I am for giving the ultimate sacrifice for your country and your brothers in arms. You perished a true American hero and I’m so grateful. All I know for sure is heaven just got a lot more fun and I’ll be the best man I can possibly be to come have BBQs for eternity at the pearly gates. I have to fight back tears thinking it will be so long until we can do something as simple as talk and laugh about everything stupid we’ve ever done, which would probably keep us busy for that eternity.
Until we meet again