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Black Hawk Aviator, former Kingsland grad, visits home

Fri, Feb 21st, 2014
Posted in Spring Valley Features

Eric Mathison, a Black Hawk Aviator, graduated from Kingsland High School in 1996 and shortly after joined the U.S. Army. Photo submitted

Even as a young boy growing up in the community of Spring Valley, Minn., Eric Mathison knew he was destined to join the military. A long line of proud and dedicated servicemen in his family definitely had an impact on Mathison’s vision of his future. By the time he graduated from Kingsland in 1996, he had already researched each military branch and made his decision to join the U.S. Army.

And so began a career for Mathison and more than that, a way of life. Mathison started out in the infantry, moved to reserves, became a dental tech and then a recruiter. Today, he is a UH-60 Black Hawk aviator and serves as a Chief Warrant Officer, two. CW2’s become commissioned officers by the President of the United States; they are tactical and technical experts…in short, they’re kind of a big deal, but you would never hear Eric say that. Mathison simply wanted to become a Warrant Officer so he could have more fly time. He wasn’t interested in moving up the ranks to sit behind a desk and make big decisions; he wanted to make those decisions in the field and teach others to do what he does.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet because before Eric became an aviator, his life really began. In 1997, Eric had his first deployment to Korea. Being from a small town in southeast Minnesota, saying that Eric was excited is probably an understatement. To go from Spring Valley to Korea was a giant leap for a guy like Eric who had always been ‘the boy next door’. Korea was a peace keeping mission and a good experience for Mathison. By the time he had his second deployment to Bosnia in 1999, another peace keeping mission, Eric was more seasoned in the infantry.

Things were pretty low key after his first two deployments and even though Mathison now had some worldly experience under his belt, nothing could prepare him for what happened when he was stationed at Fort McCoy, Wis. The Army had prepared Eric for anything and everything, well, almost everything. In 2003 Eric met his now wife, Chelby. They were both stationed at Fort McCoy and reservists in the dental field at that time.

Chelby had made the decision to join the reserves to help with her college ambitions after high school. She readily admits that the thought to join the military never crossed her mind until a recruiter visited her high school. Chelby is from Bemidji, Minn. and grew up in Fargo, N.D. What a small world to meet a Minnesota guy who had been to Korea, Bosnia and back; then to fall in love.

Eric eventually became a recruiter back in his hometown area. He worked out of Rochester and Chelby attended the University of Minnesota Rochester campus. Eric even recruited a few Kingsland grads while he was back in the area. He was the kind of recruiter that took the time to sit in classrooms and educate kids, he spoke with parents, he made sure anyone interested in joining the military had all the available information so they could make an informed decision about their future.

Always supporting each other’s ambitions and dreams, Chelby was by Eric’s side when he made the decision to become an aviator. Eric had to first attend Candidate School before going to flight school. This required letters of recommendation, which came fairly easy for Eric. He had been a good serviceman, hardworking and dedicated. At Candidate School he would learn the Warrant Officer traditions and history, the politics of the Armed Forces; he learned the job of a Warrant Officer included finding solutions and he also learned that if he became a CWO he would not be doing the administrative work that ranked officers often receive. He would be in the field and have authority, exactly where he wanted to be.

In August, 2008 Eric headed to Flight School in Fort Rucker, Ala. When Chelby wrapped up her senior year at UMR, with a degree in respiratory therapy, she soon followed her heart and moved to Alabama. In fact, she left to be with Eric the day after she graduated. She had already been planning ahead and had lined up a job in the area.

Flight School is an intense learning experience. Seven days a week, people like Eric dedicate themselves to their studies and training. The length of time it takes to complete varies by person, some take a year, some take two or longer. Mathison did it in just a year and a half. Explaining that there are no automated systems to teach you flight skills in Fort Rucker. Eric chuckled at the expression ‘crash course’ that involved ‘real’ flying during his mornings and early afternoons. From there, it was all academics. From memorizing maps to emergency procedures to missions education, Mathison spent just over 12 hours a day training and studying to be an aviator in his year and a half long schooling.

After Eric became a Black Hawk aviator, he served two deployments in Afghanistan. Certainly different than his deployments during his time in the infantry, Eric shared some observations. He said the US has closed a lot of bases now and the Afghan army and police are starting to take control of the situation, although they have slow reaction times. There are many differences in culture, as you would expect, like equality, housing, economics and social structures. Eric shared his dismay with an article he read in the Post Bulletin when he returned from a deployment. The article had stated the Afghan people wanted the US out and the Taliban back in. Mathison thought, ‘I was just there and that is not true. Not the true at all. The majority of the people feel the Taliban is bad, they have seen their actions.’ He knows firsthand; he saw it, he lived it.

Eric was not on a peace keeping mission when he was deployed to Afghanistan. There was no front line, there were indirect rounds and the country is unstable. In 2010-2011, Mathison was in Khost on the Salerno Base. That base was closed and repositioned by the time Eric returned for his second deployment in Jalalabad. A total of 18 months in Afghanistan have been spent by Eric, as the US has had tried to stabilize a terrorist ridden country.

During this time, Chelby (who is now Eric’s wife), had become what you envision of a military spouse. Taking on all the responsibilities at home, being alone with two children at home and two dogs, being the support her husband needs as he does his job; a job not many of us are willing to take. Chelby explained tearfully that she felt it took a special person to be a military spouse but she knew that going into it and she accepted it. She further explained that she is so proud of her husband and she feels blessed in so many ways. “He exudes confidence,” Chelby said, “He is very calm. Maybe after a mission is over he may show it, but never during.” Chelby is that special person for Eric and strong person for all of us. Her duties as a military spouse are emotionally unimaginable to most of us.

On top of all of that, Chelby remained in the military herself until May of 2013. She misses the pride in wearing the uniform, misses the comradery and being one military family. She had joined for one reason, college tuition, but stayed for so many more. She met the love of her life, she experienced a world she did not know existed and loved every moment of it. Chelby absolutely misses it, but made the decision to leave because having two parents in the military is very difficult when trying to raise a family. Now, she focuses on her career and family. She can fully support Eric’s ambitions and dreams in the military and be the courageous military spouse when Eric is away.

Having both joined the military for different reasons, Eric and Chelby offered up advice for young persons looking to do the same. Capitalizing on his experience as a recruiter, Eric urges students to talk to their parents about their decision making process and involve them. Chelby would remind people that if you aren’t sure, look into the reserves and active duty both. The college dollars are the same and you can always go from reserves to active duty if you decide you want to do so.

Now stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y., the Mathisons look to the future together. Eric plans on serving for at least another five years. Both Eric and Chelby have enjoyed their time in New York but are hoping for a move soon so they can experience different bases and their operations. They are both eager to always find opportunity to learn from others. Beyond that, the future could find them back home in the Spring Valley area, closer to family, where they can raise their two small children as well as be closer to their son who resides in Stewartville, Minn.

One thing is for certain. The path the Mathison family has taken in life has lead them down the road of humanitarianism. Not only have they both represented our own country, protected our rights and watched over us; they have embraced the world to try and make it a better place. Not too shabby for a couple of small town kids turned big world heroes.


Your comment submission is also an acknowledgement that this information may be reprinted in other formats such as the newspaper.


6:32:58, Feb 22nd 2014

Journalreader says:
WOW is what i can say to this WOW. good job journal this is one heck of an article! very moving to read this story of a small town hero! excellent writing thank you so much for doing such a great story!


6:29:53, Feb 23rd 2014

Proud family member says:
Thank you for this wonderful article about my nephew and his family. We are all so proud of his commitment and service.


8:58:12, Feb 25th 2014

jjoyengel says:
You are both wonderful people! You have and are doing something not just for yourselves and your family but for our Country. Thank you for everything that you both are. Good luck to you, be safe and know my family will keep you in our thoughts and prayers.


9:14:19, Feb 25th 2014 says:
Eric, I don't know if you remember me but I am Erik Paulsen's Mm. I want to personally thanks you for all you and your wife have done for me and our country. I see your Mom and Dad often and the pride in their voices, when they talk about you, if very evident . I am very proud of you. I hope you will return to Spring Valley some day. Always, Rita (Paulsen) Westphal

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