A career in the armed forces can provide you a wide range of benefits – like a steady income, access to healthcare, job training, educational assistance and opportunities for travel.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson, a recruiter with the Huntsville Army Recruiting Company, was eager to obtain all of these benefits when he made his decision to join the Army over 14 years ago.
“I was only 17 years old and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I decided to join the Army because I was headed in the wrong direction during my last years of high school. I was skipping school and not making good grades. I wasn’t mature enough to go to college at the time and I wanted something better for myself. Someone told me to go down and talk with an Army recruiter and I did. The recruiter told me about the benefits of military service. I had family members who had served so I knew that he was being honest with me. I also wanted to travel and see the world. The Army did that for me.”
Thompson joined the Army from his hometown of Orange Park, Florida. His parents had to sign a waiver for him to join because of his age. He was a part of the Split-Op Program, which allowed future Soldiers to split their basic training and job training. He attended basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, the summer between his junior and senior year of high school. Once basic was completed and his contract was signed, he was officially in the Army Reserve. After graduating high school, his active duty career began with six weeks of job training as a 42A human resources specialist at Fort. Jackson, South Carolina.
Thompson said he chose his military occupational specialty based on the career he thought would easily translate into a civilian career. The human resources training he received helps him gain the skillset needed to prepare him to become a successful human resources professional once he leaves the military. He is working on getting his human resources certification.
“I come from a family that values military service,” he said. “I have two brothers who served on active duty in the Army, one brother served in the Army Reserves and another who served on active duty in the U.S. Marines. My father retired after serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy. Military service was always a hot topic with my family. It was the choice we made because we all wanted to be independent and start something for ourselves. We thought the career opportunities in the military were limitless. My brothers had some great jobs in the military – an airborne infantryman, X-ray technician an all-wheel mechanic.”
Thompson said the Army has given him unique opportunities for success. He has received some great leadership and training opportunities throughout his military career. He has been selected for some great assignments, too. For instance, he wasn’t expecting a job change in 2019 when he was selected for a three-year assignment to work as a 79R, Army recruiter. He received training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for seven weeks and he is serving as a local recruiter.
“At the time, I was very proficient in my job and ran my own S-1 shop within my battalion. I wasn’t looking for a different career path,” he said. “I really enjoy working as a HR specialist. I like the interaction you have with others and how I get to help individuals with personnel issues such as pay, promotions, rewards and maintaining their military records. I was excited about becoming a recruiter. I knew that in order to get promoted I needed to take on a broadening assignment, and knew this was a good opportunity for me to do so.
“I was a little concerned because it was outside of my comfort zone. I had to learn an entire new job and MOS. I hadn’t done that in 14 years. I embraced it and received good mentorship from fellow Army recruiters. I like that I get to interact with people and point them in paths that can lead them to great careers in the military.”
Thompson said he was amazed by all the benefits of military service. His recruiting background is beneficial because he can take some of the programs that he has learned as a recruiter back to his HR job to use as he talks with people who are exiting the military.
Thompson said the thing he loves most about serving in the Army is the family he has gained and the special people he has met. He attributes the Army for his meeting his wife, Staff Sgt. Vanessa Thompson, a religious affairs specialist at Bicentennial Chapel.
The two met while both were assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McCord and they have one son together, Nikolai Rosado. Thompson said their being a dual couple creates a special bond in their marriage because they understand each other and are very supportive of each other. He said the thing he likes least about military service is being away from family. He was deployed on tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although Thompson said his years of military service have passed by swiftly, he’s still enjoying all the benefits. The Army gave him a solid foundation that allows him to help take care of his family. The couple bought their first home together in 2020.
“My greatest accomplishment in the military has been providing for my family and being the best husband and father I can be,” he said. “We’re able to attend college, buy a house together and travel around the world – all through serving in the military. It’s huge for me that I am able to help take care of my family.”
Thompson said while working as a recruiter allows him to pay forward his indebtedness to the Army, finding the next generation of Soldiers isn’t always easy.
“Being able to relate to teenagers, adapting and overcoming the changing world is quite the challenge for me,” he said. “When I was younger, you knew what kids would be doing, things like a pickup basketball game or hanging out at a community center. Nowadays you don’t. They are on their cellphones, playing videogames and working. They are smart – defiantly smarter than I was coming out of high school, and they have to deal with so much more. I also have to deal with my own ego and hearing the word ‘no’ over and over if someone isn’t interested in military service.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson said his recruiting station got a lot of foot traffic. The recruiting team would also go out into the community to talk with students about serving in the Army. He said they aren’t allowed into most schools right now and there aren’t many students coming to their recruiting station inside Parkway Place Mall because of safety concerns due to the pandemic. Recruiters are finding new ways to connect with people and are on social media more now.
Thompson said the highlight of his day is when he gets to talk with an individual about military service. He loves the opportunity to show someone the benefits of military service and often uses himself as an example to tell his Army story.
“Not every job in the military allows you an opportunity to impact people on such a personal level,” he said. “I love the way we honestly change people’s lives. It’s kind of my way of paying it forward. Without the opportunities the Army has given me, I wouldn’t be at the place that I’m at. Now I’m going to pass it on to other individuals to propel them into their future Army careers. The best advice I can give an individual who is thinking about military service is to take care of your health and stay out of trouble. Come talk to a recruiter and find out the facts. I’m glad I did.”
For more information about joining the Army, call the Huntsville Army Recruiting Station at 518-3972.