The Internet connection speed isn’t the greatest from Maj. Matt Strub’s base in Iraq. But even with poor picture quality, he can see the smiles on his kids’ faces and hear their voices when he uses Skype’s free video calling software application to call home to Richfield. And that beats the expensive phone calls he made home during previous deployments in 1997 and 2003.
“I can blow them kisses and they can see them now,” Matt said of his children in an e-mail interview with your Catholic Herald. A nine-hour time difference separates Matt, Operations Officer for the 1-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, from his wife, Tina, and their children Samantha, 19, Nicholas, 18, Ana, 13, and Zachary, 11; technology and faith bring them together.
Technology and faith will also be key to Matt’s participation in the fifth annual Men of Christ Conference, “Putting on the Armor of God,” Saturday, Feb. 19, where he will deliver, via Skype, the introduction to men joined together for the conference at the Milwaukee Theatre and lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance from his base in Iraq.
“I am most looking forward to just being there, best I can, with the men,” said Matt, leadership team member and one of four co-founders of Men of Christ, which strives to evangelize, catechize and unify men.
Matt will have put in a full day’s work – the 12 to 14 hours that it takes to accomplish a normal mission – by the time the conference begins. A typical day as a helicopter pilot means Matt prepares the equipment, pre-flights the helicopter, receives an intelligence brief to learn of the most recent hostile activity and threat before executing a mission. The actual flight consists of moving soldiers, VIPs or equipment in Iraq, or a combination of all three.
As Operations Officer, he’s responsible for the coordination and taskings for five flight companies, including lift, attack and medical helicopters – a total of 40 helicopters – as well as operation of the tactical operations center that provides 24/7 situational awareness to the commander.
Sometime before 6 p.m. in Iraq, or 9 a.m. in Milwaukee, Matt will connect his computer – complete with a camera, microphone and external speakers – to a 42’’screen TV so that up to 30 or 40 soldiers can participate from their padded seats in the room he reserved at the main post chapel.
In Milwaukee, Clearwing Productions Inc., will coordinate the audio and visual at the theater. If the Skype connection is lost, Kevin O’Brien, the organization’s president will send CDs of the conference to the men.
“The Army is very interested in having soldiers that are fit and ready to do their jobs,” said Matt, who obtained permission from Fr. Brian Kane, the priest on base, who was receptive to his request to attend the conference. “A recent push is ‘resiliency.’ This includes physical, mental and spiritual health. The Army leadership is very supportive of soldiers getting involved in the spiritual activities of their choice.”
For more information
or to register for the Saturday, Feb. 19 Men of Christ conference at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., Milwaukee, visit the Web site, call (414) 297-9729 or e-mail.
In his opening remarks, Matt will use the image of a solider in uniform to help men visualize the concept of putting on armor to fight for a cause. “In my case, I am fighting for the freedom of an oppressed people and a country that is working to establish democracy. …” he said, explaining how sacraments are God’s armor that will help the men fight the eternal battle of good and evil. “We as Catholic men need to be involved, first on the individual spiritual level, then on the family level as the spiritual leader and good examples to our children, and finally involved in societal change. It doesn’t matter what walk of life we are in or where we are on our spiritual journey, we can always learn, grow and make a difference.”
Matt said men need to encourage each other to continue the journey together.
“No one can do it alone,” he said. “I hope the men listening will be able to take away a sense of unity and strength from each other.”
Matt, whose family belongs to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in North Lake, admitted his first deployment in 1997 was difficult.
“I can honestly, and regretfully, say that on my first deployment I did not have faith as a part of my priorities. I went through the motions and drifted apart from my wife and kids,” Matt said of his nine- or 10-month absence. “I didn’t make the time commitment to stay connected and involved with their lives like I should have. As a result, the reunification when I returned home was very difficult and our marriage was shaky at best. I did not handle that well.”
In between his first and second deployment, Matt had a “reversion of sorts” where he grew as an individual and strengthened his relationship with God. He continues to work at strengthening that relationship by committing to read daily Scripture and prayers.
“I use, ‘The Word Among Us,’ to keep on task, but do often fall short,” he said. “I can tell you it is difficult to start and keep a routine in this environment – it is a daily battle to fight laziness, busyness or just (being) too tired,” he said.
Tina said that talking to her husband frequently via e-mail or Skype has helped her with the challenges and increased responsibilities she faces at their Richfield home where they’ve lived since 2005.
“The first two (kids) are in college, so they’re doing pretty well,” she said of Samantha, a sophomore at Mount St. Mary University in Maryland, and Nicholas, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “They’re young adults so they’re very busy with work and school. The youngest two miss their dad terribly.”
She’s also found comfort in the support that people extend to her family.
“I have people that offer to help me so it’s really beautiful to see the true Christian charity that people have … and then of course the prayer support,” Tina said, noting that people at the kids’ school, Trinity Academy in Pewaukee, ask how Matt’s doing, offer prayers and help.
While Tina anticipates Matt’s homecoming in June, she doesn’t complain about their situation.
“Everybody has (his or her) cross,” she said. “If we didn’t have this cross we might have something else, so, and it’s part of our life. It’s a military life. It’s the life that we lead and it’s been beautiful…. We’ve been able to see different places and we wouldn’t trade that, but every vocation has its challenges and the separation is just ours.”
The separation that once caused Matt to drift apart from his family is what Tina said has brought them closer together because of how much it makes them appreciate each other.
“Just staying in contact takes a lot of work,” she said, “and so you really work at your relationship and you just really appreciate each other and the family, I think, so there’s blessings even with the hardships that we have,” she said.