Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1, November 2011

Single mother of four, grandmother, and company commander in Afghanistan
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Condensed by Native Village

Capt. Matilda Howe is an impressive mix of raw energy and uncanny focus. And she needs to be: she’s the company commander in charge of a combat aviation brigade in Afghanistan's Logar province.

Whether it’s helicopter fuel,  gunships, missiles, drinking water, or vegetables, Mattie stays one step ahead of her base’s needs. Sergeants who must keep up with her call her "the Energizer Bunny." The soldiers under her care are grateful.

But "Mattie," as she likes to be called, has a softer side, too. In her Echo Co. headquarters she anxiously awaits the next mail call and the arrival of the latest crazy nail polish from the States. She also calls her 79 soldiers "her children.

Mattie knows something about mothering.  She had 4 kids when she joined the Army at age 24 on a bet that she couldn’t handle the military and her large family. Not only did Mattie thrive in the Army, she also adopted a fifth child. Today, at 36, she’s a grandmother.

"I could never have made it without my mother," Mattie says with tears in her eyes. Her mother is Doris Gardner, a 50-something cancer survivor living in Colorado Springs.  Doris has watched over all the kids – her grandkids – during Mattie’s five overseas deployments.

Despite the distances and long stretches of time away from home, Mattie tries to be a mother to her own. She’s addicted to Skype and tries to call home for one or two hours a night. She likes to "hang out" with her family, who gather in their living room to chat, via cyberspace.

Mattie sends video clips made from her Flip camera about her life in Afghanistan and her mission there.

Mattie draws strength from her family and their deep roots. She's a full blooded Navajo, the first in her family to leave the Navajo reservation, the first to complete high school and the first to get a college degree.

Mattie also gets strength from her tribe. Before she left for Afghanistan, her grandfather performed a special prayer dance which often brings her peace.

"In my culture, family is the foundation of life," she says. Sticking together as one gives Capt. Howe time and space to focus on her demanding job in a war zone. Mattie realizes how dangerous her job is -- her unit has lost five pilots since July.

Howe is a single mom and a half marathon runner who happens to wear a uniform and defend her country. She never shies away from a challenge. NBC news Anchor, Brian Williams, interviewed Mattie in Afghanistan and learned for himself.

"I learned that the hard way when I boasted I’d beat her in a 100-yard dash, back on base," Williams said. "She not only smoked me but left me writhing in pain with a pulled hamstring.

Mattie says she’s just an ordinary Native American who loves her country and wants to give back. She also says  she’s a tough as nails "lifer" who’s in it for the full 20 years, the first female commander in her brigade. Mattie even dreams of becoming a general some day.

One thing’s for certain – Mattie Howe will never slow down.



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