had, he headed for the mountains to ski, just as he had during his teenage years, driving up to the hard-packed fast slopes of the Boyne Mountains in Michigan.
Now, based for months at a time on the Virginia coast, he had found a new playground, just a five-hour drive northwest from the SEAL base: the ski resort of Snowshoe, hidden among the snowy peaks of the Allegheny Mountains, way up there in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.
Heâd found a good buddy to join him on the steep westerly slopes of the Appalachian Rangeâone of the best snowboarders on the base, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler J. Trahan, an EOD by trade, a man wedded to the dangerous edge of life, both with bombs and dazzling acrobatic maneuvers on his snowboard.
Whereas Matt stuck to the hard-eyed high-speed runs of the downhill skier, Tyler was leaping and cartwheeling on his wide single board as ever out there on the edge. And this was a hell of place to be on the edge. One of the runs, chillingly named Shayâs Revenge, has a fifteen hundred-foot vertical drop, the highest in the mid-Atlantic.
The highest elevation was almost five thousand feet, and the trailsâGrab Hammer, J Hook, Ball Hooter, and Skidderâwere named for the old steam locomotives that once hauled logs over the vast Appalachian Range.
Both of them loved it up there, especially Tyler, who was always seeking the most challenging snowboard runs. He was a special guy: an outstanding high school football captain and quarterback, inducted into the National Honor Society, and at the US Navy Boot Camp had marched at the head of the parade, holding the golden sword awarded to the class leader.
As a deployed EOD expert in Iraq, the twenty-two-year-old Tyler was regarded as one of the most valuable young explosives technicians attached to the Teams. He and Matt shared not only a love of the mountains but also an unusual devotion to high patriotism and training.
Either of them would tackle any mission, no matter how dangerous. But not many people understood they were among the winter kings up in those snowy Allegheny trails, riding high and sliding fast. Real fast.
It was therefore doubly surprising to find Matt sitting on warm sand in late February, before they even took off for Iraq two weeks hence. He had turned up in the northeast corner of Mexicoâs Yucatan Peninsula with his girlfriend at the time, Danielle, on a hotel beach outside the city of Cancun.
After a few daysâ practice he was just getting the hang of relaxationâno one was yelling at him to get wet and sandy. The turquoise waters of the western Caribbean were superb for swimming and diving, and the drinks were as good as those in Squaw Valley.
It was not a long vacation. And like Jon Keefe, Matt was soon headed back to Virginia to pack up for Iraq. Jon was off base at his parentsâ home, packing and saying good-bye to Tom and Dawn. When SEALs prepare for deployment, every parent understands the honor, the trust, and the responsibilities that have been bestowed upon their sons by the US Navy. And every parent understands the innate pride deep inside the heart of every serving Navy SEAL.
But the unspoken dreads are always there: What if I never see him again? What if he dies at the hands of some half-crazed tribesmen? What if he hits a roadside bomb? Will I understand what he died for? How could I ever get over it?
SEAL commanders do not allow the waiting time to go on for long. Jon and Matt were due to leave just twenty-one days after they were initiated into Echo Platoon, and Matt was back from Mexico with just a few days to pack and be on the tarmac by March 2.
Early that morning he was outside his house, just beyond the perimeter of the Virginia Beach base. Jon arrived in a blue truck, driven by his brother, Tommy, who dropped them both at the airport before they set off for one of the most dangerous places on earth.
If one of the Teams is leaving, the situation must be truly dangerous,