Mattson at Podium 2019Battle Ground High School AFJROTC welcomes distinguished alumni guest

by Plans Officer, Cadet/Lt. Braden Morrison and Corps Commander, Cadet/Lt. Col. Taylor Harpe

Rick Mattson retired as a Major General in 2017 following a 36-year career as an aviator, diplomat, and leader in the U.S. Air Force. Before Mattson began his distinguished military career, he was a swimmer, choir member, and shooter on the small-bore rifle team at Battle Ground High School.

The BGHS Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFJROTC) recently had the honor of hosting Major General Mattson and his wife, Vanita. During their visit, the Mattsons were immersed in the AFJROTC program. They visited marksmanship practice, classroom presentations, and the Military Dining-in and Military Ball at the Battle Ground Community Center. While he practiced with the marksmanship team, Mattson also had a surprise reunion with his former rifle coach and 32-year veteran of Battle Ground School district, Jim Storey.

“Meeting General Mattson was pretty special,” said BGHS’ cadet corps commander and senior Taylor Harpe. “He’s a pretty good shot on the rifle range, and he gave the cadets a lot to think about through his stories of leadership. He is the kind of leader that makes you feel like anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”

MG Mattson WW1 AmbAfter graduating in 1977, Mattson’s ambitions of becoming a pilot would take him on an amazing journey across the globe. Mattson was commissioned through the ROTC at Pacific Lutheran University, and would go on to qualify as a freefall parachutist, accumulate 2,900 flight hours piloting four different fighter aircraft, and conduct numerous special missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of various task forces.

When he retired in 2017, Maj. Gen. Mattson’s 40th high school class reunion was approaching. While browsing the BGHS’ website, he came across information about the school’s cadet corps program. He was excited to see such a program at his alma mater, spurring him to reach out to Lt. Col. Andy Woodrow, Senior Aerospace Sciences Instructor at BGHS, and express an interest in doing something to support the school’s AFJROTC cadet program.

“The AFJROTC program did not begin at Battle Ground High School until 18 years after Gen. Mattson graduated,” said Woodrow. “When I spoke with him, Major General Mattson noted that his experience with ROTC in college greatly influenced his life path, and he was eager to share his experiences with our current cadets, who were very excited to have him visit.”

The only problem with that plan was that Mattson was still in Islamabad, Pakistan at the time. When Gen. Mattson returned to the United States, a plan was launched to invite him to be the guest speaker for the corps’ dining-in event on February 1.

Mattson promoting Harpe 2019Mattson also had a surprise in store for cadet Harpe at the Military Dining-in event. While presenting his remarks, Mattson called Harpe out for a “uniform infraction,” stating that Harpe’s rank was “wrong” before “correcting” it by promoting the senior student to Cadet/Lieutenant Colonel.

Mattson and his family reside in Tampa, Florida, but he has not forgotten his Battle Ground roots or the influences that guided him to a successful career, and that was his message to the cadets.

“You have to lead with your heart,” Mattson told the cadets. “Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Am I doing all that I can to prepare for that moment when I am tapped on the shoulder and asked to accept a challenging mission?’”

Looking down at his shoulders, now adorned with the two stars of a major general, the BGHS cadets were inspired by Mattson’s words and secure in the knowledge that his message was genuine.  

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