MONTE VISTA — To serve. To teach. To lead. To believe in something greater than oneself.
These actions describe Matthew Tillman, Monte Vista native and graduate of Sargent High School, who was recently promoted to the honorable rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army.
While those behaviors can clearly be seen throughout a distinguished military career spanning close to two decades, the origin of their roots – Matthew’s roots – go back to when he was a boy, “playing in the dirt and inventing things” with his brother, Andrew, under the watchful gaze of his parents, John and Judi Tillman.
“He is our son,” Judi says.
Four simple words that resonate with pride and respect.
Matthew had a childhood suggestive of another era. He grew up in the small town of Monte Vista and was known for being a talented athlete. “Matthew was on the All-Valley football team, the basketball team, the baseball team. He was always an avid snow skier and loved water sports,” Judi says. He was a hard worker, spending summers working for a crop dusting service cleaning, filling containers and fitting the plane that sprayed the fields nearby.
He grew up as a Christian, and it was in his faith that many of his core values and commitment to serving others were first formed and strengthened as he grew older.Teaching was literally in his genes. Matthew attended Sargent High School, a good school with small classes and a student body of around a hundred students. It was also where his mother taught English, and his father taught music and was principal before leaving to take a position at BOCES later in his career.
Those years proved Matthew to be a good student. He was Salutatorian of the Class of 2000. He also tried his hand at playing an instrument – the trombone – and played in the high school band. When he told his father, he wanted to quit the band, his father gave him permission with one caveat. “You’re going to sing in the church choir, then.” And so that’s what Matthew did, every Sunday.
High school was where Matthew decided on a future in the military, largely attributed to the influence of his uncle, Everett Tuxhorn. “My brother is a Retired Command Sergeant Major in the Army,” Judi says.
“Matthew grew up hearing him talk and tell stories. I think that helped him decide what he wanted for his life.”
While still in high school, Matthew joined the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC). “He was given a full scholarship to Colorado State University from the Air Force,” Judi says. “It paid for his tuition, his books, everything.”
He entered CSU in the fall of 2000. A year later, 9/11 happened. “Matthew had friends in the army, and I think they convinced him to go with the army instead.” He ultimately made the change at the end of his sophomore year.
Being in ROTC at CSU was the place where he envisioned the kind of leader he wanted to be, embodied in Peter Bleich, the enrollment and scholarship officer of CSU’s ROTC program. “He had high expectations from the cadets and the program, but he was kind. He carried himself with confidence grounded in proficiency,” Matthew was quoted as saying.
Matthew had initially wanted to be in the infantry, but the Army had other plans and assigned him to the Medical Services Corps where, as a Captain, he was in charge of a 72-soldier mobile hospital on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The assignment required him to go, by helicopter, to three different locations at a time when helicopters were frequently shot down. He also commanded a guard force in Iraq.
Matthew doesn’t talk much about either experience. “He taught all the soldiers to put in an IV. He took care of civilians who were attacked in a nearby village. He spoke about four boys who’d been injured by an I.E.D.,” Judi says. “He also mentioned he had to take a gun with him everywhere, even to the bathroom, and the base had been under fire for six months. He didn’t tell us any of that at the time.”
Of all his experiences while on active-duty, one stands out above the rest. With the onset of the pandemic, Matthew was given two weeks to construct a 250-bed hospital in Seattle using nothing but disassembled parts of two different Army hospitals. He accomplished what he was ordered to do, saying in an interview with the CSU newspaper, “To be able to see that side of our Army and our ability to be ready to support on the homeland is pretty neat.”
Judi refers back to who Matthew is, what kind of man he’s become. “Everywhere he and Chelsea(wife) have gone, they’ve been active in their Christian faith.