RICHMOND, Va. –
Staff Sgt. Matthew Riley’s hometown roots rest in Abingdon, Virginia, a small town located in the southwest corner of the state. In high school, he was active in athletics, playing on both the football and wrestling teams at Abingdon High School, and he wrestled in college too, at King University, in Bristol, Tennessee. Funding his college dreams was part of what led him to join the National Guard, along with a strong desire to serve his country and community.
“I joined to help pay for college and to give back to the less fortunate,” Riley said, explaining that he enlisted into the Virginia Army National Guard as a 74D Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear, or CBRN, Specialist. After completing basic and advanced training, he served in the 229th Chemical Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group until becoming the Virginia National Guard’s Abingdon-area recruiter in 2015, a position he’s held ever since.
As he settled into his military career, Riley decided to increase his community involvement and started coaching for two area high schools. At Holston High School in Damascus, Riley serves as a volunteer football coach and at Patrick Henry High School in Glade Spring, he’s the lead wrestling coach. In addition to lending his time to coach area teens, he’s also donated the entirety of his coaching salary back to Patrick Henry each of the three years he’s been a coach there.
“I wanted the faculty and students to know that we aren’t there just to recruit, but to look out for the kids too,” Riley said. He said it’s sometimes a challenge to balance his full-time recruiting responsibilities with his coaching efforts, but building rapport with his community and giving back has been an incredible experience.
Master Sgt. Josh Pedersen, Riley’s section chief in the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, praised Riley’s efforts building relationships in his community and said he’s a great example of what recruiting excellence looks like.
“He’s super active in his high schools and his communities. He’s built a program over years, which is the ideal way for a national guard recruiter to do his job,” Pedersen explained. “He is highly regarded in his schools and in his community. He’s a fantastic Soldier and a really good recruiter.”
This year, with the help of Riley’s donated salary, Patrick Henry High School purchased an air-inflated sports tunnel, which all the school’s athletics teams will have access to. The new tunnel made its debut at this year’s homecoming game Oct. 4, 2021.
“The tunnel is for the entire school and it’s something that the kids can be proud of,” Riley said. “They’re so thankful to finally have a tunnel for the school.”