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Iraq War Vet Inspired to be a Teacher

Matthew Poth enrolls in the College of Education to pursue a career in teaching after serving with the Marine Corps in Iraq.

by Pamela Batson

Poth.jpgFirst-year, College of Education student, Matthew Poth, had already started his fall semester when he was officially discharged from the Marine Corps on September 8. It was exactly four years ago that he reported to duty at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In those four years, he saw two tours of duty in Iraq and learned something about himself along the way: he wanted to be a teacher.

The first person in his immediate family to enter the military, Poth says he always wanted to serve his country. After graduating from Coatesville Area High School in June 2004, Poth had the self-awareness to know that he wasn’t just yet ready for college. Instead he enlisted with the Marines, and by August 2005, he was deployed to Iraq as an infantry machine gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, Kilo Company.

During his first tour, he was assigned to a base near the Iraqi/Syrian border where his company assisted with clearing several cities of insurgents and setting up forward observation bases, where the Marines eventually lived and conducted local patrols. He spent seven and a half months there before returning to Camp Lejeune where he was promoted to corporal.

After his promotion, he was placed in charge of other marines, and this experience was his first taste of teaching. According to Poth, “I took a lot of pride in helping the younger marines by passing on what knowledge I had and then watching them grow.”

In January 2007, he went back for his second tour in Iraq. This time he was stationed at bases around Fallujah, Ramadi, and other small cities in the area. He was active in clearing the cities of insurgents and helping the citizens rebuild their communities. Every day, he would lead his squad of 10 marines on security rounds visiting the local neighborhoods. After gaining their trust, they were greeted with tea and food from the families and smiles from the children. Poth never left the base without a pocketful of candy, medical supplies and/or toys.

While his treats helped him make friends, Poth says, “It was for the betterment of the citizens that we brought supplies and tried to help the locals.”

At one point, he found himself interacting with the local children when he visited the schools. He would learn broken Arabic and in turn teach them English phrases such as “What’s up?” or “That’s cool.” It was this kind of exchange that put smiles on the kids’ faces. He would meet the kids on the street, and they would yell out a greeting in English.

Poth returned from Iraq in August 2007 and enrolled at Penn State a year later. He has had to face some adjustments. “The college experience is totally different from being a Marine. I’m used to having an intense, disciplined mindset, and students on campus are more laid back.” He has joined the PSU Veterans Organization to meet other students who have served in the armed forces.

Poth plans to major in secondary education and become a history teacher. Coincidentally, his mother, Yolanda, is studying at West Chester University to be an elementary education teacher. He chose Penn State because of his family’s strong ties to the University. His dad, Tim, is a ’77 Education alum and as are many members of his extended family.

Poth is a 2008-09 recipient of the Blake and Linda Gall Trustee Scholarship in Education.