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One Veteran’s Journey from Iraq to Las Positas College and a New Beginning

July 17, 2014
Matthew Dierking

Matthew Dierking

“When the journey from means to end is not too long, the means themselves are enjoyed if the end is ardently desired.” Bertrand Russell – Mathematician and Social Activist.

One of the pleasures that we enjoy at is to share the tales of people that have overcome obstacles in order to meet their goals. While we actively seek out these profiles, sometimes they come to us. Mr. Matthew Dierking is a perfect example. Upon recently reading content in the Life in College series, Matthew offered to share his story. Matthew’s narrative is far from perfect. He has endured many bumps along the road. Yet, he was willing to share his journey – perhaps as a pinpoint of inspiration for those that may have also endured challenges in their lives. The goal: To make your life the best that it can be – today and for the future.

Matthew Dierking was raised in the Sacramento-area and his family moved to the Bay Area when he was 12 years old in 1993. This move was prompted by an employment change by his father who then began working with the Alameda Newspaper Group. By his own admission, it was a turbulent time for Matthew and his family. His transition into Wells Middle School and Dublin High was not easy. With some self-admitted “bad choices”, he found himself precariously on the fringes of even graduating with the required number of credits. With straight talk advice from his counselors, he was able to complete his required courses/credits at Valley High School in the fall of 1999 and graduated with a high school diploma.

Prior to his graduation, he and a friend had engaged with a US Navy recruiter. While it may have seemed like a “flyer” at the time, the recruiter was very persistent. And Matthew was intrigued. By the end of the summer, he was committed and was ready to enlist. He immediately was enrolled into boot camp and was subsequently shipped to the USS Blue Ridge. He was primarily responsible as an Aerographer’s Mate for tracking US warships and the weather patterns in the Indian and Pacific oceans. After an honorable discharge, Matthew took on several civilian jobs stateside.

Many years earlier, his mother was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Though she was in remission for many years, the condition returned in 2006. Despite a valiant fight, she perished in July, 2007. Matthew’s life was in turmoil. He was seeking guidance. He decided to return to the platform that would provide him the greatest structure. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2008. Over the next three years, he attained the rank of Sergeant. One of his deployments was to Iraq where he responsible for other soldiers. One of the highlights was driving a truck over 10,000 miles – accident and incident free. Subsequently, he served for over a year in South Korea. Upon again returning to civilian life, Mr. Dierking found employment in a variety of fields. But each stop was relatively short in duration.

While his first marriage ended in divorce, it yielded a son, Gavin. The young man just completed the 4th grade at Frederiksen Elementary School. The years were flying by and Matthew realized that it was not simply about himself, but also the quality of life for his family. The one thing that he had not given up on was his pursuit of education. With his focus now much sharper, he enrolled at Las Positas College in Livermore in 2012. We sat down with Mr. Dierking to discuss his circuitous path and his renewed goals. Upon graduating high school, you found yourself traveling the globe and being responsible for the reporting of highly critical weather data. Please explain what that experience was like.

Matthew Dierking: “I was a fish out of water who took to the sea. I loved being on the water. Less than four days after arriving to my ship we went to Hong Kong from Yokosuka, Japan. The trip lasted a couple weeks but I learned immediately that I loved the Pacific Ocean. The responsibility I loved also, being a part of history. It was surreal taking a history class a couple summers ago where events that I had been a part of just ten years prior were being taught.” After a series of civilian jobs, you re-enlisted – this time in the Army. Where did you initially train?

Dierking: “I trained in Fort Sill, OK for a second boot camp. Then, I went to Fort Leonard Wood, MO for truck driving school. I went to Camp Stanley, Korea and ended working in an office for most of a year. I returned to Fort Sill and just a couple days shy of being back in the States for my minimum six month ‘stabilization’ period I was on a plane to Kuwait. I got to carry a rifle onto a 777, we all did.” You enrolled at Las Positas College with the goal of ultimately attaining an undergraduate degree. Explain the “trigger” that motivated you to take this important step.

Los Positas College Livermore CaliforniaDierking: “I researched my options pretty much from the day I joined the Army. I knew that I wasn’t going to make the Army a career – I wanted out. Getting my education was my number one priority, so all my research was centered on getting my education. During that time I found out that universities generally don’t care what you did in high school if you start college after 25 years old, they call you a re­entry student. They consider what you did in the intervening years and what would be negatives on an college application at 18 years old become positives after a wide period of years if you have overcome your challenges. Armed with this knowledge I knew from the day that I stepped on to Las Positas College in January 2012 that I would be applying for a transfer to Stanford and Berkeley, because I had the opportunity now. I had turned myself around with two branches of military service, family, work experience, and upcoming community college experience. I have a heck of a college application essay coming this year.” For those that may not be familiar, describe how the enhanced Montgomery G.I Bill is helping to make your dream come true.

Dierking: “The new GI Bill is called the Post 9­11 GI Bill. It makes it feasible for Veterans to go to school in more ways than one. It is not perfect and there is a lot of criticism out there if you look for it, but it will get me through most of my undergraduate degree. It makes it economically feasible for me to go to school. Without it, I would not have completed half the units I did over the last two and a half years.” Tell our readers how the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) at Las Positas has specifically supported your efforts.

Matthew with Todd Steffan

Matthew with Todd Steffan

Dierking: “We have one of the best Veterans Coordinators in the country, Todd Steffan. Without Todd, there would be no VRC. Todd has built an excellent program over at Las Positas for Veterans. I have used information provided by the VRC for schooling issues, pay issues, housing issues, job leads, and counseling issues. Not to mention the friends that I have made along with the camaraderie.” As a father of two, you are working for the betterment of your family. What aspirations do you have for your sons?

Dierking: “I want my sons to be the best they can be. I don’t know how it will look once I graduate with my bachelors. Education will be important to me for them. I want them to find what they are passionate about and to be successful at whatever that is. I can’t tell what I want them to be. I will be the first in my family in a couple generations to get my undergraduate degree and I plan on getting my masters and/or maybe a law degree. People might be surprised but I don’t want my boys in the military. It scares me to death that a large enough conflict will come along and the draft will have to be re­instituted. I would want them to join the military if they wanted to be pilots or in Special Forces because they would be in high caliber jobs where they are the best of the best.” Anything else that you would like to add?

Dierking: “If you are a high school student reading this who hasn’t done their best and regrets it already, just remember that everything can be turned around with a little hard work.”

The middle chapters of Matthew Dierking’s life are about to be written. And this journey appears to be tracking in a positive direction. We would like to thank Matthew for his uncommon candor and for his service to our country. Mr. Dierking has since remarried and is the proud father of a five week old son.

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One Comment
  1. Michael Utsumi permalink
    July 18, 2014 11:17 pm

    *These comments are published through the authority granted by Major Edward Worthington – Commander at Camp Parks – Dublin, CA*


    Truly a positive start to a man who has faced challenges, unfortunately too many veterans are lost for one reason or another and never get it together. As our Armed Forces are largely gutted from the reduction in force and more young men and women are let go I truly have concern for their well being, let alone the challenges many face from years of war etc. We have a lot of Soldiers whom will soon be on the streets through no fault of their own and put into a tough economic environment (Army is discharging 10% of all Majors and Captains this year alone..). The negative stories will outweigh the positive significantly in the near future I fear. Great to hear a positive story nevertheless!

    Major Worthington will depart on a voluntary one-year deployment to Iraq in September. We wish him God Speed.

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