Ashes of Tragedy: Growing to enjoy life

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ashley Walker
  • 913th Airlift Group
Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Matthew Sheley, is a prior active duty Marine, an Arkansas State Trooper, and not too tough for ask for help.
“Earlier in my life I had three things that stopped me from getting help when I needed it the most: I was a Marine, a trooper, and male,” said Sheley. “Bad things happen to good people. I believe you have two choices when tragedy hits: drown your sorrows with bad choices or choose to live.”
Sheley met his wife, Andrea, online while he was serving his Marine enlistment in North Carolina and she was attending college in Texas.
“I used my leave to visit my, then, girlfriend spend time and build that relationship” Sheley said. “Once I left the service, I moved to Arkansas to obtain my degree and work as a state trooper. I continued to spend my free time visiting her in Texas.”
Shortly after Andrea's graduation, they were married and looking to start the next chapter in their lives.
Being a state trooper is inherently dangerous, but training cannot prepare you for everything you will encounter.
As Sheley responded to a 2 car crash scene. He approached a severely mangled car ready to help.
What he responded to was his bride of 55 days wedged among the twisted metal wreckage. He crawled into the wreckage to assist paramedics as the fire fighters used the Jaws of Life to pry open the debris. Once freed, the medics tended to his wife on the road. Holding onto his wife and hope, Sheley laid beside his wife waiting for a medical evacuation. Sheley’s life crumbled down as his bride took her last breath.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Sheley threw himself into work; avoiding emotions and responding to support by saying everything was “fine.”
“I was physically and emotionally drained from the aftermath,” said Shely. “I felt lost, confused and hopefulness with no desire to face my family, friends, or coworkers."
To add to the stress, the crash created a financial hardship from the additional unexpected bills and funeral expenses.
After five long years and failed relationships, he recognized that he was truly suffering. “I found Bobby Smith with an online search looking for state troopers who also suffered tragedy,” Sheley said. “He was a trooper who was shot in the line of duty, losing his eyesight, and dedicating his life to provide counseling to others. After talking with Smith, my healing journey truly began.”
From the ashes of tragedy rose a good life for Sheley.
After seeking support, Sheley joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 2011 to continue his service.
“I’m currently engaged to a wonderful woman,” Sheley said. “Once again my life is looking up. My career is also doing well as a state trooper and reservist.
"In hindsight, I wish I reached out for help sooner,” said Sheley. “I’ve shared my story in hopes to help others, from Colonels to young Airmen, no one is too big or bad to need help."
He recognizes that everyone has lost someone or something along their life journey. What Sheley hopes to do is to help others find healthy ways to cope with hardship.