Don't stand in someone else's shadow

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Boutte
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Walking around base, you will see several first sergeants, but have you noticed this one in particular? He is five feet, seven inches tall, with a Mr. Clean appearance and a presence that lights up a room.

No matter the rank, he snaps to attention, arms straight down the seam of his pants, heels together at a 45-degree angle, listening to Airmen and answering with a sir or ma'am.

Master Sgt. Matthew Coltrin, 509th Medical Group first sergeant, strides in with a huge grin on his face. You would never know he was a Military Training Instructor for five years.

"Since the beginning, my mom has always been the driving force in my life to do the right thing, achieve and be something great," Coltrin said. "I wanted to make my mom proud and I knew enlisting in the military would make that happen."

Coltrin said he wanted to serve but didn't know how. It was on September 11, 2001 when it became clearer what to do.

"The game plan was to do something different, get some cool experience and go back home," he said.

Coltrin's patriotism, finances and his motivation led him to the recruiter's office in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He graduated from the Avionics Component Maintenance Course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. He was responsible for maintaining aircraft electronic equipment such as radar systems, communications and navigation systems, flight control systems and flight data recorder systems.

In his early years as an Airman, he demonstrated himself to be a hard-working individual.

"The product you produce in life is a reflection of your values, it also presents an individual with the opportunity to positively affect all those around them, that's why I'm always am trying to raise the bar, you never know how your actions affect those around you" Coltrin said. "My goal is to be better than I was yesterday. I may not be the best compared to someone else, but I want to be my best. That is all I can be."

With a positive attitude and dedication, Coltrin won his first award, the 18th Component Maintenance Squadron Airman of the Year, after only serving six months at his first assignment. He then followed up the next year, being named First Term Airman of the Year for Pacific Air Forces.

While at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Coltrin also joined the Base Honor Guard Team, and subsequently became a member of the Kadena Drill Team, a volunteer team where members practiced outside of duty hours.

"Matt was an important part of that team," said Capt. Ray Bradshaw, former Kadena Drill Team leader. "He always did what we asked him, even the menial stuff designed to make him quit, all because he wanted to be considered a brother to the rest of the team."

Before joining the drill team, Coltrin had to serve a full honor guard commitment, which was a year.

"He stuck it out and eventually came to be as trusted as any other member of the team," Bradshaw said.

His persistence paid off in 2005 when Coltrin was named the 18th Wing Honor Guard Airman of the Year.

"In my eyes it's not about what you've done, it's what you're going to do," he said. "I take positive energy with me everywhere I go. A positive attitude is critical to accomplishing goals. I am super-motivated, and when I have the opportunity to work with a team and accomplish feats that would be otherwise impossible acting alone, this higher calling is the fuel that drives my engines. I tell my Airman they should always operate on the borderline of discomfort and failure, that's where awesomeness occurs. If you're bored it's time to move on. Don't ever be satisfied with status quo."

In 2006, Coltrin applied for another one of his objectives -- Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor duty.

"I always admired Coltrin's dedication and commitment to the Air Force," said Juan Lewis, former command chief at Lackland AFB, Texas. "I remember how some of his leadership tried to persuade him from following his heart with comments that he was too young. However, I could look into his eyes and see his passion to do what he loved. As his command chief, he was unquestionably my number one Military Training Instructor."

Coltrin's career as an MTI speaks for itself. He received several accolades for his job well-done, including the Excellence in Instruction award at Military Training Instructor School; Non-commissioned Officer of the Year, twice; Military Training Instructor Association President's Award; the Air Education and Training Command Master Instructor Badge; and Blue Rope of the Year.

Coltrin said it would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Renee, and their two sons, Clayton and Charlie.

"My power team includes my peers, phenomenal supervisors/ mentors, and most importantly my wife and kids," Coltrin said. "She jumped on board with me early and we do this Air Force career together."

Coltrin has been stationed at Whiteman for almost three years. In his first two years back from his special duty, he shined in his career field before applying to become a first sergeant. He was named as the Air Force's Lieutenant General Leo Marquez winner in the Maintenance Supervisor Category in 2012.

"Special duty assignments are about learning new tools and applying those lesson's learned to your job, making it better," Coltrin said. "MTI duty definitely prepared me to be a better maintainer."

One of his latest accomplishments was attending the United States Marine Corps Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy Advance Course.

While this is not the typical or popular route for Air Force senior NCOs, when it comes to professional military education, it is an option, and a demanding one.

Nicknamed the "PT Academy," the Advanced Course teaches graduates how to advise subordinates in stress management, the performance evaluation system, financial planning and more. The course instructs the graduates in warfighting skills, applying the fundamentals of offensive and defensive tactics.

"The academics of the school are completely Marine-oriented," Coltrin said. "I had to translate the material from Marine to Airman to grasp the understanding of what the instructors were referring to. The Marine's mentality is definitely different than what we are accustomed to in the Air Force," Coltrin said. "They are very competitive; they are always testing and challenging each other. I love it! I fit right in."

Despite the differences, Coltrin was able to graduate second in his class, earn the Academic Achievement award, score a perfect on his Combat Fitness Test, and win the prestigious Gung Ho award for leadership and motivation.

"The Gung Ho for Marines is held in the highest esteem," said U.S. Marines Corps Master Sgt. Mark Jerry, staff noncommissioned officer in charge for the Advanced Course. "I have had the pleasure of leading men and women into battle and if I had my choice, First Sergeant Coltrin would be on my team for our next conflict."

For Coltrin, accepting the challenge of learning how a different service trains, while at the same time representing the Air Force, was one of the things that kept him motivated.

"A good way to stay motivated to achieve something one wouldn't otherwise do on their own is find someone with similar goals and enter a healthy competition," Coltrin said. "A healthy competition is a beautiful thing. The entire time I was at that school I felt like I was personally carrying the Air Force flag." Coltrin said the Airmen in today's Air Force also keep him driven and inspired.

"The young Airmen of the Air Force motivate me every day to do my job, fight for and with them" Coltrin said. "It's my pleasure to be the young guns muscle, which is a big reason I became an MTI and Shirt. Taking care of people is my business."

So with all his accomplishments and career achievements, what is the biggest thing Coltrin has learned in his career?

"Don't be paralyzed by the fear of failing," he said. "Everyone has bad days. You will fail lots of times before you win. In my opinion being successful has little to do with being smart or good looking, but it has everything to do with putting forth an extraordinary effort. Put your head down, ignore the naysayers and do work. If you apply the core values to all of your daily routines, you are almost always guaranteed success."