NEW BETHLEHEM — For the Redbank Valley Bulldogs wrestling team, it’s a season honoring the memory of the late Matt Brinker.
Brinker died last July, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had served in the military and was a decorated soldier as a U.S. Navy Seal.
Bulldogs head coach Mike Kundick and his coaching staff donned shirts honoring Brinker at the District 9 Duals a few weeks ago and will likely be wearing them at districts.
Brinker was a standout wrestler for the Bulldogs from 1997-2000, compiling 98 career wins, winning the 140-pound district title in 1999 on his way to a seventh-place state medal.
As good as he was in a Bulldogs singlet, Kundick could only marvel at what he accomplished as a soldier, serving his country at the highest level of performance.
“Matt was a great wrestler, good team leader and he was an exciting wrestler to watch in high school,” Kundick said. “His senior year, he wrestled mostly with one arm. His shoulder kept popping, but he grinded it out.
“That’s why the Seals wanted him, special forces wanted him. He became a hero, protected a lot of troops.”
Brinker served as a scout sniper for four years and five months in the Marine Corps with one deployment to Afghanistan and two to Iraq.
He then moved to the Navy, where he successfully completed Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal (BUD/S) training and became a SEAL. Brinker served six years and seven months as a SEAL, with one national tasking deployment.
Brinker was one of the highest trained and capable snipers in the Navy and the Marines. He received two combat action ribbons, an Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon, two Iraq Campaign Ribbons and was an expert riflemen and pistol expert.
“Talking to his buddies from the military and team he was around, he was something else,” Kundick said. “You watch it on TV, but you can’t even imagine what those guys go through. Does TV do it justice? Probably not, but it gets us close to what they go through.”
And suffer. The images of soldiers with lost limbs or dealing with physical injuries are easy enough to understand, but it’s not the case with the mental disorders such as PTSD that soldiers bring home with them after such intense experiences from combat.
And in the honor of Brinker, Kundick offered some very simple advice.
“First of all, we’re proud to wear the shirts,” he said. “But the next time you see a veteran, thank them for their service. They’ll appreciate it.”