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Army Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Leach

Died June 26, 2012 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

29, of Ferndale, Mich., assigned to 1st Battalion, 334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division (Leader Training), U.S. Army Reserve, Fraser, Mich.; died June 26, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of unspecified causes.

'He was happy to be doing what he was doing'

By David Ashenfelter
Detroit Free Press

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach loved being a soldier.

So much so that when two tours of duty in Iraq ended, he signed up for a third in Afghanistan and planned to make the military his career.

Leach, 29, of Ferndale, Mich., was found unresponsive in his bed June 26 at his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the cause of death not readily apparent. His wife said he was in good health.

“He was happy to be doing what he was doing and felt like he was doing something for his country,” Sarah Leach, 30, said about her husband. “He was a great father and a husband.”

The Leaches’ son, Jack, turned 7 months old just two days after his father’s death.

Matthew Leach was born in Texas and moved with his family to Pennsylvania and later to Ferndale.

Sarah Leach said she and her husband attended elementary, junior high and high school together but didn’t start dating until after they graduated in 2000. They married in 2005.

After high school, Matthew Leach worked as a state certified auto body repair specialist at a collision shop in Ferndale. Family members described him as energetic, creative and someone who wanted to excel. They said he was an avid hunter.

They said he joined the Army in 2003 because he wanted to serve his country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He served two tours, totaling 20 months in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.

After the second tour ended in 2008, he joined the Army Reserve and signed up for a one-year tour in Afghanistan, where he worked with robots. He was a member of the 1/334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division, out of Fraser, Mich.

His wife said he had been in Afghanistan for about a month and that she got an email from him last week indicating he was happy to be there.

An Army buddy, James Madden, 28, of suburban Minneapolis, said Leach was a loyal friend.

“He was the best friend you could have,” Madden said. “He would do anything for you.”

Senior NCO: ‘He was among the very best’

By Christina Hall
Detroit Free Press

In between active duty deployments, Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Leach worked at Wujek-Calcattera & Sons Funeral Home, where he greeted mourners and helped set flowers.

Leach, a reservist, was also a member of the Army Reserve Funeral Honors Team, attending 273 military funerals since joining the team in May 2010.

On July 11, in a sad twist of fate, it was that Sterling Heights funeral home and his Army Reserve honors team colleagues who mourned his death, as they assisted in his funeral at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.

Leach, 29, was found unresponsive in his bed June 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during his third combat deployment. The cause of his death was not readily apparent. He joined the Army in 2003, according to his family.

Leach’s wife, Sarah, and their 7-month-old son, Jack, were among the hundreds who remembered and mourned the soldier at an outdoor shelter at the cemetery under bright blue skies.

Master Sgt. Jeff Rector, who coordinated the funeral honors team until he retired last month, said Leach was an all-American, a good son, father, brother and husband.

“He was professional. He was among the best. He was among the very best,” Rector said. “He was exceptional. He loved life and loved serving in the Army.”

Rector recalled that after a particularly emotional funeral, Leach mentioned that he wanted to raise his son in a church.

“He would always do his best and always be trusted,” Rector said. “He took it to the extreme.”

Leach was assigned to the 1/334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division (Leader Training) in Fraser.

A picture of Leach with his son stood near his flag-draped casket. The hour-long service included bagpipes and gun salute and the folding of the flag, which was presented to Leach’s mother and wife, who held little Jack — dressed in a red, white and blue outfit.

The family’s neighbor, Janelle Bradley, 64, attended the service. She said she knew the family for a couple of years and remembered when the couple moved in and asked her and her husband over for dinner.

Bradley said Leach made barbecued ribs, filet mignon for her and roasted asparagus. “He was an awesome cook and a very, very nice man,” she said.

She said Leach went for intensive training before going to Afghanistan in what was “supposed to be a safe deployment.”

“This was a shock,” she said of his death. “I hope to find out someday what happened. He was a wonderful boy.”

Funeral director Mike Zuzga said Leach worked at Wujek-Calcattera for some time between deployments.

“This was a real people person. He was a great guy,” Zuzga said.

Leach’s funeral honors team colleague, Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Belcher, said it was the first time the team has laid to rest one of its own.

“It was an honor to be here and to do this for him,” she said.

Funeral held for reservist who died in Afghanistan

The Associated Press

HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Mich. — A 29-year-old Army Reserve soldier from suburban Detroit who died in Afghanistan during his third combat deployment has been buried at Great Lakes National Cemetery.

The family and friends of Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Leach of Ferndale turned out for Wednesday's funeral service at the military cemetery in Oakland County's Holly Township, 40 miles northwest of Detroit.

Leach died June 26 in Kandahar. The Pentagon hasn't disclosed how he died.

Leach was born in Texas. He served two tours in Iraq before Afghanistan.

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rector recruited Leach and tells The Detroit News he was "among the best."

Ex-Ferndale neighbor Janelle Bradley tells the Detroit Free Press that Leach was a "wonderful cook" who invited her and her husband over for barbecue ribs, filet mignon and roasted asparagus.

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