After interviewing, he and his friend were admitted. "I certainly liked the idea of flying, but I wouldn't say like a lot of people that it was a childhood dream come true," reflects Matt. "I didn't really think it was an avenue that was available. I didn’t realize how many helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft there were in the Army."
Before aviation training began, Matt got married. He and his new bride spent 10 months at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for his initial rotary wing instruction, and after that Matt spent three months in Arizona for the Apache course. This was followed by unit-specific training back at Ellington.
He never lost his desire to pursue law. He took his LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and did well. But things began to heat up for the National Guard. Hurricane Katrina brought thousands of storm victims from Louisiana to Houston’s Reliant Center and Astrodome. His unit was enlisted to work security and distribute food and water. Four months later, he was off to Fort Hood for six months of predeployment training prior to being shipped to Iraq.
As an officer, he could pursue any service branch within the Guard subject to the needs of the Guard. A fellow service friend had been looking into an Apache helicopter unit at Ellington Field that had a need for lieutenants.
For Matt Salo, a young man from a small Michigan town, the road to Freeport LNG's legal department was winding and dramatic. Matt grew up in Iron Mountain, Michigan, 100 miles from Green Bay on the upper peninsula. Along with two younger brothers, he loved being outdoors: fishing, swimming and hunting around a small lake near their house. He also played every sport imaginable.
Matt attended a Catholic school through eighth grade and Kingsford High School. At Kingsford, he decided he liked the idea of becoming a lawyer. He started college at Grand Valley State University in Michigan studying political science—the closest thing the school had to pre-law. But after two years, he decided a larger school in a big city would be a better plan.
He moved to Houston where he had relatives: a SWAT officer uncle, a great uncle who was a Jesuit priest at Strake Jesuit School and a grandmother who he went to live with during school. He enrolled at the University of Houston and enlisted in the Army National Guard at the same time. The National Guard was a great opportunity to serve the community and help support his education.
Because he already had 60 credit hours from Grand Valley State, he was able to apply to the Guard's Officer Candidate School. During the 18-month program, he also began his studies at U of H. He graduated number one in his Officer Candidate class in August of 2002 and completed his U of H undergraduate degree in 2003.
In July of 2006, Matt's unit arrived in Kuwait for aircraft unloading and orientation training. Two weeks later, everyone was moved and stationed at Camp Anaconda on Balad Air Base north of Baghdad. Their missions ranged across Iraq and typically involved providing air support for ground troops during convoys or cordon-and-search operations. "I got to see every part of that country," recalls Matt. "We spent a little bit of time in Basra. I got a couple of flights up into Kurdistan. We did most of our missions in the Ramadi area, which is in Anbar province."
It was in Ramadi, on December 19, 2006, that Matt and his unit were put to the test. Matt was flying front-seat copilot/gunner along with pilot-in-command Robert Stacy providing security for an Iraqi police recruitment effort. New police trainees were often targets of insurgents. Downtown, a U.S. Marine unit was establishing an observation post when a hidden charge detonated and the unit drew fire from all sides, incurring several casualties. The Marines needed to call an evacuation convoy but had lost their main radio and could only communicate with a small handheld radio. Only by flying deep into the city could Matt establish any radio contact. "We were told not to go in there," said Matt, "but we really didn't have a choice."
Matt's Apache unit flew in and established communication with the Marines, drawing away fire the entire time. They would circle overhead to talk and then roll out. "We were varying it every time so that the bad guys on the ground couldn't get a bead on us," said Matt. "We were able to relay the situation to the Marines’ headquarters, and they were able then to get a convoy of armored vehicles out to help."
But none of this happened quickly or safely. The Apaches flew in and out for eight hours, landing several times to refuel. They suffered blown tires, bullet-riddled rocket pods, and Matt's helicopter had its fire-control computer disabled by a bullet that severed a wiring harness. It barely dodged a rocket-propelled grenade. The Apache pilots never fired a shot. "We couldn’t positively identify where the fire was coming from, and there were civilians all over the place," remembers Matt. "About the only thing we could do was provide cover for the Marines . . . while they got out of the city." On April 16th, 2007, Matt, along with three other Apache pilots, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement.
Two National Guardsmen were killed when their Apache helicopter crashed into Galveston Bay on Dec. 28, 2016. The crew members who died were identified as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dustin Lee Mortenson, 32, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lucas Maurice Lowe, 33. Mortenson, of League City, was an aviation materials officer and Lowe, of Hardin, served as an aircraft maintenance officer. The soldiers were assigned to Matt Salo's Battalion: the 1st Battalion, 149th Attack Helicopter Battalion, at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base.
Chief Warrant Officer 2
Lucas Maurice Lowe
Matt stayed in the Army National Guard after returning from deployment in July 2007. One month later, he started law school at U of H and graduated in 2010. His first job was with international law firm King & Spalding, an early legal vendor for Freeport LNG. In 2012, he moved to Latham & Watkins, another international firm. There he was contacted by John Tobola and Shaw Ottis who were expanding the Freeport LNG legal department. "I really liked working with the guys at Freeport when I was at King & Spalding, and really liked Shaw and John and respected them greatly," said Matt. "It was a no-brainer, a good opportunity with a great company."
Matt's successes have certainly been the product of not turning away from opportunities but also of his involvement with the Army National Guard. "It absolutely made me a more dedicated and disciplined person and gave me some perspective on things," Matt reflects. "I wouldn't have been as good of an employee or as good of a lawyer without my time in the Army National Guard. I don't think I would have developed the same ‘mission first’ mentality without that experience."
Elliot Decker and his D3 Ranch