To say Norcross residents Ozzie and Dixie Matics are proud of their son is an understatement.
Their son, Lieutenant Junior Grade Nick Matics, has spent 14 years in the Navy so far. Nick, 34, specializes in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), or disarming bombs. While he currently lives in Virginia, he was born and raised in Norcross and is a former Norcross High student.
To say the least, Nick is an American hero. He was stationed in Afghanistan for eight months in 2011, and he was in Iraq in 2007 and 2009. During his first trip in Iraq, he was awarded the Bronze Star of Valor for completing 100 missions of defusing bombs.
"Have you watched 'The Hurt Locker?'" asked his mom, Dixie. "I watched it after he was home, but I couldn't watch it while he was there," she said, adding that the intense scenes of disposing explosives were exactly what Nick did.
"It's probably the most dangerous job in the military," added Ozzie, his dad.
After his first trip to Iraq, Nick was still in EOD, but he was no longer the main sailor disposing the explosives: He became an officer and now oversees a team.
While in Afghanistan, two sailors out of Nick's nine team members were severely injured. One man lost his leg, and another, named Taylor Morris, lost all his limbs. Nick's parents say he visits Morris in Washington during his off time, and the officer also met up with him in New York when he was a guest on "The Today Show."
Another close friend of Nick's is Officer Brad Snyder, who lost his sight while on duty in 2011. Being a swimmer before the military, he decided to join the London Special Olympics, and Nick was with Snyder when he won two gold medals and one silver.
"I think all of that, seeing them being able to recover as well as they are, trying to help them get back to where he was ... all Nick really cares about is his guys being all right," said his mother.
That care and devotion Nick shows his sailors and colleagues is something that his parents say he's always had growing up. As a child, Ozzie and Dixie describe him as easy-going and free-spirited, and someone who would make friends wherever he went. He's intelligent, and loves health food and exercising.
Before joining the Navy, Nick had taken a few classes at Georgia State University, and he worked a few jobs here and there, including being a busboy at Dominick's and helping out with the deli next door. He seemed to climb the promotion ladder quickly, his parents said, but he didn't think the typical 9-to-5 job was for him.
He didn't want to stay in one place, either, so even though he's never liked guns or weapons, he thought enlisting in the Navy would be the best way for him to branch out.
"As cliche as it sounds, I joined the Navy to see the world," he said, noting that he's lived in a number of places including Sicily and Guam. He's completed deployment aboard the USS Essex out of Sasebo, Japan, in 2007, too.
"My father and uncle were also big influences in my decision," he added. "They are both naturalized citizens who immigrated from Hungary and who loved this country enough to enlist in the Marines. My maternal grandfather was also in the Navy which had bearing on my choice."
Nick didn't immediately get into the EOD field once he joined, but it didn't take long for him to decide that that's what he wanted.
"I was inspired by some impressive individuals I met early in my career," Nick said. "They were intellectual, fit and charismatic, which was a vast departure from my colleagues at the time. I didn't fully grasp the complexities of the job then, but I knew I wanted to be a part of such an extraordinary group."
And despite the hardships of being in EOD, he said several aspects of the job keep him going, including his "comrades in arms."
"I work with the most amazingly versatile and humble people one could imagine," he said, noting Snyder and Morris. But, "I've stayed in because I believe in service to your country, and I fully appreciate the opportunities the Navy has given me."
In between all of his work in the Navy and checking up on his friends and team members across the nation, Nick also does Secret Service work. Protecting top-notch government bodies such as the vice president and the president, he and a couple of friends sign up for the jobs whenever they're not stationed anywhere.
Nick doesn't fly out for the Navy until January, which is when he'll be stationed in Spain for two years. While he's done much for his country, he's not the type of person to tell many people that he's in the Navy, let alone his experience in the service.
"He's not one to blow his own horn, and he doesn't want anyone fussing over him," said Dixie. "We're proud of him. He's our baby."
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