From the projects to the military: Coast Guard veteran credits Hispanic culture and values

BAY RIDGE, Brooklyn (WABC) -- Born and raised in the Chelsea projects, Michael Matos grew up in a tight-knit community full of family values.

"My father raised me with a saying, 'if not you then who' so I guess that's what drives me," said Matos.

Matos wanted to serve in the military for a long time and after seeing all that the Coast Guard did during 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, he knew he had to be a part of it.

"I walked into the recruiter's office at the age of seventeen and a half, I had to have my father sign off on me going to the Coast Guard," said Matos.

It was going to be hard work, but he was up for it.

While studying for his high school finals, he was also studying for the military entrance exam. Although he was the youngest in his squad, his determination paid off, and was made squad leader by his company commander.

"I think he saw my dedication to the service, my determination to make something of myself," said Matos.

He went from training to missions, immediately.

"We were doing maritime law enforcement, anti-terrorism missions, search and rescue," Matos said.

His time in the Coast Guard is an experience he'll never forget and although that chapter of his life is over, he's found another home with the veteran community.

"I've done a lot with the NYC Veterans Alliance. I helped carry the flag during the Veterans Day Parade. During COVID we did the mutual aid program where we did a lot of outreach to veteran families," said Matos.

Matos also called upon his veteran families during the George Floyd protests. He saw his fellow New Yorkers being attacked and it hurt him.

"I wanted to go out there and go with these protestors and follow them and be there just in case anyone gets hurt," said Matos.

Not only was he joined by fellow Coast Guard vets, but also veterans from the Navy, Marines, and the Air Force.

"It made me very proud to be an American, very proud to be a veteran. I'm very proud to be a New Yorker because the whole idea of one family is in New York culture. In the Hispanic culture and its military culture," said Matos.

Looking back at his career and all he's done, it all comes back to one saying. If not you, then who?

"Everything in my life, my Hispanic heritage, my service in the coast guard, my work with veteran groups, it all comes back to that saying. If not you, then who," Matos said.

To hear more amazing stories of community leaders and heroes in our area, join ABC7 in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.
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