First generation American honored to serve her country in the Army

FORT RILEY, Kan., May 20, 2019 – Like many high school students on the verge of graduation, 2018 GEICO Military Service Award winner Army Spec. Odailys Matos had hard choices to make about her future.

Should she pursue an in-demand trade? Should she attend college to major in a discipline that would promise a lucrative career?

She contemplated those questions and others like them, but there was really only one answer for her.

"I joined the military because I wanted to do something that is bigger than me," she said. "I wanted to not only make my family proud of me but I wanted to be proud of myself."

Spec. Matos is more than two years into her quickly-advancing Army career and has no doubt that she made the right career choice. A Supply Clerk with the Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1 st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kansas, Spec. Matos volunteered to take on the incredible responsibility of serving as the fire warden for her unit. Her efforts ensure that nearly 200 soldiers have safe and functional living spaces.

Spec. Matos earned an Army Achievement Medal for significant safety contributions to her unit. She accepted yet another honor last month when she was presented with a GEICO Military Service Award in Washington, D.C. She travelled from Bagram, Afghanistan-where her Division is deployed-to accept the honor.

Spec. Matos is a first-generation American. She was just 1-year-old when her parents and two older brothers left Havana, Cuba, for Miami.

"I am the first in my family to ever serve in the military, and my family is very proud of me for doing so," she said.

Being away from her close-knit family is the toughest part of military service, she said. But a consolation is that the Army has provided her with an extended family: the men and women she serves alongside. The military also brought Spec. Matos and her husband, Ricky, together; they met while both were serving at Fort Riley.

"One of the best things about the military is travelling all over and meeting new people everywhere you go. Some of these people really become like family to you," said Spec. Matos, who unwinds by reading, playing soccer and lifting weights at the gym.

Spec. Matos is set to enroll in a leadership course in preparation for a promotion to sergeant, a rank that will come with more duties. She said she is prepared to embrace those challenges just as wholeheartedly as she's embraced all aspects of military service.

"When I would see movies about the military, I'd think it was unreal that people would put their lives on the lines for people they didn't even know," she said. "Now that I am doing just that, I think serving my country and my fellow Americans is the greatest honor there is."

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the GEICO Military Service Awards, which honor one enlisted member from each of the five Armed Services and one member from the National Guard or Reserve for their achievements and contributions to civilian and military communities. 

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