By Alain Castillo
Alvaro F. Matta’s desire to serve his country is in “his blood.” The New Jersey-born, Operation Desert Storm Marine veteran is the son of a soldier and the grandson of a general who commanded the Chilean army.
It is a family legacy of providing service that he carries on today as the co-founder of the non-profit Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness.
“We believe in the philosophy of taking care of each other,” said Matta, 41, in a recent interview with Latina Lista.
The organization’s headquarters is in Baltimore, Maryland, but Matta works out of his home in Charlotte, North Carolina and mainly serves his state and South Carolina.
These two states are home to two important US Marine bases: Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC and the US Marine Recruit Depot in Parris Island, SC. The other training base is the US Marine Recruit Dept in San Diego, California.
Matta currently serves war veterans in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune.
His team is comprised of active duty and recent war veterans who travel hundreds of miles to help other veterans recover from their physical wounds and trauma suffered in combat while fighting in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
The organization’s main mission is to improve the lives of all veterans through health and wellness, but they place an emphasis on those who suffer from wounds and injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related illnesses such as chronic pain, disease, obesity and addiction.
The organization’s tagline is there is “no better investment of our time and resources than honoring, empowering and motivating veterans.”
Matta says his organization serves each veteran on an individual basis and not, what he calls, “a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The organization mainly focuses on strength and conditioning, yoga and holistic nutrition and offers recreational activities such as kayaking, cycling, healthy cooking instruction, organic gardening, hunting, marksmanship and aquatics along with acupuncture, medical, psychological services.
Matta co-Created the Warrior Athlete Program, “Fitness & Nutrition for Combat Readiness & Occupational Therapy for the Warrior Athlete. His specialties are both yoga and nutritional instruction.
Through yoga, Matta helps veterans regain their muscle strength through body movements and meditation and this, he says, helps them refocus their lives.
“We practice in complete silence to see within yourself,” he said.
Matta says that he uses his Catholic faith as a guide to help set the tone for others connecting themselves to their inner spirit and supports others of different faiths.
“Spiritual resiliency matters,” he said.
So does proper nutrition. Matta also educates veterans on differentiating between food and what he calls, “food-like products.”
His philosophy on nutrition reinforces the message of another non-profit he admires — Mission:Readiness. A nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders who operate under the nonprofit Council for a Strong America, the organization wants to change the fact that 75% of Americans aged 17 through 24 can’t join the military because they’re physically unfit, have not graduated high school or have a criminal record.
“That is a national security problem,” Matta said.
Another important mission for the organization is calling attention to the increase in suicide rates for war veterans who returned home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In June of this year, the Associated Press reported that there had been 154 suicide deaths among soldiers between January and June 2012, compared to 130 in 2011, 123 in 2010 and 133 in 2009 during this same period.
“We as a community need to have a serious focus on this because this is a problem that needs to be turned around immediately,” he said.
In fact, refocusing national attention on what returning veterans go through is an unspoken goal of Matta’s.
“Coming back stateside, the biggest challenges took time. You have good and bad times, amazing times and horrible times,” he said.
“The experience doesn’t go away and it takes years.”
Latina Lista contributor, Alain Castillo, is based in Dallas, Texas.