A Point of Pride: Matthew Jaffe

US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell

It was in August 2020 that the United States Marine Corps published a photo to social media that depicted a marine, fully clad in his Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU), sitting down and cradling an infant amidst the rugged setting of a battered Kabul, Afghanistan. With service rifles laying nearby, a gritty landscape, and an aura of war emanating from the right, the depiction of the calm, welcoming and pleasant smile of the serviceman seems to defy the stoicism and undeniable sentinel portraiture we’ve come to associate with Marines.

The barrier created by the ending wall of the building he’s sat against demonstrates a separation of two very different feelings; compassion, empathy, and safety on the left – chaos on the right.  For some, the photo comes as a shock to the senses; there’s an oft-depicted apathy present with those fighting on the front line. But for others, its affirmation of what they’ve known all along; our servicemen and women are limitless in their impact.

Every photograph has a story and as the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” What never gets established is what those words are. The meaning and importance of a photo will vary considerably from one person to the next. And for all those who saw this beautiful and unlikely moment captured, the sentiments vary considerably.

Perhaps a thousand words would not be nearly enough to portray what this photograph was worth. This one, in all of its unassuming glory, was seemingly limitless. And sitting there, unaware of the grandeur of the moment, was a Delta Chi who humbly refuted his magnificence by explaining he was simply ‘doing his job.’

That man, who is of the highest character, was Matthew Jaffe, Maryland ’16.

Brother Jaffe was born in New York City and was raised there until he was 18. His parents and sister still reside in Manhattan. An avid sports enthusiast and athlete growing up, he was a Cleveland sports fan and enjoyed playing baseball and football.  He’d go on to study criminology at the University of Maryland, where he chose to enroll due to the insistence of those around him.

“I was actually babysitting for a woman who went there and she insisted that I applied there because her experience was so wonderful,” Jaffe said. “I asked a few people I knew from my high school who went there and they said it was an amazing place. I decided to go there instead of the other schools I applied to.”

Continuing to follow the guidance of those he trusted, Jaffe took an interest in Greek life upon enrollment.

“Everyone said it was definitely the way to go in college … the friendships made as well as the connections for later in life would be very rewarding.”

Delta Chi had been a chapter on campus since 1990. Maryland currently has nearly 30 fraternities on its campus, making the selection of Delta Chi all the more significant. When looking back on his time at Delta Chi, he remembers his initiation night fondly.

“I would say (my favorite moment) was when we finished (the Associate Member process) and had our ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. It was great how they related it to brotherhood and military service and (it) was incredibly inspiring.”

Brother Jaffe enlisted in the Marine Corps during his senior year of college. Within a few days of completing his degree, he was off to boot camp, beginning a six-year enlistment. His desire to serve stemmed from one of the most critical moments in U.S. history, and is a call to action only a handful could answer.

“I always was drawn to serve our country after 9/11. Growing up in NYC, I can still remember everything that happened that day and I will never forget what happened to our nation. I had a few friends who were veterans and I knew I wanted to walk in their footsteps and be in the infantry.”

Following bootcamp, Jaffe was sent to the School of Infantry (SOI), the second stage of initial military training for enlisted Marines. He trained as an 0331, or machine gunner, at SOI and was responsible for the tactical employment of several weapon systems.

“I was made to be an expert on the M249 (SAW), M240B, M2, and Mk 19. I have deployed three times where I was in charge of maintaining and using all these weapon systems.”

In February 2021, Jaffe, a sergeant, deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), stationed out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He and his unit initially landed in Western Europe and the Mediterranean Sea before eventually moving to Kuwait to assist the Department of State with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation.

“We went there waiting for the call to go into Afghanistan to assist with the evacuation of the airport.”

That airport was the Hamid Karzai International Airport, the only known point of escape for thousands of gathering Afghans looking to flee from the Taliban’s takeover of the country. It is the same airport in which 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans were killed, and scores more wounded, following two suicide bombings.

Woken up in the middle of the night with orders to move, Jaffe and his fellow Marines packed their belongings and were in Kabul by the evening.

“We didn’t know our immediate assignment other than to help with whatever tasks came down. We didn’t have just one job – we were the only marines there at the time and were doing any job that came our way.”

As he describes it, the conditions were calm when he initially arrived. Things changed rapidly, however, as within just two days, chaos ensued. The Marines were tasked with holding security locations formerly held by the Afghan Army, in addition to helping citizens and other duties as they came along. Of the utmost significance was accomplishing the primary objective for which they were deployed.

“The most important thing that we accomplished was getting over 120,000 people out of that country. It was the largest evacuation of its kind the world has ever seen. The men and women I served alongside did phenomenal work and should be proud of what they were able to accomplish.”

The operation, while successful, did not come without sacrifice.

“The hardest part of being there was losing so many of our own. No matter if you knew those who died or not, it still hurts a tremendous amount. They’re still Americans, still Marines, sailors, and soldiers. They still have families that will never be the same with their absence.”

Of the 13 service members killed in the terrorist attacks at the Kabul airport, 10 were Marines. President Joe Biden, when addressing the nation about the attack, called the fallen service members, “The spine of America, the best the country has to offer.”

The diligence, ability, and sacrifice of our armed services, and especially our Marines, is no mistake. The sacrifices made by those serving our nation go far beyond the dangers faced in combat. And similarly, the sacrifices are made long before.

“What goes unnoticed is probably the long hours and hard work that so many put in, that allow us to be the finest fighting force the world has ever seen. There are no sick days, no quitting; only performing. In no other job is there this culture of must do and no excuses. It’s humbling and something that sets you up for success in the real world.”

The Marines are, indeed, the finest fighting force in the world. But as mentioned, they have a demonstrated ability to fulfill the needs of any job at any time. When Jaffe was catapult into the expeditious spotlight of Internet and media-cultivated fame, it wasn’t recognition for his primary responsibilities that caught the attention of so many; it was his compassion.

“At the time the photo was taken, we were at the North Gate of (the Kabul Airport). We were doing rotations of different locations on the interior part of the entry point. I was going on my rest cycle and I noticed two Marines holding babies; one was Sgt. Nicole Gee, who days later lost her life serving our country. I asked whose babies they were and they said they were left at the gate, and that baffled me. I shouldn’t have been surprised given the chaos that was taking place at that time.”

It’s Jaffe’s ability to shift gears, ignore the chaos, and be something else entirely in that moment that makes his next actions so remarkable.