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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua P. Mattero, 29, Chula Vista; dies while defusing bomb

August 19, 2007|Ted Rohrlich | Times Staff Writer

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua P. Mattero expected that the unusual skill he learned in the military would serve him, and the public, well when he returned to civilian life.

"Not many people like to play with bombs," said his ex-wife, Analyn Mattero, who remained a close friend.

Mattero, a 29-year-old Chula Vista resident, was an expert in safely disposing of explosives.

Friends and relatives said he told them that when he hung up his Army uniform, he planned to don one from a police department and become a member of its bomb squad.

But Mattero, a nine-year veteran, was killed July 24 in Baqubah, Iraq, northeast of Baghdad, while trying to dispose of what the Army calls improvised explosive devices.

Army public affairs officer Barry Napp said Mattero died while disarming one such device "when a secondary one blew up."

Assigned to the 749th Ordnance Company, 63rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion, based at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Mattero volunteered for the dangerous bomb disposal unit.

He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and third in the region. Mattero also had served in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

His ex-wife recalled asking him when he was on leave in October why he thought that he had to return to Iraq to do such dangerous work. He said he did it because it meant "someone else could come home," she recalled. "He was selfless . . . just a really good guy."

She said they had been together since they were 18 but divorced in 2004 because she could not take the long separations that are part of married life in the military.

Friends and relatives described Mattero as a fun-loving optimist. "Josh was happy. He was outgoing, always had a big smile," said his mother, Sara. "Everything was fun. . . . Even cleaning the house was fun. It was like a game."

He also was adventurous -- "always trying new things . . . definitely a risk-taker," she said.

At Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, where he competed on the wrestling team, Mattero also served as the school's only male cheerleader.

His mother told a San Diego television station there was some concern that classmates would make fun of him. But when he came running out at the first sporting event, the senior class stood and cheered.

Mattero also was an Eagle Scout. In achieving that honor, he performed a community service by resodding the soccer field at Chula Vista High School and installing a new sprinkler system there, his mother said.

American Youth Soccer Organization teams played their games there, and he and his older brother, Scott, had friendly competitions to see who could referee the most games.

Scott Mattero remembered his brother as someone who "was very easygoing and got along with everybody."

After his high school graduation, Josh Mattero spent a couple of semesters at Southwestern College, a two-year school in Chula Vista, where he met Analyn. But the only class he connected with was scuba diving, which he took up, his mother said. Otherwise, she said, he felt "like he was drifting."

That was when he decided to enlist. He became a chemical operations specialist, charged with taking and analyzing samples of suspicious chemicals on the battlefield, according to Army spokesman Napp. Then he went to bomb disposal school. "He was actually at the top of his class," his ex-wife said.

Scott Mattero said his brother was attracted to the work in part because of its technical challenges. "He liked to take stuff apart and put it back together," he said.

He also enjoyed camping, fishing and motorcycling.

In addition to his mother and brother, Mattero is survived by his father, Francis, of Fredericksburg, Va.; and a sister, Melissa, of Chula Vista.

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ted.rohrlich@latimes.com

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