Matthew La Porte:
'Troubled boy' grew into a Corps leader

Matthew La Porte

  • Age: 20
  • Class: Freshman
  • Major: Leadership and political science
  • Hometown: Dumont, N.J.
  • High school: Carson Long Military Institute
  • Blacksburg residence: Brodie Hall

There’s a photograph of Matt La Porte on his MySpace page.

It’s years old, blurry, taken during his first semester at military school, back when his nickname was Turtle. The kid, head cocked forward, grins from within a bulky coat and peers through large round glasses at the camera. His friends have posted comments about how young he looks.

There’s another photograph of La Porte, this one on the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Web page.

It’s a more recent picture and, in his crisp blue ROTC uniform, La Porte clearly grew up a lot in the time between. But his smile, which is as much eyes as it is mouth, remains more or less the same.

“In September, 1999, a troubled boy found himself here, thinking his parents should have given him another chance,” La Porte wrote of himself in the 2005 yearbook for Carson Long Military Institute, in New Bloomfield, Pa. “He thought he wouldn’t make it here, but he was stuck, so he had to make the best of the situation. He began to make friends … he started to make promotions.

“He learned how to be responsible for himself and, eventually, also for others.”

La Porte apparently brought those lessons with him to Virginia Tech, where he was a recipient of the Emerging Leader Scholarship from the Corps of Cadets. He joined the Air Force ROTC on campus, played tenor drums with the Highty-Tighties and was tapped for the Air Force Special Operations Prep Team.

According to Virginia Tech junior Jonathan Kaczanowski , who helped supervise La Porte’s initiation, joining AFSOPT is “a three-week-long process, like rushing a fraternity” except it involves pre-dawn runs, calisthenics and deep water confidence training and other strict dress and social requirements.

“It’s very intense, lots of physical activity,” said Corinthian Kelly , a junior who was in a band company with La Porte. “A lot of people tend not to complete it, but he definitely finished it up strong.”

Kaczanowski said AFSOPT training is designed to test the limits of the candidates’ capabilities and La Porte, he said, “never complained. He just did it. He had mental toughness.”

La Porte was also known for his love of music, his youthful enthusiasm and his mischievous spirit.

“He had a beautiful sense of humor,” Kelly recalled.

Another of his bandmates, Matthew Wright, a senior from Troutville, underscored the mixture of La Porte’s professionalism and his levity.

“His heart was always in the right place,” Wright said. “Good kid, good cadet.”

— Neil Harvey