COLUMBIA — A severe arm injury during fighting in Fallujah, Al Anbar, in 2004 didn't keep Matthew Mason off the Iraq War battlefield. Nor did it dull the competitive fire of the avid runner and former high school athlete from outside Kansas City.
Within five months of losing part of his left arm, absorbing shrapnel and suffering a collapsed lung, Mason competed in a triathlon. He soon returned to his Navy SEAL unit, where he worked as a chief petty officer for the elite military squad.
"He could have gotten out of combat," said family friend Elizabeth Frogge, whose husband grew up with Mason in Holt. "He just insisted on going back."
Mason, 37, was one of 30 U.S. troops and eight Afghans whose CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down five days ago in the Wardak province in Afghanistan. The Pentagon confirmed Mason's identity Thursday after debating for several days whether to release the troops' names because of security concerns.
The father of two toddler sons played football and baseball at Kearney High School in earlier years. He graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1998. His wife, who is expecting their third child also attended Northwest Missouri.
Mason was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity and played baseball at the Maryville university, according to his high school coach. He also played baseball at Metropolitan Community College's Maple Woods campus, Frogge said.
Mason was most recently stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., as a member of SEAL Team 6 — the unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Military officials said none of the crash victims, however, were on that mission in Pakistan against the al-Qaida leader.
Mason returned to Missouri in May to compete in a Kansas City triathlon, and he took his family to Walt Disney World for the first time this summer, Frogge said.
"He loved doing what he did," she said. "He was the type of guy who thought he was invincible. We thought if anybody was going to survive, it would be Mason."
The casualties in the crash included at least one other soldier with Missouri ties. Bryan Nichols, a 31-year-old pilot who was born in Hays, Kan., but later moved to Kansas City, was one of three Army reservists based in northeast Kansas who died in the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war. The 22 Navy SEALs who died represent what was also the deadliest single loss by the elite force.