When Matt Bolduc enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 9, 2001, just four months after graduating from Messalonskee High School in Oakland, he expected to be stationed somewhere in the United States.
Two days after he enlisted — Sept. 11, 2001 — a terrorist attack led the United States to wage a global war on terror.
“Everything changed,” Bolduc, of Oakland, said during a phone interview Friday, speaking from Aviano Air Base in Italy, where he is a technical sergeant in the Air Force, working as a counterintelligence special agent.
Bolduc quickly was deployed to take part in military operations in Iraq. In the years since then, he also has completed two deployments in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the Waterville native was awarded a Bronze Star for his success at neutralizing a troubling Taliban attack strategy against allied coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Bolduc’s father, Dennis Bolduc, of Oakland, said his son didn’t talk much about what he did for the military and downplayed the importance of the medal when it was announced. Only after researching it online did the older Bolduc, a 30-year employee of Sappi Fine Paper North America’s Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, learn that it was the fourth-highest individual award in the military.
Then he read the narrative of his son’s accomplishments that accompanied the award’s presentation. He asked that the document not be published because it contains details about his son’s exploits that could compromise national security.
“I was amazed when I read this,” Dennis Bolduc said. “I, actually, I cried. He’s always been secretive about what he was doing over there.”
Bolduc’s most recent deployment included a four-month stint ending in October, during which he led a team that worked to prevent “green-on-blue” attacks against a group of eight military bases in Afghanistan.
The term is used to describe situations in which a Taliban insurgent infiltrates a military base with the goal of carrying out a deadly suicide attack against coalition soldiers and personnel.
In 2008, the first year the attack method was documented, there were two such attacks, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit media group focused on anti-terrorism efforts across the world.
In 2009, there were two more. In 2010, the number jumped to five attacks, followed by 16 in 2011.
In 2012, green-on-blue attacks caused the deaths of 64 coalition soldiers, an all-time high.
The technique is effective — not only because of the body count, but because it undermines relations between allied forces and the Afghanistan National Army.
Bolduc’s job was to stop the attacks.
In addition, he said, he was assigned to track down insurgents who had targeted coalition forces and then escaped.
While he said every day was different, he began many of them by driving with a partner and a linguist to whatever base he thought most needed the help.
There, screeners might have pointed out which potential new hires had raised a red flag, based on a set of criteria Bolduc helped to establish.
Once a potential suspect was identified, Bolduc and his team bore the responsibility for deciding whether the potential employee was safe or a threat.
“There were definitely people who were, no kidding, really bad people,” he said. “And we stopped them.”
In 2013, in part because of the efforts of Bolduc and his team, the death toll from green-on-blue attacks dropped from 64 to 12. His team was credited with neutralizing 86 threats.
Bolduc was proudest of his achievements during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a politically charged time during which hostile extremists are often most successful at carrying out acts of violence against U.S. troops.
During Ramadan in 2013, not a single U.S. life was lost to green-on-blue attacks at the bases under Bolduc’s protection.
During the ceremony, when the Air Force’s regional commander, Col. Jeff Hurlbert, pinned the Bronze Star medal to Bolduc’s chest, Bolduc joined some impressive company.
Since being created in 1944, the Bronze Star has been awarded to Vice President Spiro Agnew, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, author Ernest Hemingway, former U.S. Sen. and current Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. John McCain, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and American movie director Oliver Stone, among many others.
This summer, Bolduc is scheduled to return to the United States with his wife, Janelle, and their two children.
He plans to go to officer training school in Alabama, followed by a stint at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
He likes his job, he said, but there are also things he still misses about living in the Waterville area.
“It’s a nicer lifestyle back in Maine,” he said. “There, it’s a slower pace of life, in a good way. There are trees to look at.”