Major Robert Heath Matthews, United States Air Force

2021 U.S. Missile Defender of the Year

Maj Matthews is the Chief for Defensive Operations at the 603d Air Operations Center, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. He expertly led his Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) team, consisting of 16 joint missile defense professionals, responsible for defending two combatant commands, integrating ten global agencies with coalition and partner nations in three continents. During heightened tensions and in response to an increased ballistic missile threat, Maj Matthews secured the Area Air Defense Commander’s approval for an increased ballistic missile defense (BMD) posture. In doing so, he ensured assets were appropriately postured and hostile aggression was deterred. As the IAMD Training Officer, Maj Matthews led 40 weekly training events, exercising and validating the entire BMD kill-chain from Area Air Defense Command and Control to joint and coalition sensors and shooters. He personally trained five General Officers on the theater’s BMD mission. Maj Matthews’ team monitored over 80 actual and countless simulated theater ballistic missile launches in support of training, capability testing, missile warning and defense exercises. Additionally, Maj Matthews was a key player during European Command’s Astral Knight exercise, a joint, multinational air defense exercise that demonstrates synergistic effects of surface-to-air and air-to-air capabilities like Aegis, Patriot, and airborne assets against ballistic and cruise missile threats. His invaluable inputs and leadership led to the establishment of a Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Board, apprising Senior Leaders of the IAMD Design and capabilities of the Missile Defense architecture. Maj Matthews’ actions resulted in 2000 Coalition personnel trained and the successful execution of European Command’s capstone IAMD Exercise. Maj Matthews is a 2007 graduate of Officer Training School and is a Senior Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot with over 1,200 flight hours in the MQ-9 Reaper. He has executed Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and Attack missions in support of two Combatant Commanders and four Operational Missions from his Special Operations unit at Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico. He completed a combat deployment to Bagram Air Base in 2015 in support of the Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component – Afghanistan. Prior to his current assignment, Maj Matthews was the Chief of Wing Plans and Programs at Holloman AFB, New Mexico in support of the MQ-9 and F-16 Formal Training Units.

Defenders of the Year