LANSING, Mich. –
On Friday, April 30, Michigan State Representative Julie Alexander paid tribute to Michigan Army National Guard (MIARNG) Sgt. Matthew Soper, who was killed in Iraq in 2007, by renaming a portion of M-60 in Jackson County the ‘Sergeant Matthew R. Soper Memorial Highway’.
The legislation renaming the highway in Soper’s honor was introduced by Alexander and signed by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in December 2020. The funds for the road signs marking the two-mile stretch of highway from Fairway Drive to Emerson Road were raised by Connecting the Dots, a community non-profit organization in Jackson.
Soper was killed June 6, 2007, in Baiji, Iraq by an improvised explosive device while deployed with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1461st Transportation Company (Combat Heavy Equipment) from Jackson.
About 100 people gathered with the Soper family in a neighbor’s front yard along M-60 near Emerson Road for the sign unveiling. Soldiers from Soper’s unit provided the honor guard for the ceremony while a bugler from the MIARNG’s 126th Army Band and Army Chaplain Maj. Carl Elwood also participated.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Lawrence Schloegl, assistant adjutant general of the Michigan Army National Guard and Command Sgt. Maj. William W. Russell III, senior enlisted advisor for the Michigan National Guard, also spoke at the ceremony.
Alexander explained to the crowd how the highway renaming efforts came to be. According to Alexander, as she knocked on doors in the Jackson community, she couldn’t help but notice all the bumper stickers honoring Army Sgt. Matthew Soper, and the connection she felt as she visited the community. At the time, this was especially meaningful to her as her son was deployed with a Marine Corps infantry unit.
When Alexander met with Sgt. Soper’s mother Shirley, they discussed Matthew’s love for his family, community and his country. “I kept thinking how my son returned home at the end of his five years in the Marine Corps and that this is something this family will never have,” said Alexander.
The two women bonded immediately and Alexander asked Shirley how she felt about renaming a portion of a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) road in Matthew’s honor.
“Matthew’s mom looked at me with a tear in her eye and said, ‘It’s been ten years, I thought people forgot about Matthew.’ No we have not forgotten about Matthew,” said Alexander. With this renaming, Matthew's memory and service will never be forgotten.
Alexander worked closely with the Soper family to select the perfect stretch of road for the memorial and to draft and push the legislation renaming the two-mile stretch of road.
“Sgt. Soper understood one thing and that’s freedom isn’t free,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Russell, who joined Soper on deployment to Iraq. “He was a great man, a great Soldier and a great leader to the Soldiers of the 1461st. As the chaplain mentioned earlier, life is fragile. I urge all of you to take the time to enjoy each other.”
The crowd clapped and cheered as the covers were lifted off the road sign, signifying the change.
“I didn’t know Sgt. Soper or have the privilege of serving with him, but I have spoken about him many times with retired Sgt. Maj. John Engle, who was his first sergeant on the 2007 deployment to Iraq. We’ve talked about Sgt. Soper’s professionalism, his leadership and his dedication to the Soldiers in his unit,” said Brig. Gen. Schloegl. “Sgt. Soper was just 25 years old when we lost him. His dedication and selfless service speaks volumes about his upbringing and the family he left behind. To all those who made this happen today, I applaud you and I thank you.”
Alexander then introduced Matthew’s older brother, Adam Soper, who commented about how many cars there were parked on Emmerson Rd. “Here we are 14 years later and there’s this many people here, what a tribute to him,” said Adam.
According to Adam, they chose Jackson to live, work and raise their children for two reasons. ”It’s where our family is located, there’s nothing more important than family,” he said. “We also chose the area due to the strong sense of community we felt.”
“We experienced just how supportive this community is after Matt died,” said Adam. “The Catholic community of St. Johns, Lumen Christy, St. Mary’s and Queens were in my parent’s front yard within hours of us hearing of Matt’s passing, praying with us and for us.”
“My wife and I made a pact to keep Matthew’s memory alive and we accomplish that by celebrating him, talking about him, by sharing his story and honoring him,” said Adam. “My own kids who have never had a chance to meet their uncle Matt feel like they know him because he’s remained such a part of our lives.”
Representative Alexander presented the family with a flag that had been flown over the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing and the crowd stood reverently as the Chaplain gave the benediction and the bugler played taps. “Thank you for coming today as we reflect, respect, and remember one of our own, Sgt. Matthew R. Soper,” said Alexander.