Houston-area congressional candidate was dismissed from military over 2006 drunken fight
The candidate, Matt Berg, is running against U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Richmond, and says the incident was a turning point in his life, prompting him to seek professional help and become an active community volunteer in Fort Bend County.
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A Democratic candidate campaigning on his military experience for a Houston-area congressional seat was kicked out of the Air Force over a drunken fight with a fellow service member.
The candidate, Matt Berg, separated from the Air Force in 2009, three years after he faced a court martial over the fight. Now, Berg is hoping voters will forgive him for the incident and consider the life he has led since then, building a record of community service in the Houston area.
“I was faced with a choice: I could’ve either pitied myself for the rest of my life, or I could’ve done something,” Berg said in an interview.
Berg is running for Texas’ 22nd District, currently held by U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Richmond. The seat was a national Democratic target during the last election cycle, and Nehls, the former Fort Bend County sheriff, defeated Democratic nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni by 7 percentage points while Donald Trump carried the district by less than a point.
It remains to be seen how competitive the district will be after congressional maps are redrawn during redistricting this fall. At least one other Democrat, Eugene Howard, president of the Brazoria County NAACP, is running for the seat. Berg raised a respectable $100,000 in the second quarter.
A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Berg served for 12 years in the service branch, including as a captain in West Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Tennessee and Guam. He earned the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for his work on repairing B-52s that the Marines used in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
The fight happened in March 2006, when Berg was stationed in Guam at Anderson Air Force Base. Berg said he was at a party late one night with the troops he was commanding and had been “drinking too much.” He had been having issues with his wife at the time, and one of the troops commented about his marital problems. Berg said he does not remember what was said, but it set him off and the two got into a fight. They were eventually broken up, but Berg rushed the guy again.
“They couldn’t control me,” Berg said.
Berg was charged with assault and conduct unbecoming of an officer, he said, and seven months later, he faced a court martial at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. He was convicted, and after a lengthy automatic appeals process that he lost, he was dismissed from the military in April 2009.
Berg said he sought professional help for anger management and his drinking, discovering he was not an alcoholic but a binge drinker. He said he has dramatically cut back on his alcohol consumption.
Berg said he also learned he had depression and has been taking antidepressants since then.
Now, Berg, who lives in Missouri City with his wife and four children, is running on his military experience as part of what he touts as a “lifelong devotion to public service.” His platform includes helping veterans, as well as improving infrastructure and expanding health care.
Berg has been a dogged critic of Nehls, criticizing him as loyal to former President Donald Trump and unwilling to work with President Joe Biden.
Nehls’ campaign declined to comment for this story.
Berg said he is proud of his service to his community in the years after the incident. He has been a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Fort Bend County, and he currently coaches in the Fort Bend Youth Football League. He attends Houston’s First Baptist Church in Missouri City, where is a member of weekly Bible study and two service groups.
“I made a mistake, and I owned up to it,” Berg said. “I have no ill will towards the military or my country. They did what I deserved. And I recovered, and I recovered through my faith, my family and my community.”
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Correction, July 28, 2021: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Matt Berg was the only Democrat running so far in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District in 2022. At least one other Democrat, Eugene Howard, is running for the seat.