Results 1 to 1 of 1
12-30-07, 07:19 AM #1
Servicemen's time for family too short
Servicemen's time for family too short
MARIAN GAIL BROWN firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Last Updated: 12/30/2007 12:07:43 AM EST
The platter with the chicken was traveling clockwise around the dining room table. The vegetables were headed in the opposite direction when somebody commented on the culinary appeal of MREs, a military staple.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Diaz, a U.S. Marine home in Bridgeport on leave from Iraq and the guest of honor at his pastor's house, took a long swallow of water, cleared his throat and piped in. "With a bit of hot sauce, they're not so bad." His listener didn't appear convinced. Diaz's mother, Gail, who comes from a military family, comprised mostly of Marines, quieted down as did the other dozen or so guests to hear what Diaz had to say. Up to this point, she hadn't heard her son say much about his experience as a Marine.
"Look, if you're hungry enough, dirt will taste good too," Diaz recalls him telling the pastor's guests. "Somehow from this talk about food, about meals-ready-to-eat, he went off talking about spiders that bite and how he had to shake out his boots all the time to make sure that when he woke up in the morning and put them on, he wouldn't get bitten," Gail Diaz says.
"He mentioned the convoys he rode with, and about sleeping on a cement floor without a pillow, without a blanket. He didn't complain about any of it. I realized how incredibly sheltered we are over here from what our children, our servicemen and women are going through as part of this war."
The reception Diaz and Chris Hebert of Beacon Falls, also a Marine who served in Iraq, are getting is a far cry from what their fellow brothers in arms received when they returned from Vietnam, a fact that experts like Michele Loris, a clinical psychologist who specializes in veterans' mental health issues, says should ease the transition to civilian life.
"Vietnam vets fought in a very unpopular war and when they returned home they were often spat on, ridiculed, treated with derision," Loris says. "They were made to feel embarrassed by their service. These returning vets are seen more positively. A returning vet from Afghanistan and Iraq may not want to talk about what they've been through yet — and that may be part of the adjustment process. But they perceive they are welcomed home and are returning as heroes."
A new kind of vet
Nationally, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has 2.3 million members, including both service people and auxiliary members. In Connecticut, the VFW has 23,088 members, more than half of whom are Vietnam vets. Add to that number the total of veterans from the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, some of whom have served in more than one of these Middle East wars and the result, according to the VFW of Connecticut, is that there are an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 additional service people eligible to join the VFW.
"The future of the VFW in Connecticut is really with these veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan now," Connecticut VFW Adjutant Ron Rusakiewcz of Stratford says. "I was at a meeting right before Christmas at the Stratford Raymond T. Goldbach VFW Post and there were four guys with black hair there among all us guys with gray hair. There were about 25 of us altogether. And I told them how great it is to have them. Certainly, these vets aren't signing up for the VFW in droves. To get them to join, we have to be more relevant to their lives."
When Rusakiewcz returned to Connecticut in 1966, having served as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army, he viewed the VFW as a club where old war vets met at a smoke-filled lodge over drinks to exchange war stories.
"Many of the service people coming home now are older than we were in Vietnam," Rusakiewcz says. "They are married. They may have kids already. They have or had jobs in which they had established themselves and they've returned home and some of those jobs are no longer there for them."
For the VFW to attract these vets, Rusakiewicz says, "they need to see that we take their family needs into consideration — and that may even include childcare. They are looking for an agenda that includes more of their interests information on the government entitlements that are out there for them in terms of education and medical care "
Diaz enlisted in the Marines on Sept. 6, 2005, just aftergraduating from Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport, where he specialized in culinary arts. He played football, basketball, tennis and rancross-country. But he never had any game plan for what to do afterhigh school. None of the colleges he applied to seemed overly takenwith him. He enlisted in the Marines, in part to follow in hisfather's and grandfather's footsteps, in part to figure out where he wanted his life to go.
Back to Iraq
A few hours from when this newspaper hits the pavement this morning outside his parents' home in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, Diaz and his wife and infant son will head back to Camp LeJune in North Carolina and he will make the final preparations before he ships out a second time for Al Anbar Provence in Iraq.
Hebert knows Al Anbar well. It's where he too has served inthe Marines, as a military police officer. Part of his job as an MP consisted of inspecting vehicles for improvised explosive devices, the other part required checking the locals for IEDs and specific roadside checkpoints.
"One time we found bomb-making material in the trunk of a sedan and an IED set to detonate a short distance away," Hebert says, adding that, "I can't go into the way we go about checking vehicles or the exact location of where this was. There are some things I can talk about and some things I won't."
Dressed in a faded Yankees baseball cap and a short-sleeved shirt that partially reveals a Marines tattoo on his freckled left arm, Hebert comes across as more serious than the average college student. There are no lines on his face, but when he narrows his brown eyes, the 23-year-old Beacon Falls man sounds light years older.
"This isn't like World War II where we were fighting a country," Hebert says. "The enemy is from all over the Mid East. And they don't wear uniforms. They look like any other civilian. So you can't tell just by looking at someone. The insurgents, for the most part, aren't Iraqis. They are people from other countries stirring things up. So the rules of engagement are different. They are harder." Hebert enlisted in the Marines one night after leaving SeymourHigh School's baseball practice. It was right before his 2003 high school graduation.
"I went down to Ansonia to meet with a recruiter," he says. "When I got home, my mom asked me where I was and I told her."
Baseball practice broke up around 8 p.m. Hebert got home close to 10 p.m. " 'Why'd you do that?' " he recalls she asked. "I remember she was surprised. Part of it was because I hadn't mentioned anything about it before. I didn't talk much about the fact that I was thinking about doing this."
Hebert admits that some of the grimmer aspects of his wartime experience he's kept from his parents, Kim and Alan Amato. "There's just no need to go into it," he says. "I didn't want to worry them. I'd e-mail and I'd call home and now I am home."
Within a week of returning home to Beacon Falls, Hebert served jury duty, found a full-time job and started preparing his applications for college, where he intends to study criminal justice and pursue a federal law enforcement career, possibly as a U.S. Marshal.
"Those were some pretty impressive things to accomplish in such a short time," Kim Amato says. "What I notice about him is he's coming back with a maturity and a determination that he didn't have before. He's quite determined."
The son the Marines shipped home to him, Alan Amato says, is different than the teen-ager he sent them.
"It's a drastic change," Alan Amato says. "My stepson and I had a very bad relationship when he was in high school. We get along a lot better now. He's much more respectful. He doesn't take anything for granted anymore. Maybe he was spoiled. But it's us parents who spoil them. And going to Iraq, well, that was a real eye-opener for him into the way people live what sacrifice is.
"I think he appreciates the life he has in a way he never could with all the talk in the world from us," Alan Amato says. "He had to go to Iraq to see up close a different way of life to know all that he's got. He didn't used to think too far ahead in time, beyond the next day or so. Now, he's got all sorts of plans. He talks about options. And he sees so many of them. All I can say is it's inspiring to see this self confidence in action."
Shortly after his Marine battalion returned to its North Carolina base, Hebert says he found himself transferred to another base, in Cherry Point, where he was required to meet with career counselors, sent by the Marines and the VFW, to draft a resume.
"They had me sit down and they showed me how to take my military experience and outline the skills I developed as a Marine in a way that would help me with civilian employment," Hebert says. "It's a mandatory part of your separation process. Still, I was surprised by how soon they had me do all this."
From his session with the career counselors, Hebert says, he's put together a resume that describes some of his strong points to law enforcement or security employers.
"I have patrol experience," he says. "I know how to conduct an investigation. I know how to develop a positive relationship with civilians. I've been through boot camp. I have an interest in exercise and physical education. I wasn't a great student in high school, something that annoyed one of my coaches when he saw my SAT scores because he knew and I knew that I didn't 'apply myself' in high school.
"When I met with my Marine recruiter — and I met with him a couple of times — he kept asking me what I thought the 'big picture' with my life is. Having sense of purpose, a mission is what the Marines are all about. So, I can tell any employer I excelled as a Marine, in the toughest branch of the service," Hebert says, pushing up the sleeve that covers his Marine emblem, an eagle tattoo.
"I can say some of what I've done as a Marine, what will be relevant to what they want to hire me for. I have career and education goals," Hebert says, pushing up his sleeves as though he's getting down to business. "And I'm pretty sure I can answer whatever questions they want to throw at me."
MariAn Gail Brown, who covers regional issues, can be reached at 330-6288.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
Users Browsing this Thread
There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)