Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mission accomplished for Guard unit and families

Specialist Anthony Klufts was greeted by his nephew, Jonathan Maguire, before a ceremony in Newburyport for the 182d Engineer Sappers Company, which returned from Iraq in June. Members of the National Guard unit received medals and awards (below) for their service. (PHOTOS BY Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

Mission accomplished for Guard unit and families
Sappers defused bombs in Iraq
By Jeannie M. Nuss
Globe Correspondent / September 7, 2008

NEWBURYPORT - A smiling Sergeant Gregg Stefanik of Dalton, dressed in a camouflage uniform and combat boots, bent down yesterday to greet his small, giggling daughters and his niece at a soldiers' homecoming ceremony at Newburyport High School.

"This time around, it wasn't as bad," said Stefanik, recalling his second tour in Iraq. "I pretty much knew what was coming."

Stefanik, who was also deployed to Iraq in 2005, was one of 106 National Guard soldiers from the 182d Engineer Sapper Company who were formally honored yesterday for their yearlong tour.

The ceremony was held three months after the unit returned.

Four members of the unit were awarded the Purple Heart for their wounds: Stefanik, Specialist Anthony Klufts, Specialist First Class Michael St. Cyr, and First Lieutenant Willie Coates.

Thirteen soldiers received Bronze Stars, and more than 60 received Combat Action Badges.

"I remember it was a rainy day that I asked you to lend me your soldiers," Captain James Herrick said to the audience of more than 500 gathered in the Newburyport High School auditorium. "The biggest relief I had was . . . to bring all these soldiers back home."
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What do they really come home too? Financial problems caused by their deployments are only part of the problem. When you understand that when they joined the guard and reserves, they felt called to serve the nation to help people, not to kill people. Much as the police officers are trained in case they have to kill, they join the force to protect. This is what is inside of them. They are not created with the warrior inside of them, but the servant instead.

We send them into combat and then say they shouldn't complain about it because they are the ones who joined. They should have known better, is what they are told all too often. Maybe they thought they could do what the military does without any issues but when reality came, they understood that they didn't get fully prepared for what was being asked of them.

The rate of PTSD is much higher for the members of the National Guards and Reservists. It is higher because these are just people who wanted to help out their communities. They are often police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, accountants, office workers among other professions that are not military and they are expected to just return to their "normal lives" as citizens. Too many cannot.

It is not just one trip into combat either. It is many. They are then expected to deal with the wounds of war and the financial hits their budgets keep getting hit with as they try to make due on their deployment pay, all too often coming back to jobs long gone, business dried up, homes foreclosed on and bank accounts depleted. None of this is right or fair but it is what it is and this nation has done little to solve any of their problems.

I talk to a lot of the "citizen" soldiers and try to make sure they understand what is wrong with them. In the process of explaining it to them, the law enforcement issue comes in when they are trying to get by day to day back home and their families are unaware of the changes they went through. If you need to understand what it's like for them watch my video I Grieve. You may get a better understanding of it. One more thing to think about is that too many of them have found themselves in jail because the awareness of their special circumstance is not there. These are not criminals. These are men and women who were willing to risk their lives for their fellow countrymen. It's time we understood what they need from us.

Senior Chaplain Kathie Costos
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."
- George Washington

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