2004-04-09 / Community

Congressman Meeks Welcomes Returning Troops

Congressman Meeks Welcomes Returning Troops

Congressman Gregory Meeks (right), with Sgt. Aaron Murphy and his wife, Tesa. Murphy, a Far Rockaway resident, recently returned from service in Iraq.Congressman Gregory Meeks (right), with Sgt. Aaron Murphy and his wife, Tesa. Murphy, a Far Rockaway resident, recently returned from service in Iraq.

On April 4, Congressman Gregory W. Meeks welcomed home more than one hundred U.S. Army reservist soldiers from the war in Iraq.

"All 435 members of the House and all 100 members of the Senate are grateful for your courage, steadfastness, and capacity for self-sacrifice, whether you are black, white, His panic, Asian, or Arab, no matter your religion, gender or political beliefs,"he said in his remarks at the Ernie Pyle Army Reserve Center at Fort Totten in Bayside.

The reservists, who have only re cently been reclassified as Re serve Sold iers, are the unsung heroes, people known as weekend warriors or citizen-soldiers. These men and women of all ages are continuously on call, available in less than 30 days to be de ployed anywhere emergency military action is required. In this in stance, the reserve soldiers began their call the day the Towers fell, 9-11-01.

On that day, people in all walks of life, working in their civilian occupations as business people, teachers, law yers, factory workers, service provid ers, police and firefighters, were called upon to provide one of the most heart-wrenching jobs in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack and collapse. They provided mortuary service to handle recovered remains. On that day their mission was formed and sealed.

Congressman Gregory Meeks speaks to returning reservists at Fort Totten.Congressman Gregory Meeks speaks to returning reservists at Fort Totten.

One year later they were at or near the front lines in the 130-degree heat of the Iraqi desert. The Reserve provides a wide range of vital services to the troops in actual combat duty. We who go about our daily lives, following the news of casualties and the efforts of our military to accomplish their mission, don’t realize there are special forces that take care of the basic needs of the troops, things civilians take for granted. These are the people called away from their normal jobs and lives for the sacrifice of going into the battlefield and making sure the everyday needs of the troops are met.

The returning 140th Quartermaster Company and 301st Area Support Group were assigned to laundry and bath services, uniform and equipment support.

"[The Reservists] are trained and ready to fight anywhere in the world," Meeks said. "The Military could not do without the Army Reserves. And they couldn’t do it without the sacrifice their families make."

"You may not think much of what you do85 yet it is an honorable job in a difficult and challenging environment," said Brigadier General Richard Holt, who heads the 77th Regional Readiness Unit that operates the two support units. Holt cited their leadership credo as, "Mission first, then soldiers, then me."

"We need to do more for the families," Meeks said, saying that they, too, are unsung heroes for their sacrifice. He said reserve soldiers deserve higher pay and maximum benefits along with the full time soldiers themselves.

Reserve personnel are also assigned as military police, engineers, medical personnel, transportation and maintenance crews. They may do what is sometimes called grunt work for the fighting soldiers, but in deciding to call them soldiers as well, the civilians who leave their jobs and homes and families for theatres of war should be given their due recognition and appreciation, Meeks said. For they too have been at grave risk, finding themselves in the line of fire along with the troops firing the guns.

The 140th QC has a history," said spokesman Sgt. George Uribe. They were there on 9/11, saw the horror, and felt a sense of mission from that day forward, he said. They knew they would eventually be called to active duty.

Returning reserve soldier Sgt. Aaron Murphy of Far Rockaway, spent ten months in Iraq in the laundry and bath services detail, stationed just twenty miles outside of Baghdad. "We were in direct danger, from being under fire, from mortar attacks, and from explosive devices on the roads," he said. Murphy has been with the 144th QC for 14 years and has a 14-year-old son. He is a veteran who also participated in Desert Storm, the first Iraq war in 1991.

Every returning soldier will receive an Armed Forces Reserve Medal and a National Defense Service Medal for their services.

"The troops couldn’t function without the services that the 144th company provides," Meeks said. "They are working in unbelievably difficult conditions." They are not a member of any particular group, but are fulfilling their obligations as Americans. "Their common purpose was a beautiful thing to see, in the midst of war, death and injury that lurked around every corner."

Casualties are still very much a possibility for those who provide clean clothes and sheets and baths for fighting troops. The 77th RRC has been very fortunate to have only lost one soldier out of approximately 10,000. But that does not include six who perished on 9/11. These weekend warriors also happened to be year-round firefighters, and those six never came out of the World Trade Center tower they rushed into on that day. One was also a lawyer.

The returning reservist soldiers have finished this tour of duty. But it is unknown whether they will have to be called back for another any time soon.

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