Today, I unpacked and put back on our nation’s Army Combat Uniform (ACUs) again for the first time since mid-June 2008. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. That day, the Commander of the Joint Personal Effects Depot (JPED), LTC Kilmon & 1SG Venham led my demobilization farewell. I gave a few brief words to the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and DoD Civilian Contractors assigned to America’s post-9/11 operation dedicated to preserving the memories and personal effects (PE) of our nation’s service members and DoD Civilian Contractors killed or wounded in action. I gave my final salute and made the 3-day drive across our nation, from Maryland back to Oregon. The JPED was stood up as a response to the Pentagon attack to retrieve, inventory, and return the PE of those inside that never made it back out on 9/11. Eventually, JPED moved from Ft Myers, VA to APG in Maryland near the Delaware border. The JPED is expected to relocate to Dover, Delaware to be co-located with Port-Mortuary Affairs and where the remains of our fallen arrive from Iraq and Afghanistan.
That afternoon, the JPED Executive Officer LTC Kyburz, Maj Rafferty, CPT Roberts, Marvon AKA Big Brother, SFC (Ret.) Craig & Waite, MSG (Ret.) Delgado, CPT Ruiz, 1LT Irizarry, 1LT Patel, Chief Couch, Rick, Randy, Smitty, Sgt Medina, Mercado & Deynes, Daryl Hill and tens of dozens of friends, colleagues joined me for our last lunch together–the local buffet; common for departing members of the unit. We shared stories, laughed about our times together, specifically about Feb 31st, exchanged gifts & tokens of appreciation and photos, speeches and then returned to continue our noble mission.
Everyday in uniform I dreaded the day, like everyone else, that I would come in to work and find the case of a fellow brother and sister-in-arms that I knew personally. And, while it was hard work, the situation hit home even more when we were sending a case back to Oregon. In one instance, I signed the paperwork of Rodriguez, an Oregonian Soldier from Southern Oregon. As I signed the final forms certifying the items being sent home, I couldn’t help but notice the Casualty Affairs Officer (CAO) listed right below my signature. The CAO is the family’s point person named Lieutenant Major, a fellow Lieutenant who I had attended the U.S. Army School of Infantry (OBC) with just a year earlier. The shipping address was Eugene, Oregon. Small Army.
In another, Sgt Kennedy, nephew of the late Lion of the Senate, Sen Ted Kennedy, and while human errors are made, these memories, names, class rings, letters (many in Spanish), school rings remain with us. I’m proud like everyone there the work we did and how much it meant to the families, wives, moms to hold their loved ones belongings. From talking on the phone of a mom who had lost one son in Afghanistan to almost losing a second in Iraq and somewhere amidst 12 footlockers we couldn’t seem to find his military ID card, dog tags, and driver’s license, but its there and together we found it, was the most rewarding work.
Strangely, this is my first drill back in the U.S. Army Reserves since JPED. Many combat patches abound, the most common the Multinational Security Transitions Command, Iraq (MNSTC-I), the patch worn by Veterans’ of Task Force Desert Wolf of 104th Division IT and other Soldiers from across the United States that deployed to Iraq between 2007-2008.
Driving north on I-5 this morning I listened intently to NPR Weekend and the coverage of 9/11 remembrances, from New York to the Pentagon. That solemn date which has been cemented into our collective memories, much like the names of many who went through JPED cemented into those who served and continue to serve there.
At final formation this evening the commander had us take a moment in our own right to pause, reflect and pray for all those who lost their lives on 9/11, and our comrades-in-arms thereafter.