As this year's Veterans Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies are observed in the U.S. and Canada, more of the military service personnel are veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Events on September 11, 2001, led to that war, which has now lasted over 10 years and is the longest large-scale, multi-divisional war in U.S. history. For some in the service from the Quoddy area, on both sides of the border, the war has meant multiple deployments into harm's way, while for others the change in their lives caused by the 9/11 attack has now come full circle.
"The Ground Zero site is sacred ground. It's a national monument," says Master Sgt. E8 Douglas Curry of Perry. The recently retired U.S. Special Operations Operative recently took his two children to Ground Zero in October, 11 years after the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists and the path of his military career was changed.
Curry, daughter Audrey, 19, and son John, 15, were at the October 19 rededication of the Special Forces Horse Soldier statue. The Green Berets of the 5th Special Forces Group Airborne were the United States' first responders overseas after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and were the first unit to invade Afghanistan.
"Bin Laden did me a favor," says the elder Curry. "A few days after the attack, I got a request from U.S. Army Special Operations Command to report to Fort Bragg."
"My [job responsibilities] have been really constant for 10 years," he points out. "I've been on various committees and stationed at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C., with my final assignment being Special Forces Assessment and Selection, which identifies the next generation of special operators."
He also served one tour in Afghanistan as part of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan as the Senior Special Forces Medical Supervisor.
Curry's decision to bring his children to New York City for the Ground Zero statue rededication was made only days before the event took place. He was attending the funeral of a Special Forces solider in Houlton on October 10 and was invited to the ceremony in Manhattan by the 5th Special Forces commander. "If it was Friday of the next week, and not in two days, I knew I could make it," he says. "I didn't want to miss it, and I wanted Audrey and Johnny to be there."
"This was a once in a lifetime event for kids," sums up the Special Forces operator. "We were the guys who took care of business; there was an extraordinary sense of quiet pride as a member of this community, the finest special operators in the world."
Serving country is the highest calling
Care package items for U.S. troops at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, are being collected on Saturday, November 10, at the Eastport Youth Center. Currently serving at that camp is 41-year-old Luke Putnam, an Eastport native whose wife Tammy says the charitable event "means the world to us. There are definitely younger ones serving with my husband who don't have the support of family and friends that he has."
Now a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Putnam has spent most of the last 22 years in the military. He joined the U.S. Marines in September of 1989 and became a communications specialist. He was serving with the 5th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton when he was deployed to the Middle East during Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990 and 1991. When he returned, he spent another two years at Camp Pendleton before being deployed to Okinawa for a year with the 1st Armed Assault Battalion.
"When I came back to Camp Pendleton, I reenlisted," says Putnam. "I love the military, and I love the Marine Corps."
"It's a good job, and I'm good at my job," he adds. "It might sound corny, but I think it's the highest calling to serve your country."
"When I reenlisted with the 5th Marines, I had the option to go to Hawaii for three years," says Putnam. "It was awesome. I loved it."
The Hawaiian posting was followed by two six-month rotations to Okinawa and another reenlistment during which he was assigned to the Air Support Squadron.
In 2001, Putnam was back in the civilian world and went home to Maine. That's when he met future wife Tammy Young, and the two married in 2004. He decided he missed military life, so, after some encouragement from Maine National Guard Recruiter Walter Cummings, Putnam joined and served with the Calais detachment. "When they asked for volunteers to go to Iraq, I was the only one to volunteer, so I went there with the 152nd Maintenance from February 2005 to February 2006. When I came back, I was a Global War on Terrorism recruiter in Calais, so in July 2006 they let me go [into the active Army]."
After completing the appropriate training, Putnam was serving with the 37th Engineers at Fort Bragg when he was sent on a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan in December 2006. Back in the U.S. in March 2007 he spent two years headquartered at Fort Bragg, "but I got tired of that, so I deployed again," explains Putnam.
In 2009 he was back in Iraq, but only after discussing it with Tammy, with whom he has two children and two stepchildren. "I wanted to make sure we were on the same sheet of music. It's tough on my wife and kids. There's no military training for them."
Putnam reenlisted in October 2010 and was stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., until June of this year. "I could go to drill sergeant school or be deployed. After speaking with my wife, we chose to deploy. I'm happy about the decision to go back."
"Each one has been uniquely different," says Tammy of Luke's Middle East deployments. "The first one was easier because I was in Eastport and had family and friends. And the first one after I was away from home -- in Fort Bragg -- that was the worst because I didn't know anybody. With the last two I've stayed busy with the kids."
"You definitely need to spend a lot of time together and create a strong bond so there are no fears when he's gone," stresses Tammy. "Stay busy, have faith in yourself and have a sense of humor."
"In it for the long haul"
Tim Gallagher, 27, of Campobello is an Army combat engineer with the Canadian Forces and served an eight-month tour in Afghanistan from April to November of 2010.
"It was pretty hairy," he recalls of his overseas deployment and his dangerous job. "I'm the guy who finds the IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. I detonate them, and if someone gets blown up I have to get the pieces."
It was a long way from his post-high school years working on a salmon farm at home. "My older brother Nick was in [the military] and pushed me towards it," recalls Gallagher. "He talked about the ups and downs; but it could be a good career, a stable job in a shaky economy."
Despite the danger of being a member of a Canadian Forces combat engineering unit, that's what Gallagher signed up for, and that's what makes him happy. "I liked it better than the other choices -- serving in the infantry or artillery," he points out. "I'm glad I'm an IED finder, and I cleared quite a bit of them several times a day when they were between my troop and where they had to go.
"I would find and clear quite a few IEDs every day with my troop in Afghanistan," says Gallagher of his daily patrols. "Fortunately, I didn't sustain any injuries."
While he was deployed, his brother Nick was also serving as infantry captain in Afghanistan. "I only had a couple of minutes to talk to him, but we got to see each other three times over the eight months I was there."
His choice of vocation can be difficult for his wife, the former Mallory Fitzgerald, admits Gallagher. "She did pretty good while I was away, but that's because she pretended I didn't have to go near IEDs."
Currently stationed in Petawawa, Ontario, Gallagher "definitely" wants to return to Afghanistan. "I'm taking a heavy equipment course for engineers," he says. "When I go back over, that's another way for me to serve. I'm in it for the long haul."