Returning soldiers celebrate the holidays

Heng Ty is practicing how to get suited up in case of an attack.

Courtesy of Heng Ty

Heng Ty is practicing how to get suited up in case of an attack.

During the holiday season, it’s easy to forget about things like death and war, because it’s a time for joy and love.

But for soldiers who continue the fight for freedom overseas, it is a time for sacrifice.

For those lucky enough to be home, like some members of the Cerritos College community, it’s a time for family and reflection.

“As an American man, it is the oath I take to support and defend the constitution,” says Erik Duane, a U.S. Marine for the past 16 years and a Cerritos College senior technical support specialist.While there is a growing controversy with the war in Iraq, as the Associated Press recently reported that the war has gone on longer than U.S. involvement in WWII, men and women, such as Duane, feel they have made a difference in Iraq.

“To help the Iraqis was my mission,” and by bringing a clean water source into the community Duane believes it “showed people that we were trying to take care of them.”

Still controversy surrounds the mounting casualties. According to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks U.S. military deaths in Iraq, 70 U.S. soldiers died last month, 106 in October, 2,904 to date and as the days go by more and more soldiers face the same possible fate.

However, for those fortunate to return, spending time with the family during the holidays is a luxury.

Having gone through the struggle of being alone during the holiday season, Amy Ou, computer science major and Army veteran, can now spend time with her son and family after being deployed for a year.

Spending time away from her son, Ou says the great leadership in her unit and the good things the U.S. Army did kept her motivated.

At the age of 20, Ou had the desire to serve and further herself in education.

“I feel fulfilled by my support role for those in battle. It was more than just a job because there were high stakes (involving) the soldiers.”

Ou says her experience in the military has been exciting. Being deployed oversees doing what she had signed up to was overwhelming and emotional.

Though at times her emotion was fear of harm or depression, she wanted to fight against the global war on terrorism. To Ou, it was important to “take the war against terrorists to them, on their soil, so as not to have any more 9/11’s here on U.S. soil.”

As one of the lucky ones who made the sweet return home, Duane knows all too well the ups and downs of being in the service. Duane has just returned from his second tour in Iraq. Now back at home with his wife and two kids, Duane feels that he has accomplished being part of something greater than himself.

While in Iraq, Duane said he fell into his position in civil affairs, a position that handled humanitarian operations.

As a team leader he felt that he and his unit accomplished understanding with the people.

After two months since his return, Duane has fallen back into a working routine and is spending time with his family.

But for some, that transition doesn’t come so quickly.

For Cerritos College student Sergeant Heng Ty, physical therapy major, making the change from the service to school made him feel like an outcast.

According to Ty, students have a completely different mentality about going to school.

As a full time student, he believes in focusing on studies and taking advantage of the school’s physical therapy program; an opportunity Ty was able to have through the GI BILL system.

The department of Veterans Affairs offers the Montgomery GI BILL system that allows veterans to receive educational benefits for their service in the military.

Certain requirements must be met, but the program pays your way through school.

That was enough to convince Barry Johnson, business law major and Navy veteran, to sign up for six years.

“I needed a means to go to school, so I looked at it as an opportunity to get money for college and to learn (the) skill,” he says.

But after having completed his active duty, Johnson feels that it just wasn’t totally worth it.

“It was worth the travels and the experience, but in terms of the verbal, psychological and physical abuse it wasn’t worth it,” he says. “It was (a) strategy that I used, but I don’t want to be an example to anyone. It wasn’t a very wise strategy and I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone.

“The individual physiological danger and physical danger, it’s just not worth it when there are so many other means to go to school.”

Now, Johnson works in Admissions for Veterans Affairs as he continues his academic career in business law.

Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs in his family, Johnson hopes to work for himself and provide a service to his community.

After coming home from nine months in Iraq with an injured knee, Ty feels he has already contributed to his community.

As boat filler, Ty along with his unit, provided support for front line soldiers, whether it was filling up tanks with fuel or building tents.

For his wing support, Ty was commended for his professionalism and accomplishments while working 16-hour days and superior assistance under extreme weather temperatures.

But sometimes the community gives back to the service men and women.

And as hundreds of soldiers continue their mission this holiday season away from their families and friends, many find comfort thanks to an organization that dedicates itself to writing letters and sending homemade blankets and other items to soldiers.

Soldiers’ Angels was founded with hopes “to leave no soldier unloved.”

Focusing mainly to adopt soldiers who don’t receive letters or units that need assistance with basic necessities, this organization immediately hooked Trudy Dellimagine, program facilitator in the Cerritos College Cosmetology Department.

Searching one day online for a French seam pattern, Dellimagine came upon a Web site asking people to make blankets for wounded soldiers.

“When I saw it I sat there for an hour and cried my eyes out. (They) put their lives out on the line and they’re not being remembered. How can your heart not break for them?”

Hooked since January, Dellimagine encourages everyone to help out in any way that they can.

She commits to sending a package every month and says, “It’s all about the soldiers and getting them whatever they need.”

She explains that although sometimes she may not receive letters back she understands that it’s not about her feeling good it’s about the soldiers and trying to help them and making sure they feel loved.

To help aid the soldiers you can visit soldiersangels.org and find other links to soldier aid, or contact Dellimagine in the Cosmetology Department.