Sun, Jul. 11, 2004
Tribute lifts troops returning from war
At a celebration in Miami on Saturday to honor military personnel
returning from war, soldiers found support in myriad ways.
BY DAVID OVALLE
Army Staff Sgt. Douglas Duckett looked a bit frazzled on Saturday as he
sipped water at a Bayfront Park teeming with fellow soldiers.
He recently returned from a stint in Ramadi, Iraq, near an infamous place
called Fallujah. Duckett, wearing desert fatigues and thick glasses, says
the fear of mortar attacks has yet to subside.
''I don't like big crowds,'' Duckett said. ``It makes you a big target.''
Like many service members who gathered at Saturday's event to honor
soldiers returning from war, Duckett is still readjusting to life back in the
But events such as Saturday's -- one of five statewide dubbed ''A Salute
to Florida's Heroes'' -- help ease the transition for soldiers like Duckett
by providing a politics-free morale boost.
''It makes us feel real good. It's not like in the past, like in Vietnam,'' said
Army Staff Sgt. Jason Poore, 26. ``We've had nothing but gratitude.''
The politicians were there, of course, among them Gov. Jeb Bush,
Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. County
Commissioner José ''Pepe'' Díaz talked about his time as a Marine.
Mostly, Saturday's event was relatively low-key, featuring hundreds of
military personnel and their families. Some mothers wore T-shirts
adorned with their children's photos.
There was also an Air Force jet flyover and music from an Army band, as
well as television crews and stands to buy hot dogs, rice and beans and
tamales, and the flags of many countries.
Also at the event was a bevy of support groups, like counselors from the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sherill Valdes, a social worker supervisor with Miami Vet Center, and
her colleagues talked with soldiers about post-traumatic stress disorder.
She welcomed Saturday's event.
''It begins the healing process,'' she said. ``They recognize that they did
Nearby, Donald ''Bud'' Wallen and his peers mingled with soldiers.
Wallen works for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an
agency that helps soldiers with labor issues.
The event on Saturday proved a perfect venue for handing out pouches,
each containing pamphlets detailing laws that protect soldiers' jobs for
when they return home.
''We're trying to get out as many as possible,'' said Wallen, who was
soaked with sweat as he handed the pouches to passing soldiers.
On the outskirts of the crowd, as the politicians spoke, Army Staff Sgt.
Marcel Taylor watched with a dimpled smile.
The tall, Nicaraguan-born soldier also recently returned from a year in
Ramadi. Taylor, based in West Palm Beach, remembers when
insurgents detonated a roadside bomb near the Humvee in which he was
But instead of hitting the soldiers, the bomb blew a leg off a young Iraqi
boy. The soldiers stopped for the boy and took him away for treatment.
''It reminds you how good this place is,'' Taylor said, motioning to the
crowd. ``And the support makes a world of difference.''