On September 16, the District’s Forward Engineering Support Team – Advance (FEST-A), returned from a nine-month Afghanistan deployment to a surprise greeting from New York District staff and leadership at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Exiting the gate, wide grins broke out from the team as colleagues quickly embraced them. Dressed in uniform, the excitement quickly caught the attention of nearby passengers who spontaneously applauded and thanked the team for their service to the country.
New York District team members MAJ Brett Medsker, SFC Roland Tajalle, Rito Sabanal (EN), Kevin O’Brien (CO), and Richard Allahar (RE) served along with M. Tychsen Yager (Buffalo District), Miow Siow (Philadelphia District), and Donna Johnson (Albuquerque District).
Technical Engineering Support
The 553rd Engineer Detachment, FEST-A, stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the largest U.S. military base in the country, provided responsive technical engineering support throughout Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (providing further training, advice and assistance for the Afghan security forces). In all, the unit completed over 60 projects for U.S. and Coalition forces with a design value in excess of $36 million; created master planning strategies supporting basing decisions across Afghanistan; and more than 20 projects improving force protection across many remaining U.S. military bases.
The homecoming continued the following day, as arrangements were made for surprise visits to their children at school, who were not expecting them until later this fall. At Vernon Township High School in Glenwood, NJ, SFC Tajalle and his wife, Michelle, surprised their son, Romio, during engineering class. Upon entering the room, Romio looked in disbelief at his father in Army uniform. After a few moments, they embraced before the class.
Then it was on to Walnut Ridge Primary School in Sussex, NJ, where SFC Tajalle’s daughter, Rai’ana, is in kindergarten. The school provided a hero’s welcome with hundreds of students lining the corridor waving American flags as SFC Tajalle made his way toward his daughter’s classroom, shaking hands and high-fiving youngsters before applauding teachers and staff. Finally he reached Rm. 19, where he picked up a surprised Rai’ana. After walking through the hallway with her, they returned to the classroom where students presented SFC Tajalle with a ‘welcome home’ card and served refreshments.
The final stop was St. Joseph Regional School in Newton, NJ, where MAJ Medsker’s daughter, Myresa, is a kindergartner. Here, the school gathered for an assembly, but didn’t know what it was about. After the principal gave clues as to who the visitor might be (stumping the students), MAJ Medsker emerged from behind a curtain on stage and embraced Myresa along with his wife, Geniece, to loud cheers. Myresa’s teacher quickly joined in with a colorful sign that read, ‘Welcome Home Mr. Medsker,’ and local press snapped photos capturing the moment.