Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Northeast Times: In the Footsteps of A Hero

Northeast Times depicts soldier’s return.

Back in late 2002, Tony Fusetti remembers visiting the U.S. Army recruiting office at Roosevelt Mall.

Brian Long, a neighbor and friend who had already enlisted in the Army, accompanied him. The recruiting pitch worked.

"I came out with a six-year contract," he said.

The 23-year-old soldier grew up on Anchor Street in Wissinoming, the third of four children of Luke and Debbie Fusetti.

It’s really no surprise he joined the military. As a kid, he played with toy guns and those little green army guys. He was a member of the Junior ROTC at Frankford High School (Class of 2002). And, his dad, grandfathers and uncles are veterans.

"It’s a family tradition," he said.

Fusetti completed basic training in the spring of 2003 and was stationed at several locations in Europe.

Today, he is a specialist first class in the Army’s active corps, stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga.

The year 2005 was a memorable one for him. On Jan. 3, his wife Lina gave birth to their daughter Trinity in Germany. Two days later, he was deployed to Iraq, an assignment that lasted until Christmas Day.

Three weeks ago, he finally had the chance to return to Philadelphia. He received a hero’s welcome from family and friends.

In his hometown, he walked the malls and checked out the new high-rise construction in Center City. He took notice of the new-look Frankford Transportation Center, saw Torresdale Avenue without its familiar trolley tracks and lamented the demise of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

He spent one day traveling around the city to personally thank all 12 members of the board of directors of Partners for Civic Pride, an organization that provided him with an official Philadelphia flag while he was stationed in Iraq.

The group arranged a limousine ride and police escort, lunch at Tony Luke’s and even a good deal on a 1997 GMC Jimmy from Kensington’s Active Auto Sales.

City Councilman Juan Ramos also presented him with a citation.

"If every soldier got the welcome home I did, morale would never be an issue," said Fusetti, who asked the board members to sign his flag.

In the Army, Fusetti works in the communications field. That was his main mission in Iraq. He handled telephone and Internet service, along with performing guard duty and taking part in convoy escorts.

"Basically, the phone company of the Army is my job," he said.

Fusetti’s base was in the town of Samara, in Central Iraq, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

In his view, things along the northern and southern borders of Iraq are relatively calm. The central part of the nation sees more hostility.

"It would be quiet for weeks, then we would be mortared on a daily basis," he said.

As a communications specialist, Fusetti was able to contact his family by telephone, Internet and even on a video cam.

Debbie Fusetti kept her computer’s instant message function on all the time. Whenever her son sent a note, a horn sounded.

"That’s one of the perks of my job," he said of the ability to communicate.
During his service, he was secure in the knowledge that his fellow soldiers had the proper training and experience to complete their mission.

Typically, a work shift lasted for 12 hours. The rest of the day, soldiers slept, ate, worked out at the gym or enjoyed personal time.

For Fusetti, he treasured care packages of Tastykakes and Herr’s chips, a photo collage of scenes from home (Sullivan School, Moss Playground, Frankford High, the Anchor Street sign) and letters from loved ones and Junior ROTC students.

"That was the main thing," he said. "I looked forward to mail."

Fusetti’s base was near a hospital. He saw more than enough injuries, deaths and body bags.

As for American media coverage of the war, he thinks they should show more respect rather than just reporting that "soldiers died."

"Those soldiers have names," he said.

Fusetti has respect and praise for Iraqi soldiers fighting side by side with America and its allies against insurgents.

"Most of them are unbelievably brave," he said. "When you join the Iraqi Army, it’s a death sentence."

Fusetti thinks the United States is wise to fight the terrorists who don’t want peace in Iraq, America and elsewhere. The mission must continue, in his opinion.

"I believe we should be there. We shouldn’t cut and run. Twenty-six hundred people (U.S. soldiers) have died. We can’t leave," he said.

For now, Fusetti, his wife, daughter and two boxers are in Fort Gordon. He won’t be there for long. Next month, he’s scheduled to return to Iraq for a one-year assignment.

That means he’ll miss holidays, his daughter’s birthday and her first words, but he understands he has a job to do. His previous mission will serve him well, he believes.

"I’ll be a lot more comfortable," he said. "I know the process and what to expect."

After his six-year commitment is up, Fusetti plans to re-enlist for another four years. He’s uncertain whether he’ll spend his whole career in the Army.

No matter his decision, his family will support him.

"We’re very proud of him," his mom said. "We’ll worry until he gets back home again, but he’s well trained and it’s what he wants to do."

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