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Church invites troops to home-cooked meal

N.Y. Reservists provide security for Site R

N.Y. Reservists provide security for Site R

March 28, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

The GIs were chowing down like it was the best meal they've had in weeks, and it probably was.

About 35 off-duty personnel of the 306th Military Police Battalion from Uniondale, N.Y., were treated to a family-style dinner by members of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Blue Ridge Summit.

Their Army Reserve unit was activated last fall and sent to the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade for security duty at nearby Site R, known locally as the "underground Pentagon."

The MPs are staying in a building at Fort Ritchie that the Army leases for that purpose.

The unit commander of the 306th is Stephen Labate, 35. In civilian life, he's a New York City stockbroker.

Like members of his battalion, Labate said he tries to get home to Long Island whenever he gets a few days off to see his wife, Leticia, and Cisco, his German shepherd.

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"I haven't been home in two months. She's coming here this weekend," he said.

The reservists try to get home whenever they can. "It's important for morale," he said.

Joseph Muniz, 21, a reservist from Plainsboro, N.J., has been in the outfit for three years. He's a union pipefitter when not on military duty. His wife, Jackie, and 18-month-old son are home in New Jersey. She's pregnant with their second child, he said.

He said the Tri-State area "is not like New Jersey. It takes getting used to. There's not much traffic and there's a lot of hills here."

One difference is the price of a pack of cigarettes, Muniz said. "They're $7.50 a pack at home and $3.25 here. They're $2.19 in West Virginia," he said.

Jamie Winter, 23, joined the 306th when she was 17 and a high school junior.

"I came from a military family," she said. Her father was in the Navy for 20 years and her brother, Daniel, 21, is in an Army airborne unit waiting to go to Iraq, she said.

"I wanted to join the Navy and serve on submarines, but women aren't allowed on subs," she said.

Winter left a job as an assistant manager in a retail store when she was deployed.

Her son, Randi, nearly 2, is on Long Island with her parents.

"I miss him very much," she said. "He's reached the age now that when I call he knows I'm not there and he misses me. I don't know how long we're going to be here."

Many military police Reserve units were called up to do security duty around the country, said Specialist Richard Abrameto, a 13-year-veteran of the 306th. He's a paralegal in civilian life.

Nearly half the members of the 306th are New York City police officers and fire fighters. Many were called to duty on Sept. 11 following the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.

Thursday was the second time that the reservists were invited off base for dinner. On Feb. 5 members of the Germantown Church of God fed 45 reservists.

Church and community members came up with the idea as a way to thank the soldiers for serving in the military.

Barbara Layman of Waynesboro, Pa., read about the Cascade church's event and decided to hold a similar dinner at her church.

Members from the main church in Blue Ridge Summit and those from the church's Calvary Chapel on Mentzer Gap Road east of Waynesboro, helped to put on the dinner.

The soldiers sat eight to a table Thursday.

A large table in the kitchen was laden with food - fried chicken, meat loaf, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, salads, platters of fruits and vegetables, plates of pickles, olives and even hot cherry peppers. A down-home touch was a pile of New York bagels.

A table in another room held the breads and desserts - pies, cakes, cookies - enough to feed an army.

After dinner, thank yous were passed around. The church folks thanked the soldiers for their sacrifices, the soldiers thanked them for dinner and for a few hours anyway, a touch of home.

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