Soldier makes the most of holiday visit home
A week before Thanksgiving, while many people were running errands, Staff Sgt. Jared Meader was running combat missions in Iraq. Although he left the battlefield to arrive on Martha's Vineyard November 20, SSgt. Meader said this week, "It's still a shock to be back - you're running missions until the last day you're there."
On leave until December 5, he is trying to make up for lost time with his wife Julie, their children Hailey, 7, Hunter, 5, and Savannah, 2, and family and friends since his deployment last April. SSgt. Meader and his family celebrated Thanksgiving at the home of his parents, Robin and Danny Meader of Oak Bluffs, along with his wife's parents, Linda and Wally Woods of Vineyard Haven, and several relatives.
Everyone is trying to pack two holiday celebrations into one, knowing he won't be home for Christmas.
Photo by Susan Safford
SSgt. Meader offered to take his leave at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas so that one of the junior troops could have Christmas off. His good friend Sgt. Travis Bissey of Oak Bluffs also came home from Iraq for Thanksgiving, dividing his time between the Vineyard and visiting family in New Hampshire.
When asked what prompted Sgt. Bissey to pick the same leave time, SSgt. Meader uttered two words: "Deer week." The two of them went hunting with a gang of friends Monday, although SSgt. Meader got a late start.
"I had to do other stuff around the house I told my wife I would do, so I hung around until she finally said, 'Get out and go hunting now,'" he said with a laugh.
SSgt. Meader and his family put up and decorated their Christmas tree in their Vineyard Haven home last Sunday. This week, they will spend a couple of days at a hotel on the Cape as a mini-vacation before he leaves on Friday.
A graduate of the regional high school, SSgt Meader was invited yesterday to speak to a class taught by social studies/history teacher Elaine Weintraub. The loyal alumnus said he has one regret about his visit home. "I just wish the Nantucket game was played at home this year - I could have gone to it," he said, vowing, "I'll go next year."
In a phone call Monday evening, SSgt. Meader noted wearily that it was the first night he was able to sit and relax in his own house. "I spent the first week and a half running around seeing people," he explained.
The opportunity to do so is something he truly appreciates, however, after coping with surgery for removal of a brain tumor in November 2007. His recovery required four months off work from his civilian job as a sergeant in the Dukes County Sheriff's Department.
Last April, his doctor cleared him to go when he was deployed for a second tour in Iraq. He shipped out in June to Iraq as a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, along with Sgt. Bissey.
They met while serving in the Marine Corps together, and then Sgt. Bissey moved to the Vineyard after he got out of the Marines. The two of them signed up for the Guard at the same time and were deployed together to Iraq for 14 months starting in 2004.
During SSgt. Meader's first deployment, he served in a water purification unit in Ramadi for nine months, and then was put in charge of a site in Habinyah.
This time around, SSgt. Meader is assigned to a logistical training advisory team attached to American Special Forces. He works as a logistical advisor to Iraqi Special Operations Forces in Mosul. Sgt. Bissey works in Baghdad at the headquarters level in a similar role, he said.
"I work hand in hand with the Iraqis," SSgt. Meader explained. "It's been a great experience. The guys I work with are awesome - they're motivated to work with us, really friendly, and quick to learn."
An Iraqi major advised him that the Iraqi people are very social, and that he would be more successful in working with them by acting as a friend and as though he wants to be there. Heeding that advice, SSgt. Meader makes it a point to socialize with the Iraqi soldiers and observe their customs.
"Then when work comes up, they're quick to go to work," he said. "For the most part, they're totally doing their own thing and we're just there for support."
He does have concern about the timing of troop withdrawals, however. "I know we have an agreement signed and the Iranian government wants us out in three years, but most of us think it's too early," SSgt. Meader said. "Our fear is that they won't make it through the turnover, because there is a lot of internal fighting among the higher-ups."
He expects to finish his tour and return home sometime between April and June. In the meantime, he said he will keep in touch with his wife and kids via
Skype, a free voice-over-Internet telephone service. "The kids wake me up at 4 in the morning and talk to me before they go to bed," SSgt. Meader said. "I love it when Savannah says, 'Daddy, you see me?'"