A Christmas update of Islanders in service
Many Islanders' family members in military service, whether on duty stateside or overseas, won't be home for the holidays.
In appreciation for their service to their country and to let them know they are remembered, The Times invited their families and friends to provide an update on their whereabouts for the community:
Lt. Mason Berry, USN
Lieutenant Berry, a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is a Navy pilot stationed in Guam where he is training pilots to fly the MH-60 Sierra Night Hawk helicopter in the Naval Aviation Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) program. He is also his squadron's fitness officer. Lt. Berry was previously deployed to northern Kuwait, where he piloted an MH-60S helicopter in medevac missions for all of Kuwait, southern Iraq, and the northern Arabian Gulf for nine months. He will return to the States under new orders in April or May to be a flight instructor at Naval Base Coronado in San Diego. The lieutenant is the son of Peyton and Andrew Berry of Vineyard Haven.
Specialist Daniel Blake II, USA
SPC Blake is on his second deployment in Iraq, serving there since late July with the 14th Military Intelligence Battalion from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex. His brother Michael, whose update follows, also serves in the Army. The sons of Bertha and Daniel Blake, they grew up in Oak Bluffs, along with their other brother Aaron, and graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).
Staff Sergeant Michael Blake, USA
SSG Blake is a scout section leader in an armored reconnaissance squadron with Apache Troop 1-9 CAV, 1st Calvary Div., based at Fort Hood, Tex. He is due to deploy on his fourth tour in Iraq in September 2010. His fiancée recently completed the Florida department of public safety law enforcement academy.
MSgt. Jason S. Canha, USAF
MSgt. Canha returned from a six-month tour in Afghanistan in late November to Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., where he assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He lives in Satellite Beach with his wife, Kimberly, son, Dominick, and daughter, Krista. MSgt. Canha is the son of Brenda and Mike Canha, owners of DP Canha Appliance Repair. He graduated from MVRHS in 1992.
LTJG Elise Chapdelaine, USN
Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Chapdelaine is stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., working for the Navy Civil Engineering Corps as a construction supervisor for eight projects totaling about $37 million. In July she will be deployed as a platoon commander of a Seabee Battalion based in Guam or Okinawa. LTJG Chapdelaine was born and raised in West Tisbury and graduated from MVRHS in 2002. She was the first woman from Martha's Vineyard to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, in May 2007. Her parents, Harold and Joan Chapdelaine, live in Vineyard Haven.
Private E-2 Bradley Cortez, USA
PVT Cortez is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 82nd Airborne Div., 4th BCT, awaiting deployment to Afghanistan in January 2010. He underwent basic training at Fort Knox, Ky. PVT Cortez was a platoon guide throughout his advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He received the William Red King Award as outstanding soldier of the squad when he graduated the airborne course to become a paratrooper. PVT Cortez grew up in Oak Bluffs and played football at MVRHS before graduating in 2004. His brother Tony, whose update follows, also serves in the Army. Their parents, Lisa and Herbert Tilton, sister, Cheyenne Tilton, and brother, Nicholas Butler, live in Oak Bluffs.
Private First Class Tony Cortez, USA
PFC Cortez, who serves with the Massachusetts National Guard, was deployed to New Mexico as an aviation operations specialist in an air traffic control unit attached to the Charlie Co., 3rd Battalion, 140th Army Aviation Regiment in Las Cruces. On Christmas morning he and PVT3 Victoria Tovar, who also serves in his unit, will marry. Both of them are awaiting deployment overseas in February 2010. Before graduating from MVRHS in 2006, PFC Cortez was a member of the football team and the Minnesingers. (See "Together in Spirit: Sons ready to serve" on pg. 11 for more about the Cortez brothers.)
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin M. Devine, USA
Sgt. Devine will finish a year-long tour in Afghanistan and return on January 2 to Fort Drum, N.Y., where he is stationed. In March he and his family will be moving to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where he will serve as a Ranger instructor for the last phase of U.S. Army Ranger School. Sgt. Devine and his wife, Tabitha, have four children and two grandsons. He grew up on Martha's Vineyard and began his 17-year military career after graduating from MVRHS. Island family members include his sister, Stephanie Devine, mother, Wendy Oliver, and aunt, Janet King. His dad, Herbie Devine, lives in Randolph.
Gunnery Sgt. Howard Ditson, USMC
GySgt. Ditson is on deployment in Iraq until next spring at Al Asad Airbase with Unit MALS41, based out of Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth. His wife, Capt. Jessica Ditson, USAF, a reservist with the 313 Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., also is presently based at NAS Fort Worth. The couple has a four-year-old son. GySgt. Ditson, the son of Margaret and Randy Ditson of Oak Bluffs, grew up on the Island and enlisted in the Marines after graduating from MVRHS in 1994.
Seaman Alan Fortes, USCG
SN Fortes is stationed at a small boat station in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., with plans to specialize in damage control. He grew up in Tisbury and graduated from MVRHS in 2007. Before joining the Coast Guard in 2008, SN Fortes attended Springfield College for a year, during which time he also served as a volunteer fire fighter in Tisbury. He is the son of Barbara and Alan Fortes of Tisbury and the brother of Elise, Janelle, and Lisa.
Capt. Travis A. Gramkowski, USAF
Capt. Gramkowski was deployed last June to Afghanistan, where he is serving with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Zabul Province. Capt. Gramkowski is responsible for monitoring the enemy situation in the volatile province and informing his team of threats in the area. He also reports on government activity and development, particularly in the Justice Sector, and provides briefings on the province. When his tour ends in February 2010, Capt. Gramkowski will return to Japan where he has been stationed since May 2008. After graduating from MVRHS in 2001, he received a B.S. degree in history and area studies from the Air Force Academy in 2005 and a master's degree in Asian studies from the University of Hawaii in 2007. He is the son of Terry and Tony Gramkowski of Edgartown.
1st Lt. James Hagerty, U.S. Marine Corps
Lt. Hagerty returned in October from a second tour in Iraq as an Infantry Platoon Commander and is now undergoing training at U.S. Marines Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He grew up in Edgartown and is a 2001 MVRHS graduate. Lt. Hagerty joined the Marines and attended Officers Candidate School after graduating with highest honors from Northeastern University. His parents are Barry Nevin of Edgartown and Robert Hagerty of Vineyard Haven.
Corporal Seth Vieara Jones, USMC
Cpl. Jones completed his third overseas tour in Afghanistan in October, where he served as a helicopter mechanic, and returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif. After finishing his military commitment in March, he plans to head home to New Hampshire and go to college. Cpl. Jones was born at Martha's Vineyard Hospital and spent a lot of time on the Island while growing up. His great-aunt Rena Vieara works at H.N. Hinckley's, and his grandparents, Bill and Lee Jones of Virginia, spend summers in Edgartown. His parents are Tom and Peggy Jones of New Hampshire.
Lt. Col. Andre L. Mercier, USMC
Lt. Col. Mercier reported to new duty station in China Lake, Calif. on Dec. 1, where he will become the commanding officer of the squadron after serving as the chief test pilot for 18 months. Last July he was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for distinguished service on a project to build the Joint Strike Fighter for the Marines, Navy, and Air Force.
The son of Larry and Doris Mercier of Edgartown, Lt. Col. Mercier graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1985. He joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Trained as a navigator, Lt. Col. Mercier flew in the EA-6B "Prowler," and his tours of duty included service in Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan D. Rossi, USCG
PO3 Rossi is home for Christmas, on leave from his duties in Natchez, Miss., serving aboard the USCGC Greenbriar, a 95-foot cutter used to monitor and maintain aids to navigation along 630 miles of the lower Mississippi River. PO3 Rossi is the son of Daniel and Jane Rossi of West Tisbury. After graduating from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 2005, he attended UMass-Dartmouth for one year and then joined the Coast Guard.
Maj. Sean M. Smith, USA
Maj. Smith is currently stationed at Bagram Airbase as the liaison officer and senior representative in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors Program. He is responsible for overseeing the development of sensors and systems that gather intelligence and provide analysis for ground commanders during combat operations to detect and provide electronic countermeasures against improvised explosive devices targeted at military vehicles. Maj. Smith is the son of Michael and Lucie Smith of Edgartown.
Lance Cpl. Anthony M. Sullo, USMC
LCpl. Sullo will be home on the Island for Christmas. He returned to his home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from the Middle East a few weeks ago, after his deployment to Afghanistan was cancelled due to an outbreak of swine flu aboard the aircraft carrier on which he traveled. In 2008, LCpl. Sullo was deployed for a seven-month tour in Kuwait as an infantryman to patrol along the Iraq/Syrian border. He is a 2006 MVRHS graduate. His Dad, Peter Sullo, is the co-owner of Rocco's Family Style Italian Restaurant in Tisbury.
EO3 Craig Sylvia, USN
EO3 Sylvia is currently on a six-month deployment with his construction battalion in Spain and will return to his homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif., in February. In 2008 he was deployed for six months to Ramadi, Iraq. When his five-year commitment to the Navy ends next November, he plans to pursue a college degree in criminal justice. He and his brother, Leigh, whose update follows, grew up in Oak Bluffs.
AM3 Leigh D. Sylvia, USN
AM3 Sylvia is an aircraft structural mechanic. He recently reported to a new duty station at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station in Hawaii and was deployed two weeks later to Japan for six months. He will return to Hawaii in June.
Lance Corporal Jack Van Bourgondien, USMC
LCpl. Van Bourgondien recently returned to Okinawa after finishing a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, and he will be home for an Island visit soon. He was born on Martha's Vineyard and is the son of Roma Jean Marshall of Hyannis and Jack Van Bourgondien, who lives in Colorado. He lived with his grandmother, Clara Marshall, and uncle, Daniel Marshall, while growing up in Oak Bluffs, and graduated in 2007 from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.
At top, from left: BM3 Andrew Leblanc, FN Anthony Diaz, BM2 Patrick Bryant, and BM2 Joseph Pancotti. Bottom row from left: SN Jarrett Dube, MK3 Matthew Lawson, BM3 Russell Welch, MK3 Gregory Sarkozi, Bridger the Labrador, BM3 Cory Smith, MK2 Paul Sullivan, FS1 Joseph Walker, MK1 Scott Maccaferri, BMCS Steve Barr, BM2 Daniel Phillips, BM2 Christopher Seevers, BM3 Nickolas Meegan, and BM3 Gary Kovack. Not present: SN Margaret Dodson, MK3 Thomas Guice, SK2 Craig Kalucki, BM3 Dustin Shaw and SN Kaycee Teramae.
Lance Cpl. Dennis Vogel, Jr., USMC
LCpl. Vogel is home for Christmas on Martha's Vineyard, before deploying to Afghanistan in early January. He completed a seven-month tour in Iraq in March and is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego, Calif. In addition to charting missions, he is a physical fitness trainer for his squadron. LCpl. Vogel joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 2007. He is the son of Sheila Sennott of Vineyard Haven and Dennis Vogel of Oak Bluffs.
Sgt. Jared Wardell, U.S. Army
Sgt. Wardell recently completed his second 15-month tour in Iraq, serving with the 82nd Airborne, and returned to Fort Bragg, N.C. He grew up on Martha's Vineyard and attended Martha's Vineyard Regional High School for a while, then transferred to Mashpee High School where he graduated in 2007. After joining the Army, Sgt. Wardell was deployed on his first tour to Iraq in 2007. He is the son of Joe Wardell of Oak Bluffs and Susan Greenlaw of Mashpee. He and his wife, Kyra, have a six-month old son, Landon Ryan.
Sgt. Christopher Willis, USA
Sgt. Willis recently returned from his third deployment to Iraq, which began last January. While continuing to serve in the Army National Guard, he is working as a manager for Home Depot in the Boston area. As a military police officer with the 772nd Military Police Company, a Taunton-based Massachusetts Army National Guard company, Sgt. Willis trained Iraqi police officers and security personnel. He grew up in Oak Bluffs and graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1998. He joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard before enrolling in college, and was called up in 2002 to serve as an MP in Afghanistan for a year. In July 2007 he was deployed to Iraq for 400 days with an Army National Guard unit out of Cambridge.
For mailing addresses for Islanders in service, call Veterans Services Officer Jo Ann Murphy at 508-693-6887.