Jared Meader welcomed home
Herbert Combra of Oak Bluffs is overcome as he greets his great-nephew Sergeant Jared Meader. Photos by Ralph Stewart
A jubilant Sgt. Jared Meader came home late yesterday afternoon to a cheering crowd after spending 14 months stationed in Iraq with a unit of the Massachusetts National Guard.
Sergeant Meader, with his wife and two children, arrived on the 5:45 Nantucket. A tumultuous crowd that included an honor guard and veterans of former wars gathered at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal to greet them, horns honking, sirens blasting, people shouting and cheering — all to welcome home an Island soldier and thank him for a job well done.
"The word went out to everyone, the sheriff's department, the firefighters and police officers and veterans, so we had a rip-roaring noisy party waiting for him to come in at the dock to welcome him home," said Linda Woods, Jared's mother-in-law.
She conspired with the Steamship Authority to make sure the Meader family's car was the last one off. "We wanted him to hear all the chaos going off and think, ‘Oh my God - that's for me,'" she said.
What was not expected was the arrival on the same boat of Sergeant Travis Bissey of Tisbury, a sergeant in the National Guard, returning after a one-year tour of duty. Sergeant Bissey joined Sergeant Meader as they walked along a receiving line standing at attention in front of a line of flashing police and fire vehicles.
Hailey Meader, 5, hangs on tight as her father greets sheriff's deputies Robert Ogden and Randy Ditson.
Sergeant Meader's journey back to his Vineyard Haven home began Tuesday, when he arrived at the Worcester National Guard Armory. His wife Julie and children Hailey and Hunter were there, along with other families, for a joyful reunion with the returning soldiers.
Reached by cell phone Tuesday afternoon and asked how she was, Ms. Meader said, "Just great, now that I've got him back." She said the children were clinging to him, and no doubt, so was she.
Mr. Meader left his job as a corrections officer with the Dukes County Sheriff's Department in March 2003 when he was called up by the Massachusetts National Guard 101st Quartermaster Battalion. He served in a water purification unit in Iraq in Ramadi for nine months, then went to Habinyah where he was in charge of a site, overseeing six soldiers.
"It was actually quite surprisingly routine, like a job back home, up at six, go out to the water site, work, come home," Mr. Meader said. Other than rockets, mortars or gunfire going off, that is.
"The worst thing was the rocket attacks - they were really bad at night," he said. "The Iraqi insurgents didn't have launchers, so they would just lay the rockets on the road and set them off."
For the most part, Mr. Meader said, the Iraqi people were not hostile to him and other soldiers. However, the city of Ramadi, named by Time magazine as "the most dangerous city in the world," was the gathering place for insurgents and a place where Mr. Meader experienced a close call.
Dan and Robin Meader with their son Sergeant Jared Meader.
"I was setting up a polling station the day before the elections, with barbed wire to protect the people who were coming to vote, and we had a drive-by shooting," he recalled. "We took cover, and then tried to advance on the shooters, but the crowd wouldn't move. We couldn't shoot back for fear of hitting civilians. The crowd just stayed there watching — they wouldn't move. We had to stay under cover until the shooters ran out of ammunition," he said.
Part of his job involved delivering water to Iraqi soldiers, with whom he made some good friendships, he said. "They fought against us in the Gulf War and may not like us, but they don't hate us," he explained. "They know that the best way to get us out of their country is to support us."
When asked what he missed most while he was gone — besides his family, of course — Mr. Meader replied, "Domino's pizza - and flushing toilets." He said he and his wife plan to take their children to Disney World in December, a trip they have been saving up for all year, and then he will enjoy about a month off.
Although he has paid leave for 90 days, he plans to head back to work at the Sheriff's department sooner. "I don't want to leave them hanging too much; they've been short of people," Mr. Meader said. He feels indebted to his co-workers for the support they gave him and his family while he was in Iraq, he said.
"The department has been very supportive. The guys would call and make sure Julie was okay. Anything she needed, they would take care of it."
Mr. Meader has three years left in his commitment to the National Guard, but for now, his unit has been released.
On Sunday, there will be a reception for Mr. Meader at 2 pm at the American Legion post in Vineyard Haven, across the street from Tisbury School. "Everyone is welcome to stop by, say hi, and welcome home to Jared," said Ms. Woods.