By Nathan Mayberg
HURLEYVILLE February 24, 2004 They laughed, they cried, they ate, and they danced.
About 150 people packed Christophers Restaurant in Hurleyville Saturday to support the families of the men and women serving in the armed forces.
Some did their best to have an enjoyable evening with friends instead of worrying about their loved ones. Others wanted to reflect on the loss of relatives in military service. And some used the night to rally behind the causes of freedom and liberty.
Dolores Delgado of Jeffersonville created the Armed Services Support Group for those in Sullivan County with friends or family serving overseas.
Shes one of them. Joseph Hernandez is Delgados son. He has been in Iraq since August, participating in over 200 missions. He is serving with the 82nd Airborne of the U.S. Army and has been in Fallujah most of the time.
She said she receives "beautiful letters" from his lieutenant, explaining that her son is the first guy to check everything out during their missions.
He enlisted five days after 9/11.
Delgado was able to get Christopher Carpinone, the owner of the Hurleyville restaurant, to donate his space free of charge to the group. That way, the donations made at the door will go to the families of those serving abroad.
County Court Judge Frank LaBuda presented the group with a United States flag with the names of all the firemen, policemen and court officers who were killed on 9/11. The flag was carried by soldiers from the 82nd Airborne division in their journey from Kuwait to Iraq. It was carried in combat and flown over Baghdad.
The flag was donated by an anonymous Wurtsboro resident. Next, it will be heading to the New York City Fire Department.
Alex Ozolins, a 1998 graduate of Tri-Valley, was recognized for his recent service in Iraq. He was in the 502nd Infantrys 101st EABN Air Assault Unit of the Army. He spent most of his time in Mosul, where he said he saw heavy combat.
One of the soldiers in his unit was killed by a roadside bomb. Ozolins asked for a moment of silence from the crowd to remember him, as well as two fellow members of his unit who were injured.
Ozolins will be going back to Kentucky shortly, waiting until he receives his orders in April on where he goes next.
Monique Conrad, a 2003 Sullivan West graduate and Cochecton resident, was recognized for serving in Ramstein, Germany. She is a first class airman at the U.S. air base there, where many soldiers stop on their way back and forth to Iraq. The air base is also the primary location where injured soldiers are shipped from Iraq to be treated at a nearby hospital.
Conrad said the most emotional part of her stay there was "seeing and knowing a lot of the people that are injured."
She added, "It doesnt really hit you until you see them [the soldiers] and the families greet them."
LaBuda, whose son served in Iraq, said he understood what it meant "to have a son or daughter in harms way. He stressed that American soldiers were protecting the liberty, freedom, and justice for not only Americans but for people all around the world. The soldiers, he said, would be "victorious on the war of religious tolerance and oppression."
Chris White, an aide from Representative Maurice Hincheys office, read a letter from Hinchey, who was outside the country at the time. In the letter, Hinchey said he understood the difficulties the families of servicemen face. He said he would "continue to ensure that those who serve in the military get the benefits they deserve."
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther also sent her support to the group.
Delgado thanked County Legislator Rodney Gaebel for allowing her group to use the executive legislative conference room in Monticello for their first meeting. Legislator Sam Wohl was also in attendance.
Chuck Martin, an independent DJ, volunteered his services. Many people, including Delgado, danced throughout the night to release their emotions and have a good time.
Martin called it "a great turnout. Were doing something in such a good way for the military and our soldiers over there. It definitely is a worthwhile cause."
Joe Modica, Sergeant First Class with the Army, is a pre-basic training program instructor. Six of his trainees are now in Iraq.
Modica said there was a shortage of military police in Iraq. That is why National Guardsmen are being sent to Iraq for one year. He said it only used to be for six months.
The sergeant called the soldiers he instructs very special people.
"Its not like they have to join. They know what they are getting into," he said. I tell them, if you dont learn anything else from this, look out for one another. Because you dont have anything else but each other."