Paul Steven Ghiringhelli
For service members, sometimes just being known as a loyal friend in the military community can lead to the most unexpected and extravagant of recognitions.
Just ask Nate Haddad, a materials handler at Fort Drum’s Network Enterprise Center, who recently found himself in a fancy ballroom of the historic and luxurious Union League building in downtown Philadelphia, Pa., eating a formal dinner alongside Lt. Gen. William Troy, director of Army Staff at the Pentagon, and Sebastian Junger, an award-winning author, filmmaker and war journalist.
Along with an old Army buddy, Haddad was selected earlier this year to be a guest of honor at the dinner by the Philadelphia chapter of Blue Star Mothers and the Union League’s Armed Services Council.
Organizers said the Feb. 28 event was aimed at raising awareness of the challenges, transitions and unique conditions today’s service members undergo.
Haddad, who was medically discharged from the Army in 2010, said he didn’t do anything special to deserve the attention.
The story of why he was singled out by a community hundreds of miles from Fort Drum began late last year, when he received a call from a 10th Mountain Division (LI) buddy, “Kyle” – a combat engineer who was left with a broken back when a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle in Afghanistan.
Haddad explained the tragic story to an acquaintance near Philadelphia, Pa., an Army veteran who was sympathetic. Haddad then traveled to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and drove his injured buddy three hours up the road to spend Christmas with the man’s family.
“The worst time to be in the hospital is during a holiday season,” Haddad said. “What I didn’t know at the time was that (my friend) sent out a mass email telling people he had two disabled vets coming over for Christmas and that it would be nice if they had a few letters or presents.”
That email reached Marian L. Moran, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Blue Star Mothers.
Haddad said, largely due to her efforts, some 100 gifts showed up for Christmas.
“It was absolutely astounding,” he said. “We gave away a bunch of it because there was just too much.”
But the expressions of support did not end there.
Soon after the holidays, Moran followed up with Haddad, discovering he was acting not only as a friend but also as a mentor to the injured Soldier – helping Kyle get back on his feet, explaining the Medical Evaluation Board process to him and just offering to help in any way he could.
“I guess she was very inspired and impressed,” Haddad said. “She said the story went along well with the theme of ‘From War to Home’ at her upcoming dinner (at the Union League).”
The Union League of Philadelphia, which was founded 150 years ago to support the policies of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, is today a leading civic institution.
Haddad and his friend were not only invited to the dinner as honored guests, but also treated to a weekend in Philadelphia, private tours of the city and an evening in the Union League’s presidential suite.
“I was completely blown away,” he said of the experience. “It was just an absolutely incredible honor.”
Haddad said he and his friend received a standing ovation after the general and Junger were introduced to some 400 guests in the Lincoln Ballroom.
“When Kyle came in, I don’t think there was a dry eye in that whole place,” he said of the young specialist, who was told by doctors in Bagram that he would never walk again. “They gave a brief synopsis of what had happened to him … and here he came walking up (unaided). No cane. No kind of assistance at all.”
Haddad said he believed the evening’s theme, “From War to Home,” was a topic that’s crucial for communities across America to understand and support.
“Yeah, we need to support the troops overseas,” he said. “But at the same time, when they come home, the war is not really over, and they still need support.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a millionaire or you’re just an everyday (citizen),” he added. “You can still serve your country by trying to serve those who are returning from war.”
After more than a decade of active duty, Haddad left the Army just over a year ago.
He had been a ground surveillance systems operator when he severely injured his back and shoulder during Army Special Forces selection training at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2005. He was re-classified as an interrogator and spent the last several years of active duty undergoing multiple surgeries.
The Blue Star Mother who made the entire event possible talks of Haddad like a son. After the ceremony, Moran said she was very impressed with the care and concern he showed his friend and wished he could be further recognized.
“Nate deserves some kind of award for the leadership he has shown in watching over his buddy,” she said.
Melinda Roney, NEC’s Logistics Branch chief and Haddad’s supervisor, said she fully understands what kind of asset the former Soldier is to the Army.
“Nathan is the type of employee that supervisors wish they had a dozen of,” Roney said. “He consistently works hard, is good-humored and always goes above and beyond without thinking twice.
“Giving 100 percent of himself comes naturally to Nate,” she added.