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One Morrisville veteran reflects on 26 years of active duty service

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Snipp of Morrisville, Vt., with the Vermont National Guard's 172nd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, Echo Company, Distribution Platoon, pulls security during a rest stop on a convoy March 17, 2010 in the Paktya province of Afghanistan. in order to give the Vermont unit situational awareness of their area of operation.
Sgt. Andrew Reagan
U.S. Army
Army Sgt. 1st Class Tom Snipp with the Vermont National Guard's 172nd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, Echo Company, Distribution Platoon, pulls security during a rest stop on a convoy March 17, 2010 in the Paktya province of Afghanistan.

We highly recommend that you listen to this story. But we've also provided a transcript below.

For many, Veterans Day is a time of reflection.

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Tom Snipp lives in Morrisville. He recalled the value in having a support system — while deployed, and back home after returning.

Snipp: I grew up in Virginia. And my father was in the Navy. So we kind of moved around a lot. When I first enlisted, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in ‘91. And I served in the Coast Guard for nine years, and decided to switch over to the Army National Guard in ’99.

I was actually an older recruit, I was 26 at the time, so I just barely made the age limit. And I could see mentally what was going on. Whereas some of the younger kids didn't really see the psychological part of it. It still was kind of a: “What have I gotten myself into, and is this the life that I want?” I decided I could probably make a career of this.

A photo of a man holding up a root vegetable, smiling, against a backdrop of sunny green grass and trees.
Tom Snipp

My first deployment was in 2005, with the Vermont Guard to Kuwait, which was a year-long boots-on-the-ground tour. The biggest thing was the heat. It was, you know, 130 degrees-plus on some days. It was amazing how cold it would get at night, even though you're in the desert, I mean, we got below freezing.

Deployed again in 2010 with the Guard to Afghanistan. My company, which was Echo Company, with the infantry battalion, we were stationed in a place that was kind of mountainous, we were up in high elevation. And then it kind of reminded me of Vermont in a way. Our mission at that time was -- we ran convoys, and we supplied everything from beans to bullets to the different outposts that we were assigned to. We also did recovery missions where we’d pick up damaged vehicles and bring them back for repairs.

So we were constantly busy, which I think looking back helped us get through the deployment. Because we didn't have much downtime -- so anytime you have too much time, you can get yourself into trouble or, or things can happen.

I have two children that on my first deployment were 4 and 6, and then they were 11 and 13. And those are crucial ages for kids growing up, they still remember how it was -- it definitely affects them. And you don't really realize that until maybe later on down the line when they get older, what effect that was on them, you know, with being away and, and not knowing you know, what was going to happen to them. It just, that’s been hard.

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I ended up retiring after 26 years of active duty service. It's kind of surreal, it's almost instantaneous that you're you know, going from a war zone to in the states. It happened so quick. It's kind of takes just a while to get your breath and get your bearings. Like OK, where am I? Where did I leave my rifle? You know, it's -- I don't have to worry about that anymore. Those kinds of things. Those kinds of habits that you just kind of trained to always be aware of and doing. You just take some time to be a civilian again.

I actually work with Vermont Veterans Outreach. Being a vet myself, I know a lot of the people that I work with, so I kind of have an understanding of what they're going through. Pretty proud of what I've done, glad I did what I did, wouldn't change a thing.

What we don't talk about, or I don't hear much, is family and having support back home when you're overseas. My wife on both deployments told me, you know, don't worry about the family, don't worry about the house, you just do what you have to do to come back. Having that sense of OK, my family is all right back home, I can focus on what I need to do over here made all the difference in the world. Because a lot of the people that I work with, didn't have that. So it was hard for them. The hardest thing to do is to keep people staying focused on what needed to be done.

There is support out there. There's a lot of support, whether it's through the VFW or the DAV that will be glad to step in and help out in any way they can. So if somebody is feeling alone or whatever, after joining the military, even though they might not have a family or spouse or loved one back home, there's other organizations out there that can provide some kind of comfort and help for them.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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