by Cynthia Tintorri
November 03, 2011
In anticipation of Veterans Day, Northampton Community College's Band of Brothers club presented a program on Thursday, November 3, that included Wounded Warrior Project speaker Hugh Conlon.
The program began with a stirring a capella rendition of the national anthem, performed by early childhood education major Elena Zervos. General studies major Angelica Sarcione then gave a brief history of Veterans Day, which was instituted as Armistice Day in 1919 to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. The armistice was signed in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918.
Hugh Conlon, a retired Sergeant First Class in the army who served in more than 350 combat missions between 1987 and his retirement in 2007, then told his personal story as a member of Warriors Speak, a branch of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Conlon served as a medic with the 82nd Airborne and saw action in Honduras, Panama, and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and has received awards including the Combat Medical Badge and the Bronze Star. He began medic training when "we were using popsicle sticks for broken fingers." His first mission in Honduras was to train Honduran medics. During his second mission, in Panama City, "I saw my first dead U.S. soldiers, and treated my first casualties. I came back with renewed purpose - I was good at this."
Throughout his 350 missions, Conlon proved to be a great medic - he provided, coordinated and directed medical support in hazardous urban environments without a single U.S. military loss of life. He was also a great trainer, improving unit readiness by training more than 150,000 U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers.
In 2005, Conlon was asked to volunteer to go to Baghdad, to train medics for the Iraqi National Police in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The rigors of the mission took its toll on Conlon, and he filed his retirement papers while in Baghdad.
But after 20 years in the army, Conlon found himself "sitting on my couch" with no identity. "When I was in the army, in uniform, I was a visual resume. You could tell from looking at me where I'd been, what I'd done." Employers, however, weren't interested in the skills and experience he'd acquired as a medic. "I'm a good manager, I can manage any project - but I didn't have a piece of paper saying so."
Conlon was in a "dark place," he says, when he discovered the Wounded Warrior Project. The non-profit group's stated mission is "to honor and empower wounded warriors, and serve to raise awareness and enlist the public's aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women." Through its Warriors to Work program, Conlon ended up becoming an advocate and speaker for the organization. "I wouldn't speak about my career - ever - if it didn't benefit other soldiers and their families. It's like picking a scab: it bleeds, but every time, it gets smaller. Talking about it is therapeutic," Conlon believes. "I don't use the word 'disability,'" he stresses. "Warriors to Work is just a reassignment of your abilities."
Pointing to the Wounded Warrior logo on his shirt, of one soldier carrying an injured soldier, he says, "I used to be the guy carrying the soldier. For a while, I was the one being carried. I'm trying to work my way back down, to being the one doing the carrying again."
After Conlon's talk, Band of Brothers president Chris Posch, a business management student, presented Conlon with a $100 check from the club for the Wounded Warrior Project. Club member and criminal justice major Matthew A'Hearn then presented a framed flag, that had flown during a combat mission in Iraq, to NCC President Art Scott, to be hung in the WWII Veterans Room in College Center.
"Band of Brothers is a great asset to our college," Scott said. "We are honored by your service to our country and our campus."
You can learn more and donate at Wounded Warrior Project. For more information about Band of Brothers, its activities, or to make a donation through the club, contact president Chris Posch or advisors Diana Holva or Carolyn Brady.