“Marc, check your e-mail.”
Army Specialist Marc Silvestri was curious to see what Dick Moody needed him to see. Although he had recently contacted Moody, head of Operation Troop Support in Danvers, regarding a possible loan for the remaining balance of his airline ticket, the wounded soldier had no idea what awaited him in his inbox.
He was confused to see a full itinerary bought and paid for — a round trip ticket out of Fort Knox, Ky., where he had been recovering from injuries sustained in Afghanistan, back home to Boston for a job interview.
“Mr. Moody, I’m so sorry, sir, for the miscommunication; I have some of the money for the ticket, I only needed a little more to get me home. Is there an address or Post Office box where I can send this money I have back to you?” Silvestri asked. “I feel terrible about this.”
Moody then explained that wasn’t necessary.
“Mister Moody told me that the ticket is mine and that Operation Troop Support is there for me and others like me who need the help. I was blown away. I called Mister Moody and his wife (Christine) to thank them both for everything,” Silvestri said.
Silvestri and his buddies of Alpha Troop were regular recipients of Operation Troop Support care packages while stationed in the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan.
“You never think about all the stuff you go through in a year, and you’re stuck in the mountains and can’t run to the store to get it,” he said. “Those Operation Troop Support boxes would come with my name on it, because I was the group leader, and I would just start passing them out: like all the cards from kids and Girl Scout cookies, razors, toothpaste, socks, hand warmers, hot chocolate, knitted hats and scarves.”
“Stuff, that if it wasn’t sent in the care packages, we never would have gotten it, and it was great to see these guys — some of them with no real family — finally getting the things they needed from home,” Silvestri said.
“Everything sent to us, [we] used, believe me — whether by the U.S. troops or the Afghan soldiers (who have basically nothing, especially not the winter gear that we have),” he added. “Afghan soldiers are not held in high regard over there and they really could not believe that Americans are just sending things over to us and supporting their own troops this way.”
“[The Moodys] have gone above and beyond what any two people would do for basically a stranger. I called and thanked them for all they’ve done; they are a great military family. I know they have kids in the service and Mister Moody is himself a veteran. It’s great to see they are still so involved, but it’s amazing to me,” Silvestri said.
An Army specialist with his platoon infantry division, Pfc. Silvestri, who is a Revere native, was injured in a firefight in Afghanistan and has spent the last 15 months at a rehabilitation facility in Fort Knox. To say Silvestri and other soldiers in his unit were merely on the front lines does not clearly describe their sacrifices at Camp Lowell, just miles from the Pakistan border.
An ABC News special report, “Surviving Camp Hell,” details the unit’s dangerous mission to disrupt Al Qaeda and Taliban smuggling routes.
“I was a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout, which is reconnaissance. We’re the eyes and ears for the brigade commander,” said Silvestri, explaining that platoons of 15 soldiers in two-man teams would advance far ahead behind enemy lines. The mission was to get to high ground and serve as a target to keep enemy eyes and guns off American ground forces, while also giving pre-warning signs of attacks.
Silvestri recalled the anxiety of listening in on Taliban communications and hearing he and his fellow scouts were being watched by the enemy.
“You’re always on edge, because the anticipation of the fight is sometimes worse than the actual fight,” he said.
Silvestri’s unit was attacked more than 400 times during a 12-month period. He received the U.S. Army Bronze Star of Valor for saving the lives of his men in a fierce firefight, and during another attack when a mortar round tore up his shelter, he was honored with a Purple Heart.
Silvestri was fortunate enough to have his wife Nicole and two daughters Sienna, 7, and Saige, 1, with him at Fort Knox during a difficult healing process. Known as The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the initiative recognizes the psychological benefit to having a physical connection to loved ones and puts a spotlight on the importance of mental health in the military.
Many wounded soldiers, such as Silvestri, have suffered traumatic brain injury, and post traumatic stress disorder and are not fortunate enough to have their families around them while they recover. That’s something Silvestri would like to see change.
“The job interview I originally came home for didn’t pan out, but then Mister Moody called me back and said he’d set up an interview with Rep. John Tierney to get me involved with the Wounded Warrior Project and it would be a two-year commitment,” Silvestri said.
The WWP is close to Silvestri’s heart, and the prospect of being directly involved in the program was exciting.
“Once I went into the Wounded Warrior Project, I knew I wanted to become an advocate for soldiers because there are a great deal of soldiers out there who are injured and aren’t getting medically retired,” Silvestri said. “I was in Fort Knox and had my family with me — I was lucky. A lot of guys are injured and they’re too far away and don’t have their family. For your mental health, it’s such a big part of your recovery, seeing your family every day.”
Through the WWP, wounded soldiers and their spouses participate in “Strong Bond Getaways,” bike trips, and weekend excursions to the Grand Ole Opry and other places. Daycare is also provided while couples take classes to learn how to re-integrate their lives with each other again.
Although the program greatly benefits those soldiers fortunate enough to receive such care, Silvestri notes there is room for improvement.
“They are doing great things there, but the main thing I want is to see every single soldier have [his or her] family there. There are guys who’ve been there two years and only see their family at Christmas. It’s a tough thing to keep morale up and depression slows up the progress of physical healing as well as mental,” he said.
Memorial Day is a time of reflection for Silvestri, a time to honor the men and women who have sacrificed and are still making sacrifices every day.
“After nine-eleven, how the country pulled together for that period of time — everyone flying the flag for our soldiers [but] that kind of waned after — it should be an everyday thing,” Silvestri said. “People have to realize [that service men and women] are there every day twenty-four seven, missing holidays and birthdays, fighting for our freedom.”
“For me, it’s (Memorial Day) a chance to remember everybody, back to the first and second world wars — the guys that put their lives on the line for this country — to remember and honor those guys, as well as the soldiers that are over there today,” said Silvestri.
“I remember a lot of my friends that didn’t make it out of there and I think about them every day; I say a prayer every time I hear a soldier has been lost,” he said.
“I go through days when I’m happy and then other days when I’m down in the dumps. My wife knows that those times I’m not doing the greatest on, and she doesn’t push me. My wife and mother have been a great support to me; I’m very lucky,” said Silvestri.
“God bless and thanks to the guys that are still over there fighting, and thank you to the guys...who did it before us,” he said.