OSWEGO – The Army Engineers who garrison the Fort Ontario Army Reserve Center – the men and women of the 444th Engineer Company, 479th Engineer Brigade, USAR – go about their daily lives and deployments mostly without any notice from the community and continue a history of military occupation of the post dating back to 1755.
Friends of Fort Ontario will host a free program featuring the personal stories of officers and soldiers of the company at 1:30 p.m. on April 7. It will be held at the Francis Marion Brown Theatre, located on the grounds of Fort Ontario State Historic Site on East Fourth Street.
“I’m hoping that through this event, the community may gain some insights into the mission, activities, service and sacrifice of the troops and families of the 444th Engineer Company, as well increased appreciation and understanding of them,” said Paul Lear, historic site manager. “You may recall that the 2007 Iraq deployment ceremony was held on the parade ground inside the old stone fort, as well as the memorial service for the three soldiers attached to the unit who were killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012.”
Promotions, retirements and other special military ceremonies are still held by the unit inside the old stone fort.
SUNY Oswego Public Relations major and Fort Ontario intern Alexis Bowering will facilitate this unique program.
Her father was a member of the company for 21 years. She has been attached to the 444th’s Family Readiness Unit since kindergarten.
The 444th occupies the Fort Ontario U.S. Army Reserve Center; providing a near-continuous military presence at the post since 1755, she told Oswego County Today.
“This event is really trying to get the community to see that the soldiers are normal people – like me and you. Most people really don’t know what happens when our men and women get deployed,” she said. “This event was created to let stories out and give the public a true sense of what happens during war.”
This program will raise awareness about Oswego’s citizen-soldiers and their families, she explained.
“I am the daughter of the former first sergeant and my mother was the FRG leader (Family Readiness Group). So, my part of the program will be about what it was like to grow up in that environment,” Bowering said. “The 444th Engineer Company is part of the 479th Engineer Battalion.”
“My mom was the FRG leader and acted liked a mom to all the guys. My dad acted like a dad to the guys. Everyone would call him ‘Top’ and I got the name ‘Little Top’ because we were so alike” she explained. “Due to all of this, the guys of the unit have always thought of me as a little sister and they are all my big brothers. Still to this day, the guys treat me like a sister and even care if I am seeing someone or not.”
Besides Bowering, there will be four other speakers sharing their stories.
Captain Donald Oechslin will speak about his 2012-13 deployment to Afghanistan from a leadership standpoint, highlighting the planning process going into and during the posting.
Corporal John Anderson will discuss the mission of the Army Reserve and why it is important to national security. He will also talk about his motivation for joining the Reserves and the benefits of serving his country while raising a family and attending college.
Staff Sergeant Joe Pitre served in the military for more than 21 years. He will speak about his post to Fort Hood in Texas in 2003-04 as well as his deployments to Iraq in 2007-08, and Afghanistan in 2012-13.
Staff Sergeant John Madonna was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in 2007. He was badly wounded when his RG31 Mine Resident Ambush Protected Vehicle was blown up by a command-wired improvised explosive device.
He was sent to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland for treatment upon his return to the US.
Bowering will introduce the speakers (her “big brothers”) and talk about her own experiences as a member of the group.
“When I was in kindergarten, my dad got deployed to Texas for a year and it was really tough on my family. He missed Christmas, birthdays, kindergarten graduation,” she said. “I’ve always been a ‘daddy’s girl,’ so it was tough on me.”