Positively powerful: staff sergeant finds family in Army
Staff Sgt. Nealy Roper (center), noncommissioned officer in charge of flags and ceremonies for Company A, U.S. Army Garrison on Fort McPherson, Ga., marches down Kennesaw Mountain following a team-building exercise March 11.

FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- For one year Staff Sgt. Nealy Roper took care of inventory in Iraq, responsible for millions of dollars of Army equipment. But, he says, the true value of the Army and what it does wasn't measured in the dollar amounts rolling across the desk of his office in Iraq, but in the compassion, camaraderie and sense of belonging his fellow Soldiers gave him.

Roper, noncommissioned officer in charge of flags and ceremonies for Company A, U.S. Army Garrison, has spent 16 years in the Army, many of the most recent deployed to Iraq. Like Iraq, Roper said those years have had their fill of pain and heartache; likewise, thanks to the Army, he said the pain was manageable and he was able to overcome it with the help, support and dedication of Soldiers.

"I've been lucky and blessed," he said. "I've met some good people."

Roper's blessings grew out of immense pain. Four times he's been sent deployed, living away from his family. During each of his first two tours, he lost a close relative at home.

"I lost my mother while I was in Kuwait in 2002, and my daughter while I was in Iraq (in 2005)," he said. "I still miss my daughter daily," he added, his voice lowering, the words coming out in a slow manner.

Although more than three years have passed since his daughter's death, for Roper, the events are easily recalled.

It was August 2004 and, divorced and with custody of Nysheeka, 13, Roper and his daughter decided she should stay with her grandmother in Alabama rather than transfer with him to Germany, knowing his unit was set to deploy the following January. A little more than a year later, in September 2005, Roper was deployed with the 94th Engineer Battalion, 39th Engineer Group, from Germany, serving in his military occupation specialty as a motor transportation operator.

As a sergeant, Roper held a leadership position in his squad. When he was called into his squad leader's office, Roper said, "I was afraid something happened to my Soldiers." Roper was thinking of the Soldiers from his squad who were out on a road run. "But my squad leader said my daughter had died in a house fire. For about two hours I was in shock. My daughter was dead and gone and I was in Iraq."

Roper returned to the states to take care of Nysheeka's funeral procedures, wondering what more he could possibly lose. Looking for some sense of stability, he and his wife, Kim, who had roots in the Atlanta area, decided to seek a compassionate reassignment tour at Fort McPherson.

Compassionate reassignment tours are duty assignments established to help Soldiers who have medical, legal or immediate Family issues they can't take care of at their current home station, said W. Dee Denson, a military human resource manager for the Enlisted Management Branch of the Personnel Division of the U.S. Army Garrison Directorate of Human Resources.

"It's a way to take care of Soldiers," Denson described the compassionate reassignment option. "It helps keep Soldiers secure and [they] know they are cared for."

Roper's request to be transferred to Fort McPherson was approved. He said he has no complaints about the assignment, despite deploying twice since he arrived to Atlanta.

"I've been here since the end of 2005, but have been gone 24 of those months," he said, citing year-long tours starting in October 2006 and January 2008. "You can't beat Fort McPherson. As long as I get time between deployments to take care of my family, I can't complain."

Roper said help in taking care of his Family has come from both his unit and the Civilian staff on post. He gives special thanks to Denson, the man who helped get him his current tour.

Denson said he feels the humanity of people who can say "thank you" after losing a loved one is very telling, and that Roper's gratitude helps to remind him that his work is more than just a job - it is an opportunity to help people.

"There are good people in the military. You just need to know which ones to keep in contact with and which to let go of. If you do, the Army isn't a hard job," he said. "If things stay like this, I could easily do another eight (years)."

"Ever since first duty station in Fort Carson, Colo., everywhere I went I've met people who were real close, down to earth," Roper said, adding he still keeps in touch with many of those friends today. "I've been blessed."

Page last updated Thu March 26th, 2009 at 15:35