OTF Soldier Story for May 18, 2009 - Master Sgt. Chris Catalano
Current Unit: 4th Brigade, 98th Division (Institutional Training)
Current Position: Drill Sergeant
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Edison, N.J.
Hometown: Union, N.J.
Years of Service: 25
Growing up, Master Sgt. Chris Catalano always knew he wanted to be a Soldier. His parents, who served a combined thirty years, and his grandfather, a World War II veteran, were all NCOs in the Army. His family's legacy of service has not only inspired Catalano's decision to serve in the Army Reserve, but also defined the type of Soldier he has become over the last 25 years. His grandfather, who was a very influential figure in his life, passed away a few weeks after Catalano arrived in Iraq in 2004. Faced with the tough decision of remaining with his men or returning home for the funeral service, he ultimately decided to remain in theater. He knew his grandfather would not want him to leave his mission, and staying would be the best way to honor his legacy.
Catalano's focus on mission first has driven many important and selfless decisions in his Army career. On February 22, 2005, Catalano was on a dismounted foot patrol in a dangerous area of Mosul. The group had planned to stay and speak with the local residents for only a few minutes. They came under direct enemy fire and Catalano was shot in the neck, only inches away from his spinal cord. Even though he was severely injured from the shot, he returned to duty the next day. For his injury and meritorious service while under fire, Catalano received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal.
His time in Iraq greatly influenced Catalano, and the relationships he developed have lasted well beyond the battlefield. Responsible for working with and training local Iraqi forces, Catalano befriended several of the interpreters, including one in particular whose nickname was "The Professor" because of his multiple degrees and ability to speak several languages. Over the years, Catalano has kept in touch with his friend who now lives in West Virginia, talking to him regularly on the phone and helping him get acclimated to the United States.
As a civilian, Catalano currently works as a military technician and is responsible for repairing military equipment. He lives in Edison, N.J., with his wife, Cheryl, and children, Chris (17) and Alysa (13). Only time will tell if either of his children will follow in his footsteps, but regardless his family's legacy of service is one they will all continue to honor.