By Karl Weisel, USAG Wiesbaden Public AffairsDecember 15, 2008
WIESBADEN, Germany - Homecomings are a cause for celebration. But as families and friends in the past few weeks have greeted returning members of the 1st Armored Division, which deployed in harm's way for more than 14 months in Iraq, one Wiesbaden noncommissioned officer joined in the celebration while remembering those who will never return.
For Sgt. JonPaul Conover, a family readiness liaison with the 501st Military Police Company, seeing his comrades make it home safely is a reminder of Sept. 11, 2001, and his deployment to Iraq with the 549th MP Company from 2005 to 2007.
As a New York City native, many of his family and friends were intimately involved in the response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. When reports of the attacks made it to first responders, his uncle, Capt. Freddie Ill of Ladder Company 2, was among New York City firefighters to quickly respond - but was not one of those to survive the devastation.
"(When the attack happened), I was in the Reserves with an MP company in Florida," said Conover, who like millions of others around the world, watched in shock as his hometown was changed forever. "Most of my family are members of the New York Fire and Police Departments."
While on alert, as he patrolled Tampa Bay with a fellow MP and members of the Coast Guardsmen and Tampa Bay police, Conover worried about those back home.
"My sister called from New York. People couldn't call locally in the city, but they were able to call out. ... We knew family were missing, but we didn't know who. ... My cousin and others eventually walked out of the city like most people that day."
"As far as I know they recovered my uncle's helmet," Conover said, adding that members of his brother's plumbers union had U.S. flags made to remember the fallen from Sept. 11. Stitched on the first red stripe of the flag given to Conover's brother is the name of his uncle, who was killed while trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center towers.
Later, when Conover mobilized for active duty and prepared to deploy to Iraq with his MP unit from Fort Stewart, Ga., his brother handed him the flag as a going-away gift.
He carried the folded flag next to his heart under his battle rattle while serving in Iraq. And now, Conover said: "The flag goes with me everywhere I go for deployments. ... It reminds me of why I do my job. It's just like the firefighters in New York - they don't do it to make money. We do it to protect people and to protect what we have. If you don't do it, you'll lose it."
During the 2005-2007 deployment, members of the 549th MPs were stunned when their first lieutenant was killed in an attack.
"First Lt. Ashley Henderson was killed in Mosul. She was one of those lieutenants who would get out in the dirt with us," Conover said. "She exemplified what we all wanted to be as Soldiers."
Henderson's name was added to Conover's Sept. 11 flag.
Having experienced combat first-hand - and the toll it exacted on friends and comrades -
Conover believes it was important to share the flag with fellow Soldiers and other Americans. It has flown over his Forward Operating Base in Iraq and other military installations. It flew over his uncle's fire station in New York when Conover went home on rest and recuperation leave. He's hoping it flies over the Wiesbaden Army Airfield as well.
"To me it represents my family and my friends," Conover said, as he expressed his gratitude in seeing so many familiar faces from the 1st AD coming home.
"This time my unit came back with everybody. (We would) have given back all of the Silver Stars and commendations people earned to have had everyone return home safely from (the 549th MP) deployment."