By John B. SnyderOctober 17, 2012
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- In the Town of Nassau, N.Y., on Oct. 14, Staff Sgt. Derek Farley began greeting each visitor as they entered and left this small town. Derek was an Army explosives ordnance disposal expert who was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2010, but on Sunday, the Route 20 Bridge in Nassau was named the Staff Sergeant Derek Farley Memorial Bridge.
Derek was a free spirit since the first day he could crawl, said Ken Farley, Derek's father who works at the Watervliet Arsenal as an electronic technician.
"One of my fondest memories of Derek was when he was learning to walk because he would walk on his knees," Ken said. "From that day on, I knew we had something special in Derek in that he would do things his way. He was his own person."
When Derek was young, he was the type of kid that loved the rain because it would cause mud puddles to form on his driveway, Ken said. There was never a good puddle left untouched by Derek as he would thrash about getting completely soaked and then he would seal his enjoyment by dunking his head into the thick of the mud, coming up for air laughing.
One of Derek's first chores around the house was keeping the wood box full, which was a skill he probably learned while still in his playpen. Ken and Derek's mother, Carrie, kept Derek close by in his playpen as they prepared and stacked wood for the winter. The Farley family live in a country setting about a 30-minute drive from Albany, N.Y., and rely on wood to heat their home.
"As long as we kept the wood splitter going, he would sleep," Ken said. "If we stopped to take a break, Derek would immediately wake up as if something was wrong."
As Derek grew older, his passion was riding his bike and visiting friends. But somehow, between such activities he found another passion -- watching The Military and History Channels -- a passion that would truly define who Derek was.
At about the age of 11 or 12, Derek started developing a keen interest in the military, especially the World War II period, Ken said. Then, as a teenager, Derek saw the camaraderie displayed in the 'Band of Brothers' miniseries and said that (camaraderie) was what he wanted in life.
One day in high school, Derek came home from school and told his parents he wanted to have an Army recruiter visit them. After the visit, Derek signed up for the Army while still in high school under the Army's delayed entry program, a program that allows students to finish their senior year in high school and then ship out to basic training after graduation.
Of the hundreds of job specialties available to Derek, he chose an exciting, but extremely dangerous specialty called "explosive ordnance disposal," or EOD technician.
Ken said at first he was taken aback by Derek's job choice. As a Soldier who served in Vietnam, Ken knew just how dangerous the job was to disarming munitions and bombs. But at the end of the day, Ken also knew that Derek was a free spirit who would do what he wanted to do and would do so better than anyone else.
Within two years of enlisting, Derek was in Iraq at one of the most dangerous time periods of the war, 2006-2007. This was about the time when Iraqi insurgents had perfected their weapon of choice -- improvised explosive devises, known as IEDs. More than 1,700 troops died in 2006 and 2007 supporting combat operations in Iraq.
Despite the danger, Derek thrived in this environment where just about every day he faced death.
According to Ken, who has through the years talked to many of Derek's battle buddies, Derek's free spirit allowed him to approach each IED with a sense of uncanny calmness because he wasn't worried about his own life, but for the lives of his fellow Soldiers.
Derek was injured by a bomb explosion in Iraq that cost him the hearing in one ear. He received the Purple Heart for that injury.
About two years after his redeployment to the United States, Derek found himself in another war zone.
He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as a team leader for the 702nd Ordnance Company, covering some 1,200 square miles of terrain.
For nearly one year, Derek defused a countless numbers of roadside bombs that saved hundreds of lives. On one of his last missions before returning back home, Derek was killed while disarming a bomb in Afghanistan's Farah Province.
Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who spearheaded the effort to propose legislation to name the main bridge in Nassau after Derek, said at the ceremony that the bridge was at a perfect spot because people would start and end their day thinking of Derek and others who are serving.
Rensselaer County Legislator Alex Shannon agreed with McLaughlin by saying "A lot of people cross this bridge every day and from this day forward they will never forget Derek and the sacrifice he made."
Carrie Farley spoke lovingly of Derek and said that Derek would be yelling at her if he saw such a memorial to him. "He wouldn't have wanted the attention. He was a Soldier through and through."
Although Derek may not have wanted such attention, this memorial may somehow transcend Derek and the small community of Nassau.
For those who knew Derek, they will have a daily reminder of his service and sacrifice. But for the thousands of people who drive through the Town of Nassau every month who did not know Derek, the Staff Sergeant Derek Farley Memorial Bridge sign will be a reminder to them of the brave sacrifices by those who have stepped up to support and defend our country.
Ken and Carrie love their son and now thousands more will, too.