Dec 13, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Though the third generation in his family to serve in the United States military, Capt. James Gasapo said it was not a family tradition that led him to join the Army.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Gasapo said of his decision to enlist.
His grandfather, Michael Gasapo of Solvay, served in the Army in World War II, his father Michael, of Onondaga Hill, served 20 years in the Marine Corps, and his mother Sara was a Navy nurse for three years. James traveled around the country and the world as the son of a career military man, and when he graduated in 2001 from Bishop Ludden, he joined the Syracuse University ROTC program.
At SU, he studied political science and Middle Eastern studies.
“I read the tea leaves and saw that I was probably going to go there,” he said.
Gasapo returned home just after Thanksgiving from his second tour in Iraq, a 14-month endeavour that was a sharp contrast from his first tour, he said.
In his first tour, Gasapo spent 10 months in Takrit as the platoon leader of a military police platoon performing security escort missions. Upon his return in September 2007, he served as staff officer in Southwest Baghdad, primarily responsible for establishing training standards for the Iraqi police force.
“I think the situation has improved phenomenally, I really do,” Gasapo said. “I really do see a difference now compared to my first tour. I really think things are on the right track now.”
The growth of the Iraqi police from 400 to 1,500 officers and the quality of the police are improvements Gasapo is quick to point out and share credit for with fellow soldiers.
His family, though, helped balance his modesty – both his father and grandfather proudly mentioned Gasapo’s being awarded two bronze stars in his short military career.
“That’s the fourth highest decoration in the United States,” his father added.
Gasapo was in Iraq during the presidential election, and for all of the publicity surrounding each candidate’s stance on the war, those fighting overseas were relatively unaffected.
“It was historic, and everyone recognized that,” Gasapo said. “The reality is the soldiers see what is happening on the ground, not through the lens of the mass media. … Who is the president and who is in congress is, to a degree, irrelevant.”
His father Michael likened the situation to the election of Bill Clinton as president for the first time, while he was stationed in Somalia.
“The mood is essentially the same for the average soldier…their focus is what’s happening to me today, and anything the President does or doesn’t do has really no immediate impact on the common soldier’s daily activity,” he pointed out.
Pride of NY
What did have a daily impact on the soldiers was the equipment they were provided, Gasapo said. And when that equipment had roots to Central New York, he made sure fellow soldiers were aware.
“I mentioned it a lot over there – ‘this is from Upstate New York.’ And its important to highlight that these products are saving lives and assisting with the mission to create a democratic and stable Iraq,” Gasapo said.
He named Syracuse Research Corporation, Lockheed Martin and Harris Radio as a few local names familiar to troops in Iraq.
The Syracuse Research Corporation lanyard around his father’s neck was a reminder for him of the local ties to the front lines, giving Michael Gasapo a rather unique perspective.
“It’s kind of interesting because I know which products we made were supporting him by serial number, so if something went wrong I guess I could go identify the guilty party,” he laughed.
“You’ve got companies out here in local Syracuse … the products they’re making are absolutely essential to solderiers’ lives,” James Gasapo added. “And they’re making a difference, and I think that’s an important point to get across.”