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McElroy home for the holidays, new beginnings PDF Print E-mail
Monday, December 24, 2012 2:23 PM

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DELPHOS — Since returning home on leave, Mark McElroy Jr. has married his girlfriend, vacationed with his family and is looking forward to sharing Christmas with all of them.

At the age of 21, McElroy has experienced life-changing events than many of us could never comprehend.
While still in high school, McElroy chose to model himself after a deep-rooted family tradition — he followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and enlisted in the Army.

His parents, Mark and Pauline McElroy Sr., had mixed emotions about their son’s enlistment.

“I felt proud but sad and knew I would miss him,” Pauline responded. “There was the possibility of him being killed. We are so glad he is home. We prayed hard.”

“He did not have to prove anything [by joining],” Mark Sr. explained. “We worried about him.”
After graduating from Jefferson High School in 2010, he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training and jump school, where he trained as a paratrooper.


In December 2011, McElroy was deployed to Afghanistan and served with the BCO 1-501st Airborne Infantry, US Army in Southern Afghanistan on the Pakistan border, where he was stationed on a combat outpost called “Chergowtaw.” His tour consisted of over 300 combat patrols, which were exhaustive 24/7 defensive maneuvers that offered little rest. Whenever possible, he slept wherever he could — usually on rocks or stones.

The Third-World country is comprised of a terrain of mountains, rocks and stones. This was the environment he lived and fought in every day.
As a member of the infantry, or trigger puller, soldiers have a packing list [gear] they have with them always that weighs close to 130 pounds and includes 30 pounds of body armor to protect vital organs, 70 pounds of ammo and his 27.6-pound M249 Machine Gun. Hiking up mountainsides and through chest-high flash-flood watersheds [wadis] with the additional weight was grueling.

While in Afghanistan, McElroy longed for many of those amenities that are sometimes taken for granted — running water, home-cooked meals, cold drinks, perfume, walking in grass and on carpet. They had no way of washing their clothes or taking showers, all of their meals were MREs [freeze-dried meals], they had no way to refrigerate drinks and flooring was limited to sand, gravel and stones.

“When I would take my uniform off, it would literally stand on its own,” McElroy further described life with no running water. “Imagine living with a squad of guys who had not taken showers in months.”

That squad of guys he lived with and counted on became his family — a brotherhood of men that would do anything for each other.

“I trust every single one of them with my life,” he said.

During his tour, McElroy experienced the feelings of being homesick and greatly missed his family and then-girlfriend Brittney Hawkey of Elida, whom he wed after returning home on leave in December.

Despite the fact that life in Afghanistan was hell for McElroy, there was one bright spot; an adopted mutt the unit named Scout.

“Scout followed us around everywhere,” he spoke with a hint of affection. “He even went on patrols and ambushes with us.”

In February during a dismount patrol, McElroy was hit by an IED [Improvised Explosive Device], which caused severe injuries and required airlifting him to the appropriate medical facility. The incident caused traumatic brain injury. He has post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder and can occur after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event involving the threat of injury or death and suffers frequent memory loss.

McElroy was transferred from Afghanistan to Fort Richardson, Alaska, in September, where he will complete the remaining 15 months of his enlistment.

After his release from the Army, McElroy intends on pursuing a college degree in the medical field.

Last Updated on Thursday, February 28, 2013 11:45 AM

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