Iraq war veteran Tony DaSilva and his wife, Amy, stand by a sign put up by DaSilva's boss to mark his return from his service overseas.
By Jay Pateakos
Herald News Staff Reporter
Posted Aug 08, 2008 @ 07:52 PM
Last update Aug 08, 2008 @ 11:01 PM
Fall River -
National Guard Sgt. Tony DaSilva intended to slip quietly back into his 12-year supervisor position at SwimEx after recently coming back from a year serving in Iraq.
But SwimEx CEO president Mark Pearson had other plans.
Gathering Tony's wife, Amy, and his fellow employees Friday afternoon, Pearson and associates cooked up steaks in tribute to DaSilva's service to his country and recent return. When DaSilva enquired about why the grill was being used Friday, Pearson told him it was just a summer associate cookout.
When DaSilva arrived at the cookout, his wife was waiting and his 30 co-workers treated him to a standing ovation.
"We had a party for him when he left and I told him we'd have a party for him when he got back, with steaks," said Pearson, following through with dozens of thick New York sirloins. DaSilva and SwimEx are no strangers to parting ways. Five years ago he took on a one-year tour in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Pearson said replacing DaSilva was not an easy task either time, but one that was taken on by all the associates, who helped to pull extra weight to get the job done. Stockroom Manager Candio Texiera added floor manager duties job description, with other employees assisting him along the way. But DaSilva's shoes were big ones to fill, Pearson said.
"Because of his military background, he is an excellent associate who brings discipline, organization, energy and dedication to completing a task," said Pearson. "The whole team picked up the slack for a year, but his job was ready for him as soon as he got back. A lot of people worked really hard, and they did it for him."
Teaming up with his wife, numerous SwimEx employees continuously sent DaSilva care packages to help him get through his time in Akashat, Iraq, where there were no amenities like the Internet or phone lines.
Amy DaSilva said she sent a letter about every other day and a package at least once a week so that Tony would know he was not forgotten. She said he got the most mail of anyone in his group.
"It was like Christmas all the time," said Tony.
Amy said his first tour of duty in 2003 wasn't too bad because they weren't married or living together, but when he came home in April 2007, things were very different.
"We had just gotten married the year before, bought a dog and a house," she said. "I tried getting him to lie and say he had high blood pressure and couldn't go, but he had a sense of duty. That's what I love about him."
But Amy said the next year was a living hell. Every phone call or doorbell could bring tragic news. Trips to support groups increased her depression because other wives and counselors downplayed her own emotional roller coaster because the couple didn't have any kids.
"I carried around a lot of guilt because I was going through depression and I had all the luxuries, and here he was with nothing," Amy said. "I couldn't imagine what he was going through so far from his home."
Although Tony is an active reservist until December, there is a still a chance of being redeployed, but the chances are remote. Amy said if all goes well, she plans to finish school, get a new job and start a family.
For Tony - who said he hates any form of limelight and has asked Pearson repeatedly to take down the welcome back sign in front of the SwimEx building - the party was appreciated, but the day was like business as usual, just like it was in Iraq. Unlike the media reports of the war depicting much more negative than positive, Tony said his experience as a military police officer left him with feelings that the country is headed in the right direction, now and for the future.
"We are rebuilding gradually over there, basically patrolling the area as community police and talking and helping residents and working with kids," said Tony. "There are so many tribes, and we were trying to unify them."
Tony and the battalion even purchased a flagpole with their own money so that the villagers could learn what it is like to live under one unified flag. Some of the supplies that came in for Tony were also for the kids in his neighborhood, things like crayons, pens, markers and pencils and paper.
He said with the work he and his comrades have done with the Iraq youth is something that will pay dividends for many years to come and for the future of the country.
"We've been communicating with a lot of the children, teaching them things about their country and about ours," said Tony. "They are the next generation, they have character and heart, and I think their country will be totally different with them."