Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 7 September 2005
Honor a Soldier
Home Sweet Home
CertainTeed’s Lee Meredith Returns Home From Iraq
by Brigid O'Leary
When Lee Meredith deployed with the rest of his company to Iraq last year, the CertainTeed facility where he is employed in Richmond, Va., threw the second shift supervisor a going away party. When he returned, they welcomed him back with another party. The support that Meredith received from his coworkers set him apart from others with whom he was deployed.
“They had a party for me, there were banners and a lot of soldiers didn’t have that,” Meredith said in a telephone interview from the plant to which he returned this spring.
When the Saints Go Marching In
The deployment wasn’t unexpected for Meredith. His unit received a first alert warning in August 2003 and was called up in December. They shipped out in March 2004.
“Being that the events transpired … I was trying to get [my family] ready, let them know that it’s possible,” Meredith said. “[My wife] didn’t take it very well, let’s put it that way, but she understood that I have a duty to my country.”
Though his wife, Katrinn, understood his need to serve, Meredith said that leaving his family was the hardest part of the deployment.
“One of my big concerns was leaving my daughter and wife at home, alone, for a year, year and a half. But the military has a great family support structure—the wives have meetings, gatherings and they all know what each other is going through. My wife said that was a big help to her while I was gone,” he said.
Without a husband for a year, Meredith’s wife, like many spouses left behind during war, served as both mother and father to the couple’s young daughter. His homecoming was a reason to celebrate.
“When [my wife] found out I was coming home she was elated. When we finally came home all of the families were there from the entire unit and when they finally released us, everyone started crying and hugging,” Meredith said. That’s not to say they haven’t had to readjust.
“You really, really have to get to know your spouse all over again and your kids have to get to know you again. My wife says I’m a whole new person, that I see things differently now and she got used to doing everything while I was gone,” he added.
Returning to work also took a slight adjustment. During his tour, CertainTeed Richmond chose not to fill his role with a temporary worker.
“We covered with other staff,” said Steve Potter, director of operations with CertainTeed Richmond. “We just kind of shared it—divided up his responsibilities with some of his colleagues on second shift.”
Since Meredith’s return, things have returned to the way they were before he left.
“He stepped right in and hasn’t missed a beat,” said Potter.
Part of his easy transition back to work may be because Meredith enjoys his job.
“There is always change at the job—new systems in place. Here, I can’t say that it’s better because it wasn’t bad before I left. I missed working here,” he said. “My peers treated me so special when I got back. They made me feel at home and it was almost like I’d never left. They treat you with respect and for the job you did over there, it makes you feel good about what you did.”
Tie a Yellow Ribbon
Yearlong deployments are tough on everyone, but Meredith said that he and his fellow soldiers didn’t have to miss out on most aspects of what we consider “normal” life. The bases at which Meredith worked had gyms and recreational centers, he said. They almost always had Internet access, something, he pointed out, that wasn’t available during the first Gulf War. One base even had a Burger King and a Pizza Hut. Yet despite—or because of—all the luxuries Meredith was able to enjoy, the hardest thing about the deployment, he said, was being away from his family.
“A lot of your freedom is taken away, of course. You can’t just go to the 7-11 and get a Slurpee®. The hardest thing was missing a lot of events with my family, my daughter. She had a birthday while I was gone,” he said. “I think anyone who is deployed overseas will say that you miss your family the most.”
Feelings of missing his family aside, Meredith did have some concerns as to the destination of his deployment, a concern fed by the fact that the soldiers weren’t sure where they were going until the week before departure.
“We didn’t really know … that was our main concern. There was talk we were going to be in Baghdad. There was even talk that we were going to be in Kuwait the entire year. We were only there a month, but the other concern is just going into a hostile area and how they were going to treat us.”
How they were treated left some lasting impressions on Meredith. He said that his experiences in the Middle East further reinforced to him the Golden Rule.
“The things you learn growing up you really learn over there. Treat people like you want to be treated and they’ll do the same. I worked a lot with the Iraqi people every day and they’re very nice people,” he said. “They’ll invite you to their home. They live in poverty, but they’ll always share what they have—not just with me, but with the other soldiers. Really, once you get to know them, they’re not that different than you or me.”
Meredith not only got to interact with the Iraqi people with some frequency, he got to see quite a bit of the country. At 32, he has been in the National Guard for nearly a decade, and serves as a member of 45 Bravo, a small arms repair battalion.
“We fix everything from 9 mm handguns up to Bradley techs,” he explained. Due to the nature of the assignment, he and his compatriots didn’t stay at one assigned location. They traveled to three different bases providing support.
“The difference between Kuwait and Iraq, just when you cross the boarder, is striking,” Meredith said. “Kuwait is a very beautiful country with palm trees and beautiful houses.You cross the boarder [into Iraq] and the poverty level is so drastic—kids are living on the street—I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll definitely never forget that and it really makes you grateful for what you have here in the States. If anything, being away, being in this conflict, serving in the Middle East has taught me that this really is the greatest country in the world.”
Brigid O’Leary is the assistant editor of Shelter magazine.
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