Heroes in sight

The scope of the matter

By SANDY LONG

COCHECTON, NY — Dolores Delgado hasn’t seen her son, Joseph Hernandez, since his 23rd birthday on January 14. That’s when she said goodbye—for the third time—to Hernandez, a United States Army Sergeant on his third tour of duty.

Hernandez was first deployed to Afghanistan and has seen two additional assignments in Iraq. Now serving in the Anbar region of Iraq, described as “hot with insurgents” by Delgado, Hernandez has seen active duty on all three tours.

When his unit was recently sent on a mission in pursuit of insurgents, Hernandez’s military-issued Leupold spotting scope was left behind. And Hernandez discovered he was responsible to replace the $1,600 scope himself. “He called on his way to another mission to tell me that the scope needed to be replaced as soon as possible,” said his mother.

According to Army spokesperson Andricka Hammonds, Army personnel are liable for equipment that is issued to them. Items lost or damaged in combat may be replaced by the Army, as determined by the unit’s commander. But losses attributed to negligence—including lost, misplaced or forgotten items—become the soldier’s responsibility. Such determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, according to Hammonds.

And despite her son’s successful military performance and extended military service, Delgado was forced to begin searching for a replacement scope. She found one online for $1,259. The cost was still prohibitive and Delgado was trying to figure out how she would come up with the money. She discussed the matter with her friend Stephanie Johnson, founder of “Operation Support Our Troops” based in Monticello.

Johnson knew where to turn and brought the issue to the attention of Vincent Scotti, a firearms dealer who heads up the local chapter of Rolling Thunder, a nationwide veterans organization dedicated to raising awareness of ongoing POW/MIA issues. Many members—though not all—ride motorcycles in groups to bring attention to veterans’ issues.

“We help vets from all wars,” said Scotti, who vowed to get involved in veterans’ issues back in September 1970, when, despite wearing a cast, he was struck with a bottle as he stepped from the plane that brought him home from service in Vietnam.

Scotti got to work looking for a better price and found the scope for $750. Determined to do more, Rolling Thunder began raising the money to pay for the scope. Evelyn Flannigan, who won a 50/50 raffle conducted by the Elks Club, donated her winnings to the fund. So far, more than $400 has been raised.

At Rolling Thunder’s recent Chicken Barbecue and Freedom Ride, Scotti presented the scope to a deeply grateful Delgado at the Elks Lodge in Monticello, where Rolling Thunder holds their meetings. “I was quite excited to receive it. They just stepped up to the plate,” said Delgado.

Delgado herself is an active supporter of the U.S. troops. In 2001, she founded the Armed Forces Support Group of Sullivan County, which holds fundraisers to purchase supplies for the troops such as beef jerky, trail mix, drink mix, canned goods, writing tools and books. “We try to send them as much of home as we possibly can,” she said.

Delgado doesn’t know when her son will return, but even after he’s safely home in Sullivan County, she’s determined to keep working on behalf of those who haven’t yet made it back. “We will keep at it until the last troops come home,” she said.

Delgado’s group will be at the Sawyer Brown concert at Mighty M Gaming in Monticello on September 2. “People need to know that groups like ours and Operation Support Our Troops and Rolling Thunder are raising this money to support our troops—not the war,” said Delgado. “If everyone just gave one dollar, it would make a really big difference.” Donations can be sent c/o The River Reporter, 93 Erie Avenue, P.O. Box 150, Narrowsburg, NY 12764. For more information, call 845/252-7414.

Contributed photo
Members of Rolling Thunder Chapter Four prepare to begin their Freedom Ride in Monticello, NY after raising money to help a Sullivan County Army Sergeant who is stationed in Iraq. (Click for larger version)