HOOSICK, N.Y. — The Big Moose Deli honored the military service of three employees on Monday with a special ceremony, during which owner Emil Baker presented the three men with display cases filled with the medals they had earned.
"These three guys are Afghanistan war vets, and each in their own right did some pretty amazing things," said Baker of manager Michael Poore, assistant manager Shane Hatlee, and assistant manager Justin Byrnes.
Poore, who has worked at Big Moose for five years, was a U.S. Army Scout; Hatlee, who has worked there for three years, was U.S. Army Airborne Infantry; and Byrnes, who Baker referred to as "the new guy," as he has only been there one month, was a U.S. Army Combat Medic. Baker himself is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
As he presented the three men with the display cases, Baker explained, "These presentation boxes, I put together. These are the medals these guys never before displayed. Some guys lost their medals, some of them just can't find them. So we got reproductions. We have some of the original paperwork. I worked off the DD214s (a document issued upon a service member's discharge that includes a record of service), so they're totally accurate, and hopefully they'll hang them with pride so their families and friends can see them."
Baker said that Byrnes is currently attending Hudson Valley Community College, with an undeclared major. Hatlee is attending medical school, with the hope of becoming a physician's assistant. "Each one is doing amazing things with their lives right now, and each one does an amazing job at work, and I wanted to acknowledge that," Baker said.
In addition to his medal case, Poore received a second case, which displayed his army commendation medal with a "V" device, which he earned in Afghanistan's Logar Province in July 2010. According to the narrative with the medal, Poore and his platoon came under heavy fire during a mission to recover two Navy personnel. Just after a helicopter had resupplied the soldiers, three heavy machine guns began firing at the helicopter. According to the report, "PFC Poore found himself very near one of the enemy's machine gun positions and immediately began to put heavy suppressive fire on the enemy's position with his personal weapon. This action prevented that position from placing further accurate fire on the helicopter, and allowed the aircraft to escape. The aircraft took heavy damage, but was able to limp away from the (landing zone) and exit the area."
During the same engagement, the 2nd and 3rd platoons were pinned down in an open field, trying to secure the landing zone. "With much of the 2nd platoon pinned down and 3rd platoon moving to put down suppressive fire and allow them to break contact, PFC Poore along with his fire team moved to a linear danger area (an area where troops are vulnerable to enemy fire from their flanks) separating the two platoons," the report continues, "With his position established, PFC Poore then began to lay down heavy and accurate fire with his weapon, allowing the two platoons to link up. As the troops began to move across the linear danger area, PFC Poore's position and accurate fire drew the attention of the enemy machine gun position. He began to take heavy frontal fire from 150 meters away. With rounds impacting all around him, PFC Poore held his position and continued to suppress the enemy while his fellow soldiers moved across the linear danger area. Only when his comrades had moved to safety did PFC Poore and his team abandon the position and move to the relative safety of the qalat compound."
Retired U.S. Congressman Michael McNulty, who served as a representative from New York from 1989-2009, was on hand to speak at the ceremony, along with Steve Bulger, Rep. Chris Gibson's district director, who was there in place of Gibson, who was out of the country, and Stan Brownell, chairman of the Rensselaer County Legislature.
"Thank you to everyone here who is a veteran, including the Big Moose himself," said McNulty, placing a hand on Baker's shoulder. "It's always an honor for me to be in the presence of veterans, so I can look you in the eye and say thank you for your service to our country. As you get older, you start reminiscing, and when I look back on my life, I realize how lucky I am. I survived paralytic polio when I was a child. I wanted to get involved in public service, and I had a chance to be mayor of my hometown, and a member of the state legislature, and a member of the U.S. Congress for 20 years, and I left as the chair of a committee. And I think about those things now, and the fact that I've been all around the world, I've been on all seven continents. I've been to countries where things like that can't happen for an average person like me... Those things can happen to an average person in the United States of America. Why? Because we live in the freest and most open democracy on the face of the Earth. However, it's important to remember that that freedom isn't free. We have paid a tremendous price for it. So I don't let a single day pass by without remembering with deepest gratitude all of those like my own brother Bill, who was a combat medic who gave his life in service to our country in Vietnam, and people like Shane, and Justin, and Mike, who are here."
"When I get up in the morning," said McNulty, "The first two things that I do are thank God for my life and thank veterans for my way of life. I salute all of you."
Brownell, whose daughter serves in the Air Force, praised Baker for making a point of hiring veterans, and encouraged other businesses to do the same. "We thank you veterans every day for what you do," he said.
"The congressman wanted me to pass along his regrets that he couldn't be here today, but also his thanks, especially to the three men we are honoring today for their service to our country," said Bulger. He noted that, as a veteran himself, Gibson, "understands better than most the sacrifices that you and many others have made on behalf of us all. We are very, very thankful for that." He presented the three veterans with certificates of special congressional recognition, signed by Gibson.
"I just wanted to say thanks for being here," said Baker in closing, "thanks for what you did, and I hope the rest of your lives go as well as you've made the first part of your life go."
— Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.