Change of address: Subscriber tells of service in Iraq

WEST ROXBURY— Change of address forms are common for newspapers. However, when a subscriber contacted us to forward his subscription to Iraq, a Pilot staffer took notice.

Having subscribed periodically for the past several years, Specialist Charles Grillo, a member of the 1058 Transportation Company of The Massachusetts Army National Guard, forwarded his subscription to Iraq during his 14-month deployment, in order to keep up-to-date with the happenings throughout the Archdiocese of Boston.

"This has been a difficult time for the archdiocese, and I wanted to stay in contact, to know what was going on," he commented during a recent interview.

Grillo, 29, arrived back on American soil on April 23 after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I'm proud to have served for the United States of America under our flag," said Grillo. "We've put our country and our mission [to free Iraq] ahead of our personhood, and I'm proud of that."

"My number one hope is that democracy will be upheld in Iraq, that life will be fair and equitable for every citizen," he said. "If we can make this happen in Iraq, then maybe the other Middle Eastern countries will realize that this is good for humankind."

A cradle Catholic, Grillo believes his faith helped form his life and guided him to serve his country.

As a young child growing up in Brighton, Grillo served countless Masses as an altar boy at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish. When Grillo was 12, he asked Cardinal Bernard Law if he could become an altar boy at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Two weeks later, at the annual Chrism Mass, Grillo proudly began his service as altar boy at the cathedral, a position he held for over three years.

"It was through that experience that I realized that there was a higher calling that I had to reach out to -- both for the Church and for our country," he said.

In order to “make his mark on the community,” he enlisted in the Army Reserves. Four years later, he transferred to the National Guard. Although he has served his country for 10 years, his deployment to Iraq was the first time his unit was called to active duty.

When, in February 2003, his unit was called up to begin the mobilization process, Grillo recalls it was “enduring for everyone involved.”

"We didn't have months, weeks or days to get prepared -- we had hours," he stated.

Arriving at Fort Drum, N.Y., Grillo and his unit were given gas masks, the necessary series of vaccinations and issued desert camouflage uniforms. Thirty days later, they arrived in Iraq, where the heat “felt like a blow dryer in your face 24-seven.”

Initially, Grillo’s unit was responsible for the transport of supplies and troops operating between Kuwait and Iraq for the 1st Armored Division and the 3rd Infantry Division. However, as the search for Saddam Hussein intensified, his unit was transferred to Tikrit, and the mission became that of protecting convoys from guerilla attacks.

"We had to convert our transport trucks into gun trucks. We even had to cut the wood ourselves," he said.

Ultimately, his unit provided support in the capturing of Hussein, which resulted in his unit receiving “a formal wartime service combat patch” in January 2004.

Grillo recalls that day proudly. “That was a day that the reserve guard and the active component stood side by side and were both commended for a job well done,” he remarked.

"Our number one mission was to bring everyone home safely. We did that with valor, with integrity and with a sense of family," declared Grillo.

"We really were a family out there," he reiterated.

Now that he has returned to his West Roxbury home, Grillo continues to pray for the “many men and women who are still there doing an outstanding job,” as well as for their families anxiously awaiting their safe arrival. However, he believes his time as a reservist is over.

"As a public servant and a community servant, I've done my duty for my country. Now I need to turn my attention to my community," he said, alluding to his current position as constable for the state and private detective, a venture he had begun before his deployment.

In addition, he hopes to “work as a part of the community to rebuild the Church from within.”

"Everyone has to act as a whole. If you act alone, you tend to fail. But if you act as a whole, then very little harm can come to you," he added.