Story by: PFC. Jasmine N. Walthall - Multinational Division Center, American Forces Press Service Dated: Fri, Dec 12, 2008
New York Army National Guard PFC Steven P. Fitzgerald and his fiancée, SPC. Viviana B. Molina, of the 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, review intelligence reports before a briefing in Iraq. Fitzgerald, an 18-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, joined the National Guard when he was 41 years old. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Jasmine N. Walthall
BAGHDAD- An 18-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department is achieving another veteran status here, this time as a soldier. Army Pfc. Steven P. Fitzgerald, from Floral Park, N.Y., is serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
Fitzgerald has served in the fire department since 1990, following in his fatherâ€™s firefighting footsteps. But the citywide battalion chief jumped at the chance to enlist in the Army after his fianc, Army Spc. Viviana B. Molina, informed him of a new Army age limit.
Fitzgerald joined his fianceeâ€™s unit -- the New York Army National Guardâ€™s 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, from Ronkonkoma, N.Y. -- in July 2007 at age 41, a decision he said was long overdue.
â€śThere were so many people I knew personally who passed during 9/11, and all I did was pay my taxes and practice my golf swing,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śMy goal was to do my part by coming to Iraq and serving my country.â€ť
The decision to start an Army career when he was nearing retirement in his civilian career came as a shock to Fitzgeraldâ€™s family and friends.
â€śEveryone thought I was crazy or going through a midlife crisis,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śI wasnâ€™t looking to prove anything or get attention; I just wanted to do my part, and it was worth it.â€ť
While basic combat training and advanced individual training came relatively easy for Fitzgerald, both physically and mentally, there were a few challenges he had to overcome.
â€śMy biggest challenge was working with young adults who could be my children,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śHowever, I was in awe that there were soldiers here doing more at 21 years old than I ever thought of doing.
â€śI also had to deal with being a lower enlisted [soldier] and having to take orders, where I was previously in a position to give orders to 400 to 500 firefighters,â€ť he added.
Army Maj. Fred J. Evans, 3-142 AHB intelligence officer, commended Fitzgeraldâ€™s decision to join.
â€śI canâ€™t say that I would have done the same thing if I was in his position, but I am proud that he did,â€ť Evans said. â€śHe is very accountable, and because of his civilian job, I tend to give him more tasks and responsibilities than the average private first class.â€ť
Fitzgerald said he plans to finish work on a masterâ€™s degree and to look into the possibility of warrant officer school when his deployment is over in six months. In the meantime, he said, heâ€™s just proud to serve.
â€śTo be able to say in June of 2009 that I am a veteran in the U.S. Army is a big deal,â€ť he said. â€śI am proud to say that I am serving my country and have done my part, and would definitely do it again.â€ť