Four years ago, Ronkonkoma’s Erica Sweeney didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. Now she’s making a difference in other people’s lives, halfway around the world.
Sweeney, a 23-year-old Army sergeant, is in the middle of her second 15-month tour in Afghanistan, helping rebuild roads and schools and bringing electricity back to the country’s citizens.
When she flew into Kennedy Airport this past Friday on a two-week leave, her grandfather, John Mauro, was among those to greet her. He’s the Suffolk County commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars and one of five brothers who served in the military.
While he's proud of her service, he's always concerned for her safety, especially considering the nuances of today’s battlefield.
“Basically, it’s a different type of war altogether,” said Mauro, who was stationed primarily in the demilitarized zone in Korea during the Vietnam War. “There’s no front lines, there’s no back lines. At least when I was there we knew who the bad guys were.”
But Sweeney, who will have five months left in her tour when she returns, isn’t apprehensive about going back.
“I do enjoy being over there,” Sweeney said. “. . . It’s definitely a learning experience that not a lot of people get.”
Sweeney is visiting Long Island with her boyfriend, Curtis Long. The two met on base at upstate Fort Drum between Sweeney’s tours, and they’ve worked together in Afghanistan.
When Sweeney is deployed she uses Facebook to keep in touch with loved ones, and she posts photos of her work in Afghanistan. She also tries to call her grandfather once a week.
“He understands what it’s like when you have to leave and you have to [go] back,” said Sweeney, whose enlistment ends in 2013, although she’s considering signing up again. I think it’s just the fact that he knows the lifestyle.”
Above: Sgt. Erica Sweeney visits Lake Ronkonkoma County Park with her grandfather, Suffolk VFW Commander John Mauro. The park is located across the street from their local VFW hall.