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Veterans enjoy company, comfort food at annual BBQ

Wendy Robertson of Kings Park joined her father,

Wendy Robertson of Kings Park joined her father, Ed Carley of East Northport, at the Suffolk Police Veterans Association's Southern-style Barbecue. Robertson was following a centuries-old family tradition when she joined the army in 1986. After settling in Northport in 1638, Robertson's ancestors served in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, including her father, who served in the army between 1965 and 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War. (Aug. 24, 2013) Credit: Mary Kate Mahoney

The time he spent serving in the military is more than just a period in Ed Carley’s life. The Sound Beach resident’s entire family history is interlaced with the armed services, since his ancestors arrived in North America and settled in Northport in 1638.

“My family has served in every war since the inception of the United States,” said Carley, who served in the Air Force between 1965 and 1968 and whose father fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

It is no surprise that Carley was proud of his daughter, Wendy Robertson, when she enlisted in the Air Force in 1986.

“The military is my family,” Robertson said.

Father and daughter joined several hundred other veterans and their families at the Northport VA Medical Center on Saturday for the second annual Southern-style Barbecue for veterans, sponsored by the Suffolk Police Veterans Association.

The SPVA began in 2006 and includes both members of the Suffolk County Police Department who served in the military and non-law enforcement veterans.

Founding member and President Kenneth Bombace saw the need for a transition period for veterans re-entering the police department when he returned in 2005 after serving 18 months in Iraq.

“The veterans need time to decompress,” Bombace said. “We realized that in Suffolk County there are over 600 veterans in the police force. This [SPVA] is a fraternal society that has taken on the cause of helping these veterans in the community.”

Veterans representing all five branches of the military and every conflict dating back to WWII were present at the SPVA’s barbecue. Family activities and Southern-style comfort foods encouraged a sense of community as adults and children enjoyed the games and food, which was prepared and smoked by the BBQ Brethren, a national organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts.

Jason Green, of Oceanside, who served in the Army between 2007 and 2012, completing one tour in Afghanistan, manned the grill along with his fellow BBQ Brethren. After returning home and working with the Northport VA Medical Center to transition back to civilian life, Green joined the Brethren because he enjoyed the camaraderie of the organization.

“It’s a lot like the military,” he said. “They go out of their way to help each other, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“The food is as good as always,” said Sharon Friedrich, of East Northport, who served in the Navy between 1984 and 1989, and has attended the barbecue in the past.

Friedrich works in the Department of Community Relations for the Northport VA Medical Center. She was joined at the barbecue by her father, Carl Friedrich, a fellow veteran who was stationed in Germany during his army service between 1955 and 1958.

“I always wanted to join [the military],” Friedrich said. “I had a love for this country, and I was following in Dad’s footsteps.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the branch of the military in which Ed Carley and his daughter served and Carley's place of residence.

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