1Yesterday, Mayor Kim Driscoll welcomed home firefighter Kevin O'Boyle on his return from a tour of duty in Kunar Province in Northeast Afghanistan, one of the deadliest regions along the border with Pakistan.
Two other Salem firefighters are currently serving in Afghanistan: Capt. Tony Marfongelli, who is with the Army National Guard, and firefighter Matt Darise, who left in March with the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Firefighter Kasey Al-Nabulsi, who has done a tour in Iraq, is about to leave with the Army National Guard for Dubai.
"I think after 9/11 it brought out the patriotism in a lot of young people," Deputy Chief Brian Harrington said.
It's not unusual for firefighters and police, who are already in uniform and serving their cities and towns, to enlist in the military and be sent overseas. Chiefs in virtually every North Shore community can rattle off the names of men and women in uniform.
What is unusual, as the U.S. involvement in the Middle East winds down, is to have three firefighters from the same department in Afghanistan at the same time, which was the situation here briefly this spring.
The Salem servicemen in Afghanistan were on people's minds yesterday during the brief ceremony in City Council chambers honoring O'Boyle.
"We are happy we are getting you back safe and sound," Driscoll said to a small crowd that included firefighters and O'Boyle's mother.
Noting all who serve, Driscoll said, "You really make the city proud."
She also made note of the significance of one soldier's return right before Memorial Day.
O'Boyle said he was grateful for the letters and packages he received from Salem firefighters while he was overseas.
"They kept me sane," he said.
Like many returning veterans, O'Boyle, 30, downplayed his own role.
After eight years of active duty in the U.S. Army, during which he went to Afghanistan for the first time, the Brooklyn native re-enlisted in the Army National Guard.
Staff Sgt. O'Boyle was a squad leader in an infantry unit guarding U.S. civilian and military advisers, providing security at a small base and running an observation post in a remote region of the mountainous country.
"Numerous times we came under contact," he said.
Several members of his platoon received Purple Hearts. O'Boyle said he was one of the lucky ones.
"I walked away without a scratch," he said.