Last week, the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper welcomed back Lance Cpl. Jonathan Steele of Selbyville, a Marine deployed to Iraq last October. The Chamber, with support from Carper, sponsored Operation Thank You, a project that ran between Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, collecting items for care packages that were sent to military personnel deployed overseas.
Steele, a member of the HMLA (Marine Light Attack Helicopter) Squadron’s 169th Airframe, was stationed at a forward operations base, roughly 30 miles west of Baghdad. He and his wife, Ashley, were wed not two weeks prior to his deployment, and as he noted, it’s good to be home with his family.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he stated, “but I’m really happy to be back right now.”
The high-school sweethearts were classmates since kindergarten, but hadn’t dated until their years together at Sussex Tech.
“It’s really nice to have him back where I know he’s safe,” said Steele’s mother, Sarah Swift.
Jonathan Steele returned for a visit to Delaware, but is currently finishing his active duty in California. “It’ll be nicer if he was closer to Delaware,” Swift added, “but it’s definitely more comforting than having him deployed in Iraq.”
Carper, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam War, swapped stories with Steele on May 29, recollecting his time in the military, as well. He discussed the support he had witnessed throughout the state, including projects similar to Operation Thank You, in other regions such as New Castle.
“[Vietnam veterans] didn’t see the hero’s welcome that my father’s generation experienced, coming back from World War II, or what many see today with the situation in Iraq,” Carper said. “I think the people of our country learned a lesson over the years, and we’re not going to make the same mistake. There’s a level of support and affection that you feel for our troops today. I wish we had that decades earlier, but I’m glad we’ve gotten it right for those out there now.”
Last fall, Carper stopped by the Chamber to meet with Swift and Ashley Steele to sign thank-you cards that accompanied the care packages. Ashley Steele’s mother, Denise Dukes, joined the welcoming at the Chamber, last week, too.
Jonathan Steele talked about what it was like to have the support from locals since his return home.
“There’s a lot of military out in California, and people are used to that,” he said. “Here in Delaware, people treat you with a lot of respect. If you go out to a bar, the bartender might pick up a beer for you, or, sometimes, you see someone pay for your dinner when you’re out. It’s nice to receive that recognition from others.”
Operation Thank You turned out to be a huge success, collecting everything from personal hygiene items to books, DVD’s and canned food.
“It was definitely a great support to get those packages,” Jonathan Steele said, “and it gave a lot of us something more to look forward to. We received pretty much everything you can think of.”
The operation also recognized and benefitted local Army troops stationed in Iraq, specifically PFC Ryan Strafer of Dagsboro and Army Specialist Jon Frey of Selbyville.