We all remember where we were that ill-fated Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001. It seems like it was yesterday, yet here we are 11 years later still fighting a war that began when those four pre-meditated terrorist attacks changed our country forever. For some, it was a day that instilled fear and sadness inside many Americans. But for others, it brought out their bravery and motivated them to fight for their country.
That’s exactly what happened for Mattapoisett resident Edward Sweeney, Jr. When 9/11 happened, he wanted to join the Army to help protect his country, but he thought he was too old. Three years ago, however, at the age of 38, Sweeney enlisted in the Army National Guard. Now, he is getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.
“He lives and breathes the Army National Guard,” said Sweeney’s wife Cheryl. “He’s very passionate about the military.”
Sweeney, now 41, is one of 147 soldiers who comprise the 181st unit based out of Camp Edwards. The group is an engineering unit and is made up of plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Sweeney is a master plumber of 25 years. His unit is the first of its kind to deploy to Afghanistan. They will not only be performing typical military duties, but they will also be helping to rebuild Afghanistan.
The unit is currently training in El Paso, Texas. At an undisclosed date over the next 3 – 6 weeks, they will deploy to Afghanistan for 10 months and will not be able to come home in the meantime. Back here in the Tri-Town, Cheryl and their two children Alexis and Michael will be awaiting his return.
“The Army National Guard has made me as prepared as I could possibly be,” said Cheryl. “I have a lot of support from my military family as well as my friends and family.”
Back here on the home front, 20-year-old Michael is stepping up to the plate to fill the fatherly duties around the house. From mowing the lawn and doing laundry to chipping in and driving Alexis to various afterschool activities, the family is working hard to stay strong while Edward is away.
“My son is my rock,” said Cheryl. “It is very important to have him here. He is being such a good role model for my daughter.”
Cheryl said it’s her daughter who has had the hardest time coping with Edward’s deployment, but thanks to several programs made possible by the Army National Guard, she has received grant money to participate in different activities to keep her occupied for the next 10 months. She is currently taking voice lessons.
“The Army National Guard is very good to us. I feel like we have a lot of support,” said Cheryl.
It might be hard to say goodbye to a loved one for an extended period of time, especially when they are shipping off to a dangerous place, but for the Sweeney family, they know that Edward is exactly where he is supposed to be.
“It has changed him. The last few years have been the best of our lives,” said Cheryl. “It is his passion. It is his niche. It’s what he was missing. He feels so passionately about his country.”
Cheryl said it’s her husband’s common sense and compassion paired with his skills as a master plumber that make him a good soldier. His qualities have not gone unnoticed, either, especially in their extended family.
“He wanted to show our son and nephews that at his age, he could do it,” said Cheryl. “Since then, one of our nephews went into the army full time and will be in Afghanistan full time in November. Another 19-year-old nephew of ours enlisted and left for basic training today. He’s been a role model to them.”
The Sweeney family is currently relocating from their house in Mattapoisett to Rochester, where they will be staying until Alexis graduates from high school. From there, Edward hopes to join the military full time.
By Katy Fitzpatrick