Guardsman Gives to Country and Hometown

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Thursday March 01, 2012

The only care Jeff Deslauriers should have had his freshman year at South Burlington High School was which girl to ask out on a Saturday night.  But it was 2001, and the United States had suffered the September 11 terrorist attacks, changing the lives of many Americans, inspiring this courageous teenager toward a life of service.

With consent from his parents, Jeff, a former Boy Scout, enlisted in the Vermont Army National Guard during his senior year, a decision he says he did not make lightly. 

Jeff was honored as the 2009 Vermont Soldier of the Year for advancing through state competitions, testing his physical fitness, soldiering skills and leadership.  He finished fifth in the national Best Warrior Competition, and is modest about receiving such an achievement. 

In December 2009, Specialist Deslauriers was deployed for a tour in Afghanistan with the  VT National Guard’s Mountain Battalion, and returned home to South Burlington at the end of 2010.

Jeff’s father, Dave, a Navy veteran MR2/Petty Officer 2nd class who served from 1974 to1978, admits he worried about his son and struggled with the separation during Jeff’s months in combat.

“It’s hard for civilians to understand how it [war] changes a person’s life,” said Dave, proud father of three sons, two of whom currently serve in the Guard—Jeff, 24, and Dan, 25.  “There’s a sense of duty, town, country that gets deeper,” he added.

South Burlington veterans like the Deslauriers family will soon be recognized for their service and sacrifice.  Through the leadership and vision of the South Burlington Veterans Committee, a Veterans’ Memorial has been proposed in Dorset Park to honor all the brave men and women of South Burlington who have served in every military branch. 

The plan, which includes a peaceful, landscaped meandering walking path leading to three commemorative structures—designed by local architects and artists—is intended to offer visitors a site to reflect, remember and honor their hometown heroes, some of whom gave their lives to protect U.S. freedom.

Tom Hubbard, director of the South Burlington Recreation and Parks Department, and official city representative to the Veterans Committee, is pleased with the response and support for a memorial in South Burlington.

“We see this as a community effort to honor veterans,” Hubbard said.  “It’s a program many people can be passionate about: those who have someone in their lives they’ll want to go and pay tribute to and others who don’t have anyone but are appreciative of the efforts of those who have served.”

Anticipating the emotions of walking through the memorial site for the first time, Dave shared, “It will be a sense of relief, a sense of joy.”

The fundraising campaign for the memorial is goaled to raise a total of $160,000 in in-kind and cash donations to cover construction costs.  Jeff, recently promoted to Sergeant, was quick to make his financial contribution, giving $1,107, the precise amount he received in disability back pay from the Veterans Administration for an injury he suffered on mission.

“Given that it’s for us, I figured we should pitch in,” said Jeff, believing the memorial will bring the community closer together and inspire all those who visit.  “My donation was so easy to give.  I could have blown it on anything.  This was more important.”

This fall, Jeff will be enrolled in international studies at Middlebury College, forecasting a career with the State Department, while remaining active in the Guard, prepared to put everything on hold if duty calls.

Tax-deductible donations for the South Burlington Veterans’ Memorial Project can be mailed to:  South Burlington Recreation & Parks Department, 575 Dorset Street, South Burlington, Vermont, 05403.  Checks made payable to City of South Burlington – Veteran’s Memorial Fund.  For more information about the proposed memorial, visit www.sbremembers.org.

SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Correspondent