By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
GLENS MILLS – “Citizen soldier” would be an apt description of state Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R-Delco.), who paid a Catholic Schools Week visit to St. Thomas the Apostle School, Glen Mills, on Feb. 1.
Elected to his first term in the state legislature in November 2008, he was seated in January 2009. But in April he departed for a tour of duty to Iraq as Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Miccarelli and didn’t return home until late last December.
This was not the first deployment for Miccarelli, 28. As he explained to the enthralled students, he has served in the Army National Guard since 1999 when he was 17. Most years it’s monthly weekend duty with two weeks of summer training, but he’s been sent overseas three times.
His first tour was as a peacekeeper in Kosovo in 2003-2004. He was deployed to Iraq in 2006 during a period of heavy fighting, and on this last tour, which was relatively uneventful, he served as a door gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter.
“It was a long way from being a politician wearing a suit and going around talking to people every day,” he said. “No matter what I do as a government official, it will never equal the pride I have in being a soldier,” Miccarelli said.
Much of his talk to the students was on the importance of faith, something he discovered in the military.
He was baptized Catholic but was a member of a non-practicing family of mixed faiths, and he never received religious training or further sacraments.
But there was an element of danger to his work during his tour in Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia, as part of a unit trying to keep peace between warring Muslims and Orthodox Christians.
“When you are put in a position where your life is in danger and you are scared for your friends and for yourself, you turn to God. You begin to understand the importance of faith in your life and how small we really are and that He is in control,” Miccarelli said.
It was in Kosovo that he received his first holy Communion from a chaplain and his real journey began. “I found faith and now I am a very proud Catholic. I’m an extraordinary minister of holy Communion in my parish (St. Madeline, Ridley Park), and I am very involved in my faith,” he said.
In our country today, he told the students, “We are certainly fighting as Catholics to maintain our faith. You see a lot of things on TV, and you as a generation are targeted by a lot of temptation that you have to fight on a daily basis, especially through the Internet. The one thing you have to do is look back on your faith and be strong.”
Although one mostly thinks of soldiers as fighting, something he certainly saw on his first Iraq tour, Miccarelli stressed the important role of the soldier as a peacekeeper. His unit was in Kosovo as peacekeepers and U.S. troops are doing a form of that right now in Haiti after the earthquake.
“There are so many great things we are doing around world,” he said. “I’m fighting to make a peaceful world.”
This exciting day for the St. Thomas students was coordinated by art teacher Diane Quercetti. For their part, students gave Miccarelli samples of the valentines, stuffed animals and rosaries they are sending to the troops. He assured them how appreciated this support from home was by the men and women serving their country abroad.
St. Thomas principal Barbara Virga said she was especially impressed by Miccarelli’s story of his discovery of faith.
“Look what he has accomplished in just 28 years,” she said. “He served in the military, he became Catholic and he’s serving our government. God bless him that such a young man can do all that, and God bless America.”
Eighth-grader Gabby Revenis said, “You can see he was telling the truth in all he said. He was happy to come here, and he was very real.”
Danny Close, also in the eighth grade, thought it inspiring that Miccarelli serves in two jobs, especially how he served so loyally in the military. “He inspired me,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good mind to serve, and we can’t take for granted the things we have.”
After the assembly Miccarelli expounded on his faith journey. In Kosovo, “I looked inward in myself and said, ‘you are a mere human.’ I found the Catholic faith and I’m a better man for it.”
At this time his National Guard unit is Philadelphia’s First City Troop. It’s a prestigious unit, in continuous service since the Revolutionary War, and for special ceremonies they get to parade on horseback clad in ornate dress uniforms topped by plumed helmets.
“That’s fun,” he said.
But it is still a military unit, and when its members are called up, they could be, as he was, fighting insurgents in Iraq or serving as a gunner on a helicopter.
Because of his duties as a state legislator, he could have gotten out of active duty on this last Iraq deployment. He was asked by a commanding general if he wished to do this.
“I said if my name is on the list, I’m going to go. I swore an oath, and I don’t think I would have felt good about myself with soldiers with spouses and children going, and me as a single man not doing my duty,” he said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.