Steamboat Springs For Alex Palaniuk, military service has been a life-changing experience, and military holidays like Memorial Day have become a lot more meaningful.
The 23-year-old born and raised in Steamboat Springs currently is doing his third tour overseas. Palaniuk enlisted in the Army when he was 17 years old and is a sergeant and combat medic deployed for the second time in Afghanistan. In 2009, he served in Iraq.
Right now, he is working as a shift leader in his battalion aid station supporting a surgical team.
“Since I have been in (the Army), holidays like Memorial Day have become a lot more meaningful,” Palaniuk wrote Thursday. “It is always important to me to remember those who have served, but after being in and being a part of everything and seeing what we do, it just opens my eyes more to everything.”
Monday’s holiday commemorates those who have died while serving in the military, and residents throughout Routt County will gather at area cemeteries to remember them. Overseas, Palaniuk said they are not afforded the day off, and he was unsure if anything special was planned.
“The Taliban doesn't take the day off, which means we can't,” Palaniuk said. “I feel I have become much more patriotic since I have joined, and Memorial Day means a lot to me and will forever be grateful for those who have died out here.”
Palaniuk and his mother, Diane Anderson, certainly will think of those service members the holiday honors.
“He’s lost his buddies, and that’s the hard thing for us to grasp as parents,” Anderson said. “How do you console someone like that? It’s so hard as parents. We just support him as much as we can.”
Joseph Nerney, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2008 with Palaniuk, also will be remembering fellow soldiers who died while serving. Nerney did two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines before coming home for good this past December. This will be Nerney’s first Memorial Day in Steamboat since he has gotten back.
“It’s a day you get to remember guys like Donald Lamar and Chris Eastman,” Nerney said.
He served with both of the men, who died in Afghanistan.
“I had the privilege of being attached to them to try to keep them out of trouble,” Nerney said.
Nerney said he will attend the ceremony at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery, which begins at 11 a.m. There are 298 veterans buried at the cemetery.
Jim Stanko, who is organizing the ceremony in Steamboat, said it warms his heart to see young veterans such as Nerney attending local events.
“It’s an honor to see them, and it’s a privilege to have them in our ranks,” Stanko said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland