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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    A taste of soldiering in East Lyme

    Before going up in the tower to rappel down, Hunter Salvas, 17, of Putnam receives help with this harness from Staff Sgt. Conrad Sheldon, an infantryman, with Charlie Company of the Connecticut National Guard and 1-102nd Infantry Regiment. The regiment hosted an Infantry Day Open house Saturday, June 1, 2024, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Petroleum Specialist Chavelle Daley of the 93 Fox Petroleum ECHO Company starts to rappel down the tower from the 80 feet height during the Connecticut National Guard and 1-102nd Infantry Regiment’s Infantry Day Open house Saturday, June 1, 2024, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Specialist Somaneen Kheav of the Connecticut National Guard starts his rappel down the 80 foot height section of the tower during the Connecticut National Guard and 1-102nd Infantry Regiment’s Infantry Day Open house Saturday, June 1, 2024, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Specialist Somaneen Kheav of the Connecticut National Guard starts his rappel down the 80-foot-high section of the tower during the Connecticut National Guard and 1-102nd Infantry Regiment’s Infantry Day Open House on Saturday, June 1, 2024, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Private Mitchell Rosen, left, 18, of Marlborough an infantryman, fires a MK22 bolt action sniper rifle, while private Brian Sullivan, 18, of Hebron fires an M107 sniper rifle, both guns only used blanks, during Connecticut National Guard and 1-102nd Infantry Regiment’s Infantry Day Open house Saturday, June 1, 2024, in East Lyme. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    East Lyme ― While a Connecticut National Guard soldier barked safety instructions in advance of a 35-foot descent down a rappelling wall, 17-year-old Hunter Salvas of Putnam admitted he’s not a fan of heights.

    “It’s going to be a learning experience,” he said before donning a helmet and harness and securing his place in line to be among the first to rappel down the wall.

    It would be the first of many new experiences, Salvas said, if he decides to join the military. Salvas and four of his buddies from Putnam High School joined a group of about 50 people Saturday at the 2,000-acre Stones Ranch Military Reservation in East Lyme for an open house meant to introduce and perhaps recruit visitors into the military.

    Participants at Saturday’s event were exposed to a day in the life of a member of the 1-102nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain), rappelling down a training wall and firing blank rounds from a variety of guns, including an MK22 sniper rifle.

    Visitors on Saturday also listened to some of the stories and experiences of seasoned soldiers. National Guard Sgt. Russ Gong of Westport, who when not in uniform runs a small healthcare-related business, spoke to a mix of civilians and soldiers, telling them that for him the open house was not just a recruiting event.

    “It’s an opportunity to show you what we love and why we signed up,” Gong said. “This is a calling, not just a job. A calling with a lot of good perks.”

    Two from Salvas’ group had already joined the National Guard. Salvas and another were on the fence, and one friend attended Saturday’s event in support of the group. With his high school graduation fast approaching, Salvas said he considered a job at Electric Boat but is more seriously leaning toward the military.

    He’s thought about the Marines but said he’s taken into consideration “all the craziness in the world” and the likelihood he ends up in the middle of that “craziness.”

    “I want to give back and help my country,” Salvas said. “My dad said this may be the best decision for me. I’m looking at all of my options. I don’t want to pass this option up.”

    Members of the 1-102nd have had overseas deployments in the recent past, including a nearly yearlong stint in Africa in 2021 as part of Task Force Iron Gray where they were responsible for infrastructure security and “regional response force missions.“

    Others at Saturday’s event said they were also seriously considering joining.

    Adam Pitcher, 15, of Meriden said his father is a sergeant in the National Guard and had encouraged him to take a look.

    “When he brought up this opportunity to me, I said ‘This sounds amazing,’” Pitcher said. “It’s a good opportunity to get some experience and see what they have to offer.”

    Brian Sullivan, 18, of Hebron has already enlisted with the Connecticut National Guard and after graduation and basic training will be serving with the Norwich-based 248th Engineering Company. He ships out to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in July. He attended Saturday’s event to find out more about what the infantry was all about.

    Later in the morning, Salvas successfully rappelled down the wall and was back in line for a second round.

    g.smith@theday.com

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