The importance of his duty shined on the face of Sgt. Pablo Perez.
The crisply pressed camo, the highly polished black boots, the friendly smile told the visitor that this was a man in the right place at the right time.
Perez was one of the U.S. Army members who volunteered last week to pass out coats and boots at the third annual Stand Down event hosted at the Morristown Armory and organized by more than a dozen non-profits, government agencies and private funders.
Jennifer Stivers, an organizer from Community Hope, one of the lead agencies, said the groups worked on outreach, service and transportation to find veterans in need of help.
It must have worked. The first stand down drew about 200 veterans over two days. On Friday, 200 had been served in the first two hours.
They come because they are homeless, weary, sick. They come for hot coffee and sandwiches, for a friendly face.
They spoke with Veterans Administration nurses, and housing experts, counselors and social workers, all aiming to ease the concerns of the aging men and women who sat before them with their plastic bag of donated clothes.
We send them off to fight and they come back broken. Heads filled with dreams of dead comrades, a snaking fear of what moves unseen in the darkness; filled with anger. They come back to live on the street or in the woods, to wounded families, to promises of jobs held broken.
These are the warriors we honor on holidays, around whose necks we hang shiny medals and salute with parades.
They come because we are better at sending them off to war than we are for caring for them when they return.
It has always been so.
It was more than responsibility and his duty that had Sgt. Pablo Perez walking the grey cement floor of the Armory last week.
There is also history.
He is a member of B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery, headquartered in Morristown.
Congress honored the battalion with a designation as the oldest continuously serving Army unit, Perez said.
Military.com says this about the unit: “The history of the 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery extends back to the Revolutionary War. On February 13, 1775 the Provincial Congress of New Jersey authorized the raising of two companies of artillery in the colony. One was in the eastern half of the colony and the other in the western half. The Eastern Company was assigned to Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Regiment of Artillery of the Continental Army. During the Revolution, the Eastern Company fought with George Washington at Trenton and in the battles of Princeton, Monmouth and many other engagements. After the Revolution the Eastern Company was assigned to the New Jersey Brigade which assisted in quelling the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.”
But there is also this history, and it weighs on Perez, he said, more than any other:
In June 2004 four members of B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery, headquartered in this building — Staff Sgt. Frank Carvill, Staff Sgt. Humberto Timoteo, Sgt. Ryan Doltz and Spc. Christopher Duffy — were killed in Iraq.
The soldiers have a place of honor at the Armory, Perez said.
He has read the plaques, knows the stories.
“I looked at them one day and realized I have big shoes to fill,” he said.
This is more than his duty. It is his pride and honor
But those shoes were not just left empty by the deaths of four soldiers, Perez knows. They were once filled by those to whom he passed warm coats and boots, and by those who sat with nurses and talked about their health or with social workers about their homes and other veterans willing to extend a helping hand.
Those are the shoes that also need to be filled, Perez knows. That is how he honors their service, by reaching out, helping, doing.
He can not be the only one to understand that.