Hudson Hero is Home:
Major Bob Macaraeg Returns from Operation Enduring Freedom
by Maureen Gillum
All around the Macaraeg’s home – on walls, in frames, on shelves and taped to nearly every cabinet -- are pictures, poems, and notes from Bob.
“It was our way of keeping him with us every day,” shared Bob’s wife, Lisa sincerely. Since “Dad” was deployed in Afghanistan for nearly half of his daughter Aisling’s life and even more of Sinead’s, “keeping connected” was crucial. “Watching the girls grow up, day by day, and not having him here to see it was the really tough part,” admitted Lisa in her slight Irish brogue.
Thankfully, 43-year-old Army Reservist Major Robert Macaraeg returned safely to his Hudson Sousa Boulevard home last Saturday, after serving 17 months in Kandahar, the southern and most dangerous region of Afghanistan.
“As the Force Protection Officer at the Kandahar Air Field, I was the ‘go to guy’ in charge of all security within 10 clicks (kilometers) of the airport,” explained Major Macaraeg. This involved patrolling the perimeters; securing entry checkpoints; eliminating suicide bombers and V-bieds; managing guard towers, dog teams, technical inspection systems and lots more. “I had the privilege of leading some 350 coalition troops from among the U.S., Romania, Britain, The Netherlands, and Canada,” he shared.
After being gone so long, Bob admits he’s “getting used to everything and all the changes back home in Hudson,” especially with his two small daughters. “It’s also great to be back in our civilized society,” he explained. “Afghanistan only has a developing government and judiciary system; it’s presently a land of great chaos, contrasts, and feudalism.”
Lisa, 33, is a vivacious native of Howth, Ireland, a small fishing village just outside of Dublin, and has enjoyed being in the United States for almost 12 years. Born in New York City, Bob primarily grew up and attended college (Weber State) in Utah. The two married almost eight years; bought their Hudson home about five years ago; and were living in England for a job contract when Bob was called up in November 2004. After training in Germany several months, the major left with the 330 ROC (Rear Operations Center) army unit to serve in OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) 6 (6th troop rotation).
Fortunately, almost daily phone calls and e-mails, and digital photographs and videos “kept the family as connected as possible.” But nothing beats the laughter of two adoring toddlers crawling all over Daddy. Sporting matching royal blue T-shirts emblazoned with “My Daddy, My Hero,” four-year-old Aisling and almost two-year-old Sinead get a big kick out of tickling Daddy’s feet and joyfully giggling.
“It’s just so good to have him home and I’m so proud Bob got himself home to us safely and in one piece!” smiled Lisa in relief, “We’re very, very thankful.”
Many others were not so fortunate. The adage, “freedom isn’t free,” is a reminder that the cost -- in lives and dollars -- in Iraq and OEF since the country’s March 2003 entry has been steep. Billions have been spent to date, including a $73 million dollar program focused on the rebuilding of schools and clinics in Afghanistan, after the Taliban were ousted. Now in year four, more than 2,320 U. S. troops have been killed in Iraq, while another 275-plus have died in Afghanistan, according to CNN’s latest casualty count (3/24/06). This includes 20-year-old PFC Matthew Bertolino, a Hampstead, New Hampshire, native who was killed during his Marine combat patrol on February 9 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
The stress and difficulties coalition troops face in Afghanistan are exacerbated by cramped living quarters, a grueling environment, and the dull monotony offset by worry. “The oppressive temperatures commonly reach 120 to 140 degrees by 9:00 a.m. in the summer,” reported Bob as he points to one of dozens of Kandahar Air Field photographs showing his thermometer topping out at 120. Tents and ‘B-huts’ (make-shift shipping container living quarters), typically house four men and all their gear and weaponry into a space of roughly 8 x 10 feet.
There are lots of ways to help and support troops “down range.” It’s best to send things that are “small, compact, and good distractions,” like magazines and food. “Twizzlers and non-chocolate candy are great and beef jerky is always a big hit,” according to the youthful Macaraeg. Lisa, who found solace at home through many great friends (her play group of nine moms), supportive neighbors, and a military Family Support Group out of Manchester, suggests that pre-paid phone cards through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (www.AAFES.com) are also great. Many Hudson Girl Scout troops are also sending their “Gift of Caring” Girl Scout cookies to troops soon (Rhonda O’Keefe, 595-9572).
Upon Lisa’s prodding, the modest Macaraeg acknowledged he had fulfilled some big objectives and earned several prestigious awards during OEF 6. “Getting KAF (Kandahar Air Field) back up and running was no easy task,” admitted Bob, and he was excited to “officially give the civilian terminal back to the Afghans” on December 1. “Training local law enforcement on proper security techniques was also key in enabling KAF to become a major International Airport again. We taught them things like a good body search is when their heels leave the ground.” The major was also awarded the Bronze Star for “personal courage and commitment” throughout OEF 6. He also received accommodation letters, gifts from this troop, and a leather Koran from the Afghanistan border police. Despite Taliban rocket attacks and ubiquitous mine fields, with careful prevention Bob considers himself “enormously fortunate” to have not lost a single man or woman during his command of KAF.
Deflecting praise, Bob declared sincerely, “I’m really most proud of all the good work we did directly helping the villagers.” Walking through more of his OEF 6 wall montage, he detailed their work on schools; rebuilding Mosques; ‘Pashto’ language lessons; and bringing doctors, vets, food, and supplies to remote areas.
“We quickly learned to give our much-needed donations like school supplies, food, and shoes directly to local children,” explained Bob, “otherwise the corrupt authorities black marketed everything.” They also re-opened the Kandahar University library and insisted rosters accept Afghan women, who are still largely treated as third-class citizens and under the veil of Burkas. “Bob told me it was common to see women’s toilets filled with cement, so as to discourage native women from ever leaving their houses,” added Lisa in disbelief.
His troops also effectively warded off and dealt with the Taliban, who formerly “raped and pillaged” the local villages routinely. Recounting cruel and unspeakable acts, “the Afghan people have suffered enormously at the hands of the Taliban and Russians,” Bob solemnly stated, “as a result, most welcomed the help of our coalition troops and viewed us as friends and allies.”
After a bit of well-deserved vacation time in Florida with his daughters and wife, Bob will return to civilian life and his job in Quality Assurance within DCMA (Defense Contract Management Agency) at the GE plant in Lynne, Massachusetts. They’re also looking forward to a huge welcome home party for Bob on April 9 and getting back to a normal family routine.
“We’re making real progress and doing good work in bringing the 21st century into Afghanistan,” emphasizes Bob proudly. “What coalition troops are doing is a far better victory than just eliminating the Taliban,” adds Lisa, “they’re teaching the Afghans to stand independently.” Major Macaraeg agrees emphatically, “we’re committed to continue making real differences to improve the lives of the Afghan children and families -- and there’s no medal or award that even comes close to that.”
Battle of the Books - A Year of Firsts
by Sandy Blanchard
A very exciting battle took place March 23 in the Nottingham West School cafeteria. The town’s five elementary schools came face to face to show their love for reading and recall. The Battle of the Books began in Hudson in 2002 with only Presentation of Mary Academy participating in the program. In 2003 they invited Nottingham West Elementary School to battle. For the past three years all five elementary schools have sent teams to "the battle."
They arrived in their team shirts ready to show parents and friends how hard they have worked with their coaches and teammates reading, questioning, and recalling the events in a list of books chosen by the national organization. The sponsors of this event - The Hudson-Litchfield Rotary, Harmony Real Estate, The Nash Foundation, and the Area News Group provide the T-shirts, refreshments and staff for the evening event. This year HCTV was also on hand (a first!).
In Round A (fourth grade) Hills Garrison School faced off against Presentation of Mary Academy in a hard fought battle. PMA emerged the winner. Round B saw the Dr. H. O. Smith/Library Street team face Nottingham West. The final score showed the NWES team victorious. In the championship round PMA and NWES battled to a tie (another first) with the PMA fourth grade team becoming this year's champions.
The fifth grade teams were up next. Round A found Hills Garrison facing Presentation of Mary with Hills Garrison winning the close battle. Nottingham West then took on Dr. H. O. Smith/Library Street in Round B with Nottingham West emerging as the victor. The championship round found Hills Garrison facing off against Nottingham West. The 2006 fifth grade battle was decided by a close, exciting round with the students from Hills Garrison earning the win and the 2006 Battle of the Books championship;
Congratulations to all participants. Anyone who reads, learns and shares knowledge is a winner.
Local Residents Recognized at Chamber Dinner Headlined by Governor Lynch
by Lynne Ober
The Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce held its 37th Annual Awards Dinner on March 22. The theme was “Spring into the Future.”
Governor John Lynch was the keynote speaker. He talked about the trials that the state had faced the last year, including the need for additional money for low-income heat assistance, the flooding in the west of the state and the economy.
Speaking about legislation, Lynch talked about why he felt that changing the dropout high school age from a minimum of 16 to a minimum of 18 was necessary. He also spoke about the Child Predator bill that had recently been passed by the House of Representatives.
Then it was time for the awards. Leo Dumont, Junior won Citizen of the Year. In addition to running his business, Dumont-Sullivan Funeral Homes, Dumont was one of the founding members of C.H.I.P.S. and has donated countless hours as a volunteer at events helping kids in Hudson.
Dumont sits on a civilian panel that helps screen for new police officer and has donated many hours to the Hudson Police Department.
This year he sponsored and supported a family that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The two Junior Citizens of the Year will undoubtedly become leaders in their communities as they move into adulthood.
Jaimie Zablocki, Campbell High School student, is involved with academic, athletic, and artistic endeavors. She’s a member of Future Business Leaders of America, a member of the Student Council, works with the Campbell Dance Club and is one of 13 juniors who were inducted into the National Honor Society where she now serves as vice president. She’s been on the varsity cheerleading team and has been involved in the Key Club, Art Club and works part time in a law office.
Jaimie wants to pursue a career connected to chemistry and may study either biochemistry or pharmacology.
Yiyi Xia is a student at Alvirne High School. She is second in her class of 350 students, captain of Alvirne’s tennis team, and was recently recognized as a state finalist of the Wendy’s High School Heisman Student Athlete contest. She is also a member of the Academic Decathlon team, involved in the Academy of Finance, is a member of the Math Club, Key Club, Alvirne Ambassadors, and Future Business Leaders of America, and is the president of Junior Achievement.
She volunteers at Southern New Hampshire Medical School and works part time at Sovereign Bank. She wants to enter college and pursue a career in international finance.
Public Service of New Hampshire was recognized at the Large Business of the Year. PSNH has been promoting renewal energy as well as involved in a Keeping Children Safe education program that teaches children about the dangers associated with electricity. As a company, they support employee volunteerism and reaching out to neighbors. They support the United Way and the Santa Fund as well as being a contributor to the Adult Learning Center.
Melissa Hoffman Dance Center was the Small Business of the Year much to the surprise and happiness of Melissa Hoffman. The dance center contributes to New Hampshire Make a Wish Foundation and has raised money to support children helped by this worthy charity for almost a decade.
Melissa is a dance educator and choreographer with more than 20 years teaching experience in all forms of dance. Her students have performed worldwide. They participated in a journey to Africa where dance was a form of cultural interaction.
Congratulations to all the winners.
First NECAP Test Results Released
by Maureen Gillum
New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Education, Lyonel Tracy, released the long-awaited results of the first-ever New England Common Assessment Program assessments on March 21. The NECAP tests, which were taken last October across grades three through eight in New Hampshire, replaced the former New Hampshire Education Assessment and Improvement Program.
The new NECAPs are designed to help track a student’s progress, as required by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under NCLB, all students in grade three through eight must be tested every fall in reading and math; additionally, fifth and eighth graders are also tested in writing. The standardized NECAPs were also co-developed and taken in Vermont and Rhode Island.
The NH Department of Education promotes the NECAP “to measure individual student growth across the grades as well as program effectiveness within each grade.” Aligning with New Hampshire’s Follow The Child initiative, Commissioner Tracy expressed, “NECAP will allow schools to more precisely follow the progress of each child from grade to grade, and use this data to proactively design and provide the appropriate support services.”
On a statewide level, 66 percent of New Hampshire students in grades three to eight tested were “proficient or better” (level 3 or 4) in reading; while 62 percent tested proficient or better in mathematics. In writing, (tested in fifth and eighth grades only), only 50 percent of students in the state tested were found proficient or better. As Commissioner Tracy clarified in New Hampshire Public Radio interview last week, “proficient essentially equates to grade level; these tests assess ‘grade level expectations’ as determined by educators as to what students should know and be able to do at a certain grade level.” More specifically, the NECAP tests have four achievement levels of student performance: “Proficient with Distinction” (level 4); “Proficient” (level 3, at grade level); “Partially Proficient” (level 2) or “Substantially Below Proficient” (level 1).
Given this, some view the initial NECAP results as surprisingly weak. Though 66 percent of New Hampshire students are reading at or above grade level, one-third are also reading below grade level. Further, New Hampshire test results are progressively worse as grade levels goes up. While 71 percent of all third graders are proficient or better in reading, only 62 percent of eighth graders are on grade-level par. Conversely, more than one in three (38 percent) of eighth graders can’t read on grade level. Almost a third (32 percent) of all third graders and 44 percent of all eight graders did not testing at grade level for math. More than half (51 percent) of all eighth graders and 49 percent of fifth graders are not writing at grade level. As shown below, Vermont’s overall NECAP results only slightly bested New Hampshire. Rhode Island’s NECAP results for reading and math significantly lagged NH and Vermont.
Source: Compiled by Hudson~Litchfield News, from NH, VT and RI DOE web sites 3-06
Like any test in its first year without any previous track record of comparison, the NECAPs have raised questions and many education professionals are being cautious in their initial evaluations. Locally, “the district is examining the (NECAP) scores closely to identify particular strengths and weaknesses,” commented Mary Ellen Ormond, Assistant Superintendent of Hudson schools, “but is cautious in making any sweeping generalization at this point.” Ormond also stated, “Overall, we were pleased that we scored above the state mean scaled score in most categories, but realize that we still have much to do to ensure that all of our students are successful.”
While Hudson faired well against the state NECAP performance averages, SAU 81 slightly trailed against comparable districts, such as Merrimack and Londonderry, as detailed below. The smaller district of Litchfield was largely on par with the state averages.
It is also important to recognize the NECAP is just one assessment measure. Ormond warned, “This is just one measure that we should take into consideration when we are evaluating our student performance, curriculum and instruction. The data from this and other sources will continue to support us in making thoughtful changes to our instructional program.”
The NH DOE website also features other interesting correlations. For example, Hudson’s annual cost per pupil is $7,146, or 21 percent below the New Hampshire state average of $9,099, according to the latest reports (2004 - 2005). In comparison, Londonderry invests $8,820 and Merrimack spends $9,451 in their cost per pupil investments. While Hudson’s recent voter approval of salary increases will help, SAU 81 also still ranks significantly below the state average in its minimum starting teacher salaries ($29,053) and average teacher salaries ($41,679), according to NH DOE’s latest 2004 - 2005 reports. By contrast, Merrimack’s starting teacher salary was $31,225 and average teacher salary was $46,215.
For more comparative statistics of New Hampshire school districts (e.g., financials, drop out rates, staffing and salary), as well as detailed NECAP results for schools, districts and the state, visit the NH DOE at: www.ed.state.nh.us.