Faith and Service: Reflections of a Desert Storm Veteran
November 10, 2017
By Daniel Justynski
Dan Justynski is the director of real estate portfolio for the Sisters of Mercy – Northeast Community as well as a proud alumnus of two Mercy schools.
Each year as Veterans Day approaches, I reflect on my time in the Navy and the origin of my desire to serve our country. I have known the Sisters of Mercy since I was 10 years old; they were my first educators academically as well as spiritually. I attended the Mercy-staffed St. Margaret School in East Providence, Rhode Island, and Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts. My moral compass was set through my faith and a decade of Mercy mentoring and education.
I also knew from a young age that I wanted to be a naval officer. I decided to work towards a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and was accepted into the program at the College of Holy Cross in 1983. My first memory from NROTC was October 23, 1983—the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. I realized that day that I now wore the same uniform as that of many of those 241 servicemen who, in service to our country, had been killed in the attack. My focus at college was to learn as much as possible, earn my degree and be the best officer and leader possible when I was commissioned an ensign in December 1987.
I met my ship, USS Seattle, in Norfolk, Virginia, in September 1988. To me, the ship was huge and very intimidating. During four years of NROTC training, I had spent all of 30 days at sea, and now I was walking onto a Fast Combat Support Ship as the boiler’s officer, leading a division of 50 men. It was a time of great internal stress, anxiety over my worthiness and fear of failure.
Ensuring Safe Travels across Oceans
I had a lot to learn and little time to do it, but I was surrounded by officers who taught me how to run a division and become a surface warfare officer. We deployed soon after. I put my personal life on hold and said goodbye to my fiancé Gayle in Rhode Island, leaving her to graduate from college and plan a wedding without me. As this was an era before email and cell phones, we communicated through long letters during the deployment.
I returned from the Indian Ocean, and Gayle and I were married with a full military celebration in February 1990 at St. Theresa’s Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. We moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, as Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and I was immediately sent to prepare our ship for deployment in what would soon be called Operation Desert Shield and later Desert Storm.
My responsibilities on the ship had changed. I was now navigator and responsible to the commanding officer and the entire crew for our safe travels across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Straights of Gibraltar, into the Mediterranean Sea and through the Suez Canal to arrive in the Red Sea in support of naval operations. Gayle moved back to Rhode Island and began the waiting game, watching news stories of the battles and missile attacks while wondering how I was faring. She would tell you that she got her first (only) gray hairs during this time.
Our crew returned triumphant after Desert Storm and were greeted on the pier by loving families and a country that thanked us for our service.
I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned while serving in the Navy. The leadership and team-building skills I honed during my naval career serve me well in my current position working with the Sisters of Mercy. The combined experiences of Mercy and military service molded the man I have become, and have helped me be a better husband and father to our two wonderful daughters.
I am eternally grateful to all the service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. On this Veterans Day and every day, may their sacrifices never be forgotten.