Being home feels “really, really, really good” to state Rep. Matt Gabler, who recently returned from his year-long deployment to the Middle East.
“Thank you all so much. Over the past year, you guys have been incredible and when I say you guys, I mean everybody in the community — DuBois, St. Marys, Ridgway, the 75th District, across the state, we have so many people that have come out,” said Gabler during a Welcome Home celebration Friday at DuBois Central Catholic School.
He said to share this opportunity with those in attendance was a true honor for him.
“First, as you know, I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of serving my home, my friends, and my neighbors as your representative in the state House for the past several years,” said Gabler. “But last year I was asked to answer another call to serve.”
As a reserve officer in the Army National Guard, Gabler said he was called to deploy with his unit, the 28th Infantry Division Headquarters, which was designed to assume command of an operation called Operation Spartan Shield, a mission consisting of more than 10,000 soldiers spread across six countries in the Middle East.
Gabler’s specific job was to coordinate the task force Spartan medical assets for medical re-supply and equipment main use efforts across Southwest Asia to ensure, he said, that all those 10,000 service members, servicemen and women, are taken care of the way they need to while they’re serving.
“The first thing I want to share with you is how overwhelming it was to receive the support that you sent to me while I was over there,” Gabler said. “It was such a morale booster, the letters, the care packages, I can’t thank you all enough. You showed me that you care each and every day and that really helped me to carry through, especially on those days where the grind was nonstop.”
Gabler said he learned a few things while serving in the Middle East.
“Sometimes it is that the tough experiences that help you grow as a person. I’m glad I experienced that, I grew from that. That prepares me to do something else,” Gabler said.
The most important thing Gabler said he learned is that he has a renewed appreciation for the many blessing that are far too easy to take for granted in normal everyday life.
“Just being together with my family, my wife Lisa, my daughter Caroline, being able to see my parents, my brother, my family and friends. Being able to see them on a daily basis is such a source of happiness,” he said. “But being away for so long really brought into focus how important it is to spend time with those that you love every chance that you get. I think that’s so important, remember that.”
He especially stressed this to the younger students in grade school.
“You think that it’s going to take forever, right? That you’re going to be a kid forever?” Gabler said. “Well, someday you’re going to grow up, you’re going to move away from home, you’re going to have your own family, right? When you go home, give your mom and dad a hug tonight. Because someday you’re going to live somewhere else, your parents are going to miss you. But they’re going to love that hug and you’re going to remember it too.”
Another thing he won’t take for granted again?
Or a cool breeze.
Trees and woods.
And the rolling hills.
“Spending some time some part of the year in another part of the world reminded me how beautiful and blessed our home here in Pennsylvania really is,” Gabler said.
“If you’ve ever wondered what a 124 degree day feels like, I can tell you. And when it’s still 106 in the middle of the night, you learn not to forsake not being hot,” Gabler said. “So this winter, I don’t mind wearing an extra sweatshirt or an extra thick coat because escaping the cold I found is a little bit easier than escaping the heat.”
Last year also gave Gabler the opportunity to better understand what America’s leadership really means around the world.
“I found it interesting to see first hand that nearly everywhere that American troops are stationed, well they’re there because they wanted us to be there. They invited us to be there,” he said. “We know that it’s in our best interest to maintain strong relationships with partners around the world. And our partners know that American leadership is the most successful force on Earth when it comes to securing peace and prosperity not just for Americans but for people all over the world who aren’t nice and perfect as well.”
Growing up in DuBois, Gabler said he always felt very insulated from the challenges and the problems that can be seen on the national news.
“But here I am, I grew up in a small town. And it’s amazing to me, for a period of time I took an opportunity, but not only the opportunity, I had the responsibility to go to the other side of the world and to build a mission that is necessary to secure peace and prosperity, that’s it’s important to millions of people across the world,” Gabler said.
The issue is not over; it’s not gone, however.
“The 28th Infantry Division from Pennsylvania, we hand off a mission to another group of men and women just like us,” Gabler said. “They left their homes and that’s the 34th infantry division, they’re sitting over there today doing their job. And so there’s a lot of men and women from small towns and suburbs, big cities across Minnesota that are over there right now completing that mission.”
There are also other soldiers and sailors and Marines who are fulfilling other important missions all over the world today.
“I invite you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers and give gratitude for the blessings that we might otherwise take for granted in our lives,” Gabler said.
Gabler said he looks forward to turning his focus back to mission at home.
“Together we have the opportunity to do great things to make Pennsylvania a better place, make it an even better place to live, to work, to learn, and to grow,” Gabler said. “And I can’t wait to join each and every one of you to taking that in hand. I want to thank you all for your prayers and the overwhelming support you’ve shown me and my family. I want to thank you for the support you’ve given everyone who answers the call to serve. Thank you all so much, God bless.”