Tag Archives: Dan Geraghty

From Afghanistan, Sam Goodgame Inspires Staples

A few weeks ago, “0688o” posted a request from Sam Goodgame. The 2007 Staples grad — and West Point appointee — is now a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He hoped a couple of Westporters could send a few things to his troops.

Boy, did they.

The response — from individuals and organizations throughout town — was overwhelming.

And Sam’s high school alma mater led the charge.

Staples English teacher Dan Geraghty — a former Army Ranger and National Guardsman — took a special interest in Sam’s mission. Dan enlisted his entire department to help. (Members of the math, world language, physical education, library and culinary departments pitched in too.)

1st Lieutenant Sam Goodgame (right), with one of his soldiers in Afghanistan.

1st Lieutenant Sam Goodgame (right), with one of his soldiers in Afghanistan.

Last week, Sam emailed Dan. Sam’s deep gratitude shines an important light on many things: the amazing work our military men and women do, day in and day out. The importance of a community coming together, to do a tiny bit to help them. The fact that those tiny things mean so much.

And the role that a school like Staples played, in developing a leader like Sam.

Sam talked about every teacher when he said:

Thank you for the profound displays of support that you’ve shown my platoon. They communicate quite effectively to my men that they are valued and remembered by their American community.

After conducting missions in snowy remote provinces, Sam added, the Staples notes meant as much as the packages. “A flourish of personality connects with a soldier better than platitudes. Your letters struck chords with our men.”

Two of Sam Goodgame's men, reading letters from Staples students.

Two of Sam Goodgame’s men, reading letters from Staples students.

Sam attributed his “love of truthful, clear expression — in literature, writing, and in life generally” — to the Staples English department.

“Words are the only thing that last forever, and each of your lessons lives on in me daily.”

Next, Sam turned to the letters the English classes had written. They generated

a lasting sense of comfort (and laughter) with my guys. Perhaps they wouldn’t choose the same words that I do, but your notes do much to close the gap between the US civilian population and its military….The fact that none of you have met my soldiers, yet support them all the same, makes the message stronger.

Then he addressed certain students individually.

He told a girl in Staples Players, “put your whole heart into theater, if you’re passionate about it. It turned out so well for my friends who did the same.”

One boy wondered about weapons. Sam said, “I remember playing Counterstrike as a kid in middle school and thinking the same thing you do.” He described his M4 carbine with an ACOG 4x-power scope, infrared laser, magazine full of tracer rounds and bipod pistol grip.

But then, referring to night vision devices, Sam added, “the guys we fight can’t see anything in the infrared slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. In Afghanistan we actually use a lot of the concepts that you learn about in physics and chemistry to our advantage.”

Letters and packages from Westport have buoyed Sam Goodgame's platoon, thousands of miles away in snowy Afghanistan.

Letters and packages from Westport have buoyed Sam Goodgame’s platoon, thousands of miles away in snowy Afghanistan.

Switching gears, Sam described the importance of writing in his life. “It’s how I persuade people when I want them to do certain things; how I communicate with people I care about, and how I reflect on what’s happening around me and come to understand my own opinions more clearly.”

Sam tried to reach every teenager. To a boy dreaming of the Olympics, he wrote:

If you don’t give up, you have control over what happens to you. I failed Army Ranger school twice before I finally graduated. If I hadn’t passed, I’d be sitting behind a desk right now planning meetings about meetings. I wasn’t going to fail.

And to a boy who had described his upbringing in Asia, Sam wrote, “if I ever visit, I’ll keep your advice about Singapore girlfriends in mind.”

Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried his rucksack along the way.    Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried a rucksack.

Dan Geraghty ran a half-marathon to support the Wounded Warriors Project. He wore combat boots, and carried his rucksack along the way. 

Sam was thrilled that several students are involved in the Wounded Warriors Project (as is Dan Geraghty).

One is considering West Point. Sam offered help and advice:

Be a good dude. Help people with no expectation of reward. Work out every day, and run 5 miles frequently. Get good grades, but more importantly, pay attention to your best teachers and learn everything you can from them.

Sam’s experience at the Academy was powerful. It exposed him to gifted mentors and world travel, and allowed him to share “conversations, meals and drinks with foreign diplomats and generals, the most powerful CEOs and bankers, and academics whose names will live for centuries.”

More importantly, Sam said, his teachers at West Point helped him learn about academics, the military and life in general. Though “an extremely unpleasant place to live for 4 years,” he wrote, “I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.”

Sam’s time at West Point was — like his time at Staples — extremely well spent.

And the time that Staples students spent corresponding with Sam Goodgame is time that he gave right back to them.

In ways that will resonate for years to come.

(Sam’s platoon can always use more cards, letters and care packages. Send to:
1LT Sam Goodgame
PSD  PLT,  HHC 1-187 IN, 3BCT, 101 ABN DIV (AASLT)
FOB Gardez, Afghanistan
APO AE 09339

A Heroic Half-Marathon

Earlier this month, “06880” reported on Dan Geraghty’s upcoming half-marathon.  The Staples English instructor, US Army Ranger School graduate and former 10th Mountain Division platoon leader was preparing to run 13.2 miles to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project — wearing his combat boots and 40-pound rucksack.

With typical determination, he succeeded.  In fact, he exceeded his goals — in many ways. Here’s his report.

The run was a massive success.  The Westport community — centered at Staples — offered the core funds of the $8,000 we raised.

Dan Geraghty (center) and his buddies.

The day of the run, the cloud cover was excellent.  The weather was cool, and the sun did not come out.  That was truly a blessing.

Shaun Lowry — a former Marine, 6-3 and 230 pounds of pure muscle — called me out in the morning.  He decided to run with a 60-pound ruck, so I had to meet the challenge.  I “recovered” from that decision all week!

During the run, about 2 miles in, a runner with Down Syndrome began running with the crew.  Ben — immediately nicknamed “Big Ben” by our group — was the highlight of the day for me.

Ben’s father, who was running with his son, told us that Ben was the 1st Special Olympian to complete a half-marathon.  When we heard that, we decided to give Ben our only Wounded Warrior water bottle.

The response was overwhelming.  Ben hugged and chest-bumped the 7 of us.  He even walked for a while, holding hands with one of the guys.

The run seemed difficult, until that beautiful young man ran up with a wide smile.  We cheered Ben on at the finish — he ran the last 300 meters at a full sprint.

They did it!

The rains hit us right before the last mile — perfect timing.  It made the rucks a bit heavier, but it was more important to be cool for the final “gut check” hill.  As we climbed it, the crowd came to the fence overlooking us.  They screamed and wailed on cowbells — it sounded like a rock concert.

Three quarters of the way up the hill John P. Byrne, my wounded buddy, began to sprint.  We all followed him.  At the crest my father passed John an American flag.  We ran together, both holding the flag across the finish line.

John turned to me in the pouring rain.  He said, “I think we did a good thing.”

Sorry, Dan.  John was wrong.  You, he — and your entire team — did a great thing.

Dan Geraghty Runs For Wounded Warriors

The news that Osama bin Laden had been killed brought closure for many Americans.

For Dan Geraghty, it released a flood of memories.

Dan — now a highly regarded English teacher at Staples — spent 11 years in the military.

On June 12 he will run the Lake Placid Half-Marathon.  He’ll raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project — a non-profit organization that supports injured combat veterans.

Oh, yeah.  He’ll run all 13.2 miles wearing combat boots, and carrying his infantry rucksack.

The boots weigh 5 pounds.  The ruck — with gear and water — is another 40.

Just another walk run in the park for Dan.

Dan Geraghty, in his half-marathon gear.

Before his teaching career, Dan completed parachute training and air assault as a ROTC cadet at Hofstra.

The week he graduated he was commissioned “immediate active duty” as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.

Dan graduated from US Army Ranger School in 1999.  He calls it “the proudest moment of my life.”

He became a platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum (and was deployed on a diplomatic exchange program to Chile).

He transitioned to the National Guard — when he was thinking about applying for Special Forces School, his platoon sergeant had said “Either you’re going to marry the Army or your fiancée.”  He served until 2006, when he and his wife Kristen decided it was time to focus full-time on being a husband, father and teacher.

“I no longer wear the uniform physically,” Dan — who left the Army with the rank of captain — says.  “But for as long as I live, I will wear it mentally.”

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, he wants to give back to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to secure our freedom.

The daring mission to kill bin Laden sparked an intense return to 9/11 for Dan.  That day — working on a project for Verizon — he stood below Tower 2 as the 2nd plane hit.  He was defeaned by the roar, stunned by the concussion, seared by the heat, and tasted the sour burning of jet fuel fumes in his mouth.

“I felt like the victim of a war crime,” Dan says.  “We all truly were.  Without the support of my family and friends, I think I would have struggled indefinitely.

“But I survived, and was given a second chance on life.  For 10 years, that day has defined my life.”

Dan knows that some wounded veterans will struggle for the rest of their lives.  “I believe we owe these men and women our most humble thanks,” he says.

When he discovered the Wounded Warrior Project, its mission to treat veterans’ scars — both visible and invisible — resonated deeply.

So — after running hard on the roads around here, and  training at Crossfit Performance in Fairfield — next month Dan heads to Lake Placid.  He has done that marathon before — but in shoes and shorts.

Wearing boots, and carrying a pack, is a definite game-changer.

“A run is one thing,” he says to explain his unique choice of racing attire.

“But just a bit of pain will be my reminder of the great pains they have gone through to support and defend the United States of America.

“I just want to give back,” Dan says.  “9/11 has, in many ways, defined my life for 10 years.  I think about it every single day.

“By telling my story, by supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, by teaching about the event, I give away — piece by piece.  And I no longer have to carry it.”

(To donate to Dan Geraghty’s half-marathon on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project, click here.  Click below for a video on the organization’s work.

Staples Honors Memorial Day

The Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce celebrated Memorial Day weekend with an ad from a lawyer soliciting business for DWI arrests.

Staples High School did it right.

“Good Morning Staples” — the student-produced TV show that airs in classrooms and hallways around the school — departed from its usual fare of artsy announcements and offbeat interviews on Thursday.  The entire 14 minutes was devoted to 2 combat veterans:  Rich Franzis and Bruce Allen.

Franzis — a popular assistant principal, and a reservist — returned last year from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Allen — a longtime Westport resident and special policemen — served decades ago, in World War II.

Prompted by English instructor Dan Geraghty — who served active duty with the 10th Mountain Division, then was an infantry officer with the National Guard — the 2 men talked quietly and honestly about many things:  going over, and coming home.  Honoring dead comrades and friends.  What Memorial Day means today.

Franzis’s and Allen’s experiences were vastly different — and compellingly similar.  They did not glamorize war — in fact, Allen called all wars futile.

They did something even more important:  They made every Staples student think about what this weekend signifies.

Let’s hope they’re not the only ones.

(Click here to see the “Good Morning Staples” Memorial Day tribute — it may take a while to load.  If that doesn’t work, click here first, then on the flag.)

The Things Dennis Mannion Carried

Staples is not a military campus.  Recruiters don’t walk the halls, and if they did they would not see students in ROTC uniforms.

Yet our high school hardly ignores reality.

Vice principal Richard Franzis — who served as a reservist in Iraq — talks often about his experience there.  Guidance counselors help students apply to the service academies, and encourage others to think about the military in lieu of college.

Then there are special events, like Dennis Mannion’s visit last week.

The Connecticut native earned a measure of fame when his photo appeared on the cover of “Dear America:  Letters Home From Vietnam,” the 1987 documentary in which people like Matt Dillon, Tom Berenger and Michael J. Fox read letters written 20 years earlier by people like Dennis Mannion, his company mates, and some of the other 2.1 million Americans who fought in that long-ago-but-just-yesterday war, halfway across the world.

Dennis was invited to Staples — where he’s spoken before — by English instructor Dan Geraghty.  Dan is also a former reservist.  When his sophomore students (like all 10th graders) read The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien’s harrowing, haunting and ultimately empowering tales of life in Alpha Company — he helps them examine every facet of war and peace.

They read, discuss, think about and try to make sense of concepts like honor and integrity, brutality and horror, good wars and bad wars, and everything in between.

It’s heavy stuff.  But there’s nothing like hearing about war from someone who’s been there.

Dennis warned the students:  “I’m not a hero.  This is not glamorous.  It’s not an adventure story.”

And then — for nearly 2 hours — he talked.

He described his youth:  Skating through high school caring only about football and girls; somehow making it to Notre Dame, only to flunk out; enlisting in the Marines.

He arrived in Vietnam in the fall of 1967.  One photo shows a young man wearing all new gear — except for his old, worn boots.  To avoid blisters, Dennis explained, Marines went to a huge tent filled with coffins, and found boots that had been discarded before their dead colleagues were shipped home.

He told the students what it’s like to wear 100 pounds of gear in 105-degree heat.  What he feared most:  Making a mistake that would get other people killed.  What it felt like to have explosive diarrhea while crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with other Marines, in the middle of a truck convoy.

There were moments of M*A*S*H-like levity:  trading whiskey for a parachute, under which he and his tentmate escaped the cold and wind.  A fellow Marine learned to catch dragonflies, sew their wings to his helmet, then luxuriate as the dragonfly snapped up the bugs and flies that tormented everyone else.

But those moments were overshadowed by a harsher reality.  Sometimes Marines killed water buffaloes — a Vietnamese community’s prized possession — out of frustration, or sheer boredom.

Sometimes mortars landed inches away.  Sometimes they killed, maimed or blinded his friends.

And sometimes Dennis fought brutal battles.

He was at Khe Sanh.

In a siege lasting nearly 3 months, 8,000 Marines faced 50,000 North Vietnamese.  Dennis took shrapnel.  Today — nearly 40 years later — doctors still monitor his wounds.

Yet he was lucky.  Twenty-eight of his friends were killed at Khe Sanh.

Dennis finally flew home to Connecticut.  His seatmate — a man in a business suit — asked where he’d been.  Vietnam, he said.  The man rang for a stewardess, and requested a seat as far away from Dennis as possible.

“In 1968 this country was nuts,” Dennis told the Staples students.  “I can’t even describe how crazy things were.”

Dennis Mannion

After briefly describing his life since then — he went to UConn, taught high school English for 30 years, and coached football — Dennis opened the floor to questions.

Someone asked what he thought about war today.

“Sending kids to fight anywhere should be the absolute last option — not the 2nd or 5th or 10th,” Dennis replied.  “Afghanistan I might buy.  Iraq, there’s no reason we should have gone in.”

After nearly 2 hours, Dennis was almost through.  Looking back on his own life, he had a few final words.

“As you move on from here, you’ll make choices,” Dennis told his Staples audience.

“Whatever you choose, some doors will open.  Others will close.  But those choices are yours — and yours alone.  You’ll live with them for the rest of your life.”