Ready to ship out

Committeeman to serve as ‘citizen airman’ in Iraq

By: Lauren Burgoon
   UPPER FREEHOLD — Trading in his suit for fatigues and his title of township committeeman for major, Steve Alexander is readying for an upcoming deployment to Iraq as a "citizen airman."
   Mr. Alexander’s orders have him shipping out from Upper Freehold next Thursday. The New Jersey Air National Guard major expects his deployment to last between four and six months. His exact role in the mission is still unknown, though Mr. Alexander speculated he will work with detainees.
   "I’m cautiously excited," he said Sunday.
   The deployment — which took many friends and neighbors by surprise and has proved unsettling to them — is not unexpected, he added.
   Mr. Alexander has served in the Air National Guard as a reservist since 2004, but his life has always been one of service. He was on active Air Force duty for eight years and in the Reserve for four more before joining the New Jersey Air National Guard, whose members are dubbed citizen airmen.
   He even met his wife, Linda, in the Air Force. She, too, is a reservist.
   For Mr. Alexander, Iraq is just another step in his military service.
   "When you’re not in (the military), it’s hard to describe how it feels" to get deployment orders, he said, acknowledging that friends and colleagues were upset by the news. "We see it a different way. It’s what we do and we want to be a part of it."
   A prime example of that drive showed in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Alexander was at his law firm in Philadelphia when the attacks occurred. He started for home and arrived to find daughter Analise, now 7, at her grandparents’ home and his wife already in uniform. Both were waiting for a call to serve and ready to join the effort.
   Now more than four years later, a different call has come and Mr. Alexander is answering it even though he could have declined to go.
   "The way I look at it, it’s my turn, so I go," he said. "You either step up to the plate or you don’t."
   Mr. Alexander took a leave from work to spend more time with Linda and Analise. The family recently returned from the Bahamas, the last trip they will take together for several months.
   The Alexanders have explained the deployment in simple terms to Analise. Like any 7-year-old, she does not fully comprehend the dangers of a war zone, but she knows that dad will be back in the summer.
   "She has her own things to do here. She has to go to school and be a good girl for her mom and she knows that. That’s all I want her thinking about right now," Mr. Alexander said.
   The decision to go is having a rippling impact throughout Upper Freehold, where Mr. Alexander has served as a township committeeman since 2004. Mr. Alexander’s absence could impact this year’s committee race, as he is up for re-election and will mostly likely be in Iraq during the primary election. His seat on the governing body will remain vacant during his absence.
   A decision to run or not will come before his March 2 deployment.
   For now, Upper Freehold is less focused on Mr. Alexander’s political career than his safety. Friends and fellow committeeman wished him an emotional goodbye and good luck with a standing ovation at the Feb. 16 committee meeting.
   "It makes you think about putting things in proper perspective, especially when you realize some of the issues we deal with up here are not as significant when you really think about it," Mayor Steve Fleischacker said.
   In his own farewell speech to the town, a choked up Mr. Alexander assured neighbors he is going to Iraq "proudly, knowingly and willingly."
   "Friends have shown superb support, not only for me, but more importantly for my family," he said. "It’s very comforting to know we have so much support."