A Tarrytown Man’s Road to Iraq

1st Lt. Sean J. Quinn of the US Army is the son of friends of ours, Jim and Donna Quinn of Tarrytown. Jim and Donna recently retired from teaching at Sleepy Hollow High School and the Irvington Public Schools, respectively.

An early memory of Sean was at a neighborhood apple-picking party further up the Hudson.

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Top: Sean J. Quinn in Iraq
Bottom: Sean at West Point Graduation

While waiting for the barbeque fire to be ready, I heard shouting and laughter coming from nearby. Five or six boys aged nine to twelve were roughhousing. One member of the group, the youngest and the smallest, was getting the worst of it. I was about to break up the free-for-all when I noticed that this skinny kid, Sean, with grass stains on his jeans and a stretched out sweat shirt had a wide grin on his face. Whenever he was hurled to the ground , he jumped back up laughing.

A few years later Sean set out three goals for his life.

The first was to be the altar boy who leads the Easter Procession at Transfiguration Church. This honor was usually given to a student at the Church’s school. Sean attended a public school at that time. Two Easters later a tall, skinny kid with a suppressed grin carried a large cross down the center aisle of Transfiguration Church, leading the priest, lectors, and other altar boys.

The second goal was to become a firefighter for the Hope Hose Company.

As an Eagle Scout he qualified to join Hope Hose Company’s Venturer Program. Sean is still a member of the Company today.

His third goal was to attend West Point and to become an officer in the US Army. Although he was qualified academically and athletically, he was one of over 50,000 young men and women who apply for the academy’s 1,200 slots each year. In addition to meeting the GPA, SAT, physical fitness, and character standards, an applicant needs a Congressional appointment. To his parents’ alarm, Sean was so focused on entering the academy that he applied to no other colleges.

On an early winter Saturday in 2000 Sean and fifty-nine other qualified candidates from this area were interviewed by representatives of Congressman Benjamin Gillman for one of his two appointments to the US Military Academy. Congressman Gilman’s group must have seen the same spirit in that resilient kid with a grin that I had seen years earlier. Sean received one of the Congressman’s appointments.

On a hot July Saturday that year, Jim and Donna sat in Michie Stadium trying to control their emotions, and watched as Sean and the other successful applicants marched across the football field to begin the eight weeks of constant harassment at Beast Barracks. Through the next four years, his ability to succeed under the pressure of the academy’s military, academic, and physical challenges was tested.

We attended his graduation in 2004, where he and his classmates wore the traditional uniform of gray tunics, white trousers, and maroon sashes for the last time. Also attending the ceremony was a very attractive young woman named Amanda. Sean had met her the previous summer in Washington, DC while serving as a Congressional intern. They were married before he shipped out with the 101st Air Assault Division to Northwest Iraq three months later.

After a year in Iraq, the 101st returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky last September. The division is rebuilding and re-equipping for its next assignment. Sean was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for four months to attend an infantry tactical training course for captains. He will be promoted to captain in May or June and will rejoin the 101st. We pray for his safety.

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About the Author: Paul Philips