02/08/18 3:56pm
ANNETTE HINKLE PHOTO | Army veteran James Colligan, and former Marines Michael (Zack) Mundy and Tom Spotteck rehearse for The Telling Project, which will be offered at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater on February 16.

ANNETTE HINKLE PHOTO | Army veteran Jim Colligan, and former Marines Michael (Zack) Mundy and Tom Spotteck rehearse for The Telling Project, which will be offered at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater on February 16.

(This is Part I of a two-part series and ran in the February 8, 2018 edition of the Reporter.  The second installment will appear in the February 15, 2018 edition.)

The stories of the men and women who deploy with the military are as varied as the individuals themselves and the conflicts in which they serve.

But often the issues and intricacies of military life are not something that people outside the armed services can easily understand. Enter The Telling Project, a national non-profit organization that brings the experience of veterans to the stage in order to deepen civilian understanding of the military and its personnel. Since 2014, the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund (JJTMF), which was created in honor of 1st Lt. Theinert after he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010, has been partnering with The Telling Project to put local veterans and Gold Star family members in front of East End audiences to share their stories. (more…)

07/16/12 12:12pm

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | The Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists that accompanied Bravo Co. from Ft. Drum to Shelter Island, arriving at South Ferry Friday.

Shelter Island welcomed home Friday night what one woman described as adopted family members of the community, the troop of Shelter Island’s own Lt. Joseph Thienert, who was killed in Afghanistan two years ago while warning his fellow Bravo troop members of a roadside bomb.

“We consider them family,” fundraising coordinator for the Joseph Theinert Memorial Foundation Shelley Clark-Rohde said of the troop. “The boys and men have changed. Some have gone on to new duty stations, some have remained, but Bravo troop will always be Joe’s troop and he will always be our friend and a member of our family.”

Arriving on Shelter Island by way of the Lt. Joe Theinert ferry at South Ferry at about 9 p.m., Bravo troop was warmly welcomed with cheers and waving American flags as its members made their way down the Lt. Joe Theinert Memorial Highway to the American Legion Hall, escorted by police and fire department vehicles and the motorcycle group, the Patriot Guard Riders.

The public was urged to be on hand when the troop — formally known as Bravo Troop 1/71Cavalry, 1BCT, 10th Mountain Division — arrived Friday. The came at the invitation of Islander Chrystyna Kestler, Joe Theinert’s mother.

About 22 members of the troop were expected here. They were escorted the entire trip from Ft. Drum, New York to Shelter Island by Frankie Bania and The Patriot Guard Riders. The Shelter Island Police Department and Fire Department and a small crowd of flag-waving Islanders were on hand for their arrival.

Islander Matt Rohde, a veteran of the First Cavalry Division, helped to organize the visit. It was the first visit here for most members of the troop.  Some took part in the first visit to the troop to the Island last May in honor of their fallen colleague and his family and friends.

Bravo Troop has been given VIP treatment while they are visiting Shelter Island.

Their visit will conclude Monday with a fund-raising cruise from Greenport that Mr. Rohde said was “pretty much sold out” and a dinner at Claudios Clam Bar in Greenport starting at about 6:30 to 7 p.m. Both events a fund-raiser for the Joe Theinert Foundation.

Those with questions may call Mr. Rohde at (631) 276-9882.

07/13/12 12:18pm

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | The late Lt. Joe Theinert’s comrades from his Army troop aboard the South Ferry boat named for him last year on May 19, 2011 on their way to Shelter Island for a four-day visit as ferry company President Cliff Clark addresses the men.

The public is urged to be on hand tonight when a contingent of Bravo Troop 1/71Cavalry, 1BCT, 10th Mountain Division, will be arriving at Shelter Island’s South Ferry at approximately 8 P.M. tonight, Friday, July 13 at the invitation of Islander Chrystyna Kestler.

Ms. Kestler’s son, 1st Lt. Joe Theinert, a member of Bravo Troop, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in June, 2010.

About 22 members of the troop are expected here. They will be escorted the entire trip from Ft. Drum, New York to Shelter Island by Frankie Bania and The Patriot Guard Riders. The Shelter Island Police Department and Fire Department will be on hand for their arrival.

The public is urged to turn out to welcome the troops to the Island and to join them for a dinner at the American Legion Hall, where they will head after arriving on the Island.

Islander Matt Rohde, a veteran of the First Cavalry Division, is helping to organize the visit.

This will be the first visit here for most members of the troop.  Some took part in the first visit to the troop to the Island last May in honor of their fallen colleague and his family and friends.

Bravo Troop will be given VIP treatment while they are visiting Shelter Island through out the weekend. Their visit will conclude Monday with a fund-raising cruise from Greenport that Mr. Rohde said was “pretty much sold out” and a dinner at Claudios Clam Bar in Greenport starting at about 6:30 to 7 p.m. Both events a fund-raiser for the Joe Theinert Foundation.

Those with questions may call Mr. Rohde at (631) 276-9882.

05/31/11 3:57pm

Legion flag on Shelter Island utility pole.

The chief operating officer of the Long Island Power Authority, who was in hot water last week because LIPA insisted it had to levy a fee for the town to mount flags on LIPA utility poles, came to Shelter Island’s Memorial Day Parade Monday morning.

LIPA’s Michael Hervey and his wife drove from western Long Island Saturday morning to watch the parade from the Legion Hall steps at the invitation of Legion Commander Mike Loriz. “He really did a stand-up thing by showing up,” Mr. Loriz said the next day.

Mr. Loriz said Mr. Hervey, who wound up paying the town’s pole fee himself last week — it amounted to just over $23 — “was impressively humble and quiet.”

Mr. Loriz said he had invited him by email Friday evening and Mr. Hervey had answered Saturday morning that he’d be here.

“I asked him to thank him for trying to work with us constructively,” Mr. Loriz said, not only to settle the local issue but the larger problem: As Mr. Loriz explained it, “The state and Verizon think there’s some flexibility in state law” that allows them to waive fees for the use of their utility poles, “but LIPA doesn’t.” Mr. Loriz said either the law should be changed to make it clear that discretion is allowed or LIPA needs to adjust its interpretation of the law so that other communities are never charged for patriotic flag displays.

The flags, bought by the Legion, were mounted by town highway workers on many poles along Route 114 to welcome the late Lt. Joe Theinert’s troop to the Island last week for a four-day visit. They will remain in place through the July 4 weekend. Lt. Theinert, a Shelter Islander, died in Afghanistan a year ago.

Town Board members over the past month discussed the flag project at their Tuesday work sessions and it appeared the flag fee was never considered an issue. The board knew about the $5 fee, but Supervisor Jim Dougherty, after talking to County Legislator Ed Romaine and others, indicated that he did not expect the town or anyone on the Island to have to pay it.

Then on Monday, May 23, Newsday ran a story on its front page about LIPA insisting that state law required it to impose the fee. The story, which followed from an interview with Mr. Romaine, was picked up by New York city TV stations and eventually went national.

Mr. Romaine complained in an interview the following day that most of the poles along the route belong to Verizon, not LIPA, and yet LIPA wanted to charge for all of them anyway. He said LIPA was an “out of control company” that “has done so many skunky things.” Verizon, he said, never demanded any fee. But even as the story went coast to coast, Mr. Romaine also said the case was closed and no one on the Island would pay any fees.

Supervisor Dougherty disclosed on Tuesday that he’d spoken with Mr. Hervey that afternoon and that the CEO, who was not available for interviews during the parade,  had written a personal check and paid the fee himself.

05/26/11 7:10pm

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | The late Lt. Joe Theinert’s comrades from his Air Cavalry Army troop, aboard the South Ferry boat named for him last year, on their way to Shelter Island for a four-day visit as ferry company President Cliff Clark addresses the men.

Lt. Joe Theinert’s Banshee Troop convoy of private cars arrived at the South Ferry terminal in North Haven from Fort Drum last Thursday afternoon, May 19, escorted by Patriot Guard motorcycle riders. As they boarded the Lt. Joe Theinert ferry, they were warmly welcomed by South Ferry President Cliff Clark.

Dozens of members of the troop, who last saw Lt. Theinert one year ago next week in Afghanistan, where he was killed warning them to stay clear of a roadside bomb, came from all over the U.S. and had never been to Shelter Island. Their visit, arranged by Lt. Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler, with help from many Islanders, including American Legion Post 281’s Matt Rohde, was meant to be a time of healing for all.

“It is such a pleasure to do this,” said Mr. Clark as the troops, wearing the dress uniform complete with the Stetson hats and silver spurs of the First Cavalry Division, boarded the ferry. “It has helped the town already,” he said.

An American Legion Color Guard was on board to welcome the troops as they boarded. Mr. Clark elaborated, “We’re proud to have them here. It’s a proud moment for Shelter Island, although it comes at such a great price … These guys made it home, and we have no idea what they’ve just been through.”

One of the Patriot Guard riders who escorted the troops from upstate Fort Drum, John Heskin, said he had an idea of what they had just been through. “I rode 400 miles on my bike because every soldier deserves this welcome. When I served in Vietnam, we did not get this response when we came home.”

Banshee Trooper Sgt. Brian Baumgardner, 25, from Kentucky was dazzled by the community welcome. “When I returned home, my mom, dad, brother and sister were there. There are hundreds of people here. It’s crazy,” he said.

Sgt. Baumgardner was looking forward to spending time here with the troop, he said, because about 75 percent of the men would soon be relocating or leaving the military.

Flags and crowds lined the streets to welcome the Banshee Troop with signs and cheers. Troop Captain Jonathan Villasenor, 37, of Fairfax, Virginia, spoke at the American Legion, where there was a reception to which the public was invited. “We’re not used to fanfare.” he said. “We’ve just gotten into friendly territory. There are a lot of emotions. We are a little overwhelmed.”

He continued, “You knew Joe, and you were probably touched by that guy, and you are going to be affected the rest of your life … We were happy to see a sign that said ‘Welcome Home.’ We’re going to take it as this is our home.”

Susan Dingle, a friend of Lt. Theinert’s mother, welcomed the troop on behalf of the Shelter Island community with a poem she had written. “Welcome to Joey’s Heaven, where we are all connected and belonging, where we listen as we welcome every soldier home,” she read. “Thank you for your sacrifice and with all of our broken hearts, we honor who you are, and where you’ve been.” Ms. Dingle recalled an event a few years back, when television crews and newspapers reported on Shelter Island having the only school still open during a snowstorm. “The newspapers called this place ‘The Little Island That Could.’ There is no doubt Shelter Island has lived up to this once again.”

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | Lt. Mike Ireland, who took over as the troop’s lieutenant after Joe Theinert’s death in Afghanistan, kneels at his grave at Our Lady of the Isle Church

On Friday, the Banshee Troop was invited to attend Mass at Our Lady of the Isle Church, Lt. Theinert’s church, and gather afterwards, privately, at his grave, where Lt. Mike Ireland, who took over as the troop’s lieutenant after Joey’s death in Afghanistan, knelt and placed his own silver spurs on the grave. These spurs will be secured in a clear display box for protected viewing.

Later they took the ferry to Lt. Theinert’s other hometown, Sag Harbor, where his father James lives, and the men were welcomed at the Legion with lunch.

On Saturday afternoon, the Pipes and Drums of the New York City Police Department’s Emerald Society played at a picnic for everyone at the Kestler family’s Westmoreland Farm. “It is a thrill and an honor to come here,” said Society member Dan Danaher, who had come from Eastchester, New York. Also in attendance were friends and family, including Sam and Marion Curko, 40-year residents of the Island.

“Joe was like family,” said Mr. Curko. “This town is doing the right thing.” Mr. Curko said that, to him, loyalty is the most important thing he learned as a coach, teammate, husband and family member. As he enjoyed his meal, he said, “You can’t eat a lobster in a better place, for a better reason.”

Following the farm gathering, the troop, close friends and family were welcomed aboard South Ferry’s Lt. Joe Theinert for a cruise around the Island with dinner and live music. The Fire Department’s rescue boat sprayed its firehose to honor the troop as the guests arrived. Shelter Island’s John “Woody” Kneeland of the local band, The Realm, toasted Lt. Theinert before beginning the non-stop set: “This gig is for you, Joe,” he said.

The band brought the crowd to its feet. Banshee Trooper PV2 Logan Baragar recited a poem that he wrote about Joe: “I will clearly see your brightly shining fire, it is everywhere I go,” he said. “I see the footprints that are right by me, I know it is you, helping keep us free.”

Other troop members had some microphone time as well, singing along with the band. Mr. Kneeland announced the raffle winners of various prizes donated by local businesses to benefit the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund. There was also a 50/50 raffle to benefit the troop, which the group decided in a vote to donate to the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund.

Throughout the weekend, approximately $1,600 was raised for the fund to benefit a Shelter Island student, and other local community scholarships and military charities. The 501(c) 3 status is in process, and Ms. Kestler said she looked forward to continued donations to help the various charities. “Joey would have liked that,” she said. According to Laura Ogar Marcello, who volunteered to help with the raffle, the figure does not yet include the tips that American Legion bartenders donated throughout the weekend.

The most common word among visiting troop members was “overwhelmed.”

“It was Shelter Island at its finest” according to Christine Gross, the Island’s school crossing guard who helped organize the troop’s visit. “Everyone came together to show the troops a great time,” she said.

Ms. Gross, Matt Rohde, Bill Clark and many other individuals and organizations in the community worked to make the visiting troop members feel welcome. Asked if the troop’s visit helped her, Mrs. Kestler said, “Did it help me? Did it ever. It also helped all of the young people on the Island.” All the smiles and the crowds at the weekend’s events seemed to prove her point, with stories and cell phone numbers exchanged, Facebook friending, hugs and picture taking.

The troop left Sunday morning after a breakfast at the Center firehouse. When they were gone, one resident, Cat Brigham, asked, “Is there such a thing as Banshee Troop withdrawal?”

Mrs. Kestler commented, “I’m so filled up, I feel like I have 30 sons, I didn’t want them to leave.” Before departing, the men were offered “to-go” containers for their ride, plants from Joe’s grave to take with them, and plenty of invitations to return. They promised they would, and are already making plans. Joey probably would have liked that, too.