June 7, 2007

Groton grad tells of Iraq experience

Soldier speaks to Cortland students about his year in war-torn country


Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
Groton High School graduate Kurt Parker narrates a slide show of photos he took while serving in Iraq with the Army. Parker spoke to students at Cortland Junior-High School Tuesday and Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

Groton High School graduate Kurt Parker has taken his military experience in Iraq on the road.
He was at Cortland Junior-Senior High School Tuesday and Wednesday, talking with high school and junior high students and showing them pictures about his year in Iraq from January 2006 to February 2007.
Parker, 22, who served in the Army’s 16th Engineer Battalion, said his primary job was to look for roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices.
During an American history class with teacher Jeff Guido, he described and showed slides of how different the devices could look, from two artillery shells taped together with a walkie-talkie and 9-volt battery to an explosive made with a car battery.
“They make them out of whatever they can get their hands on,” Parker said.
One bomb that went undiscovered had been paved into the highway. That was his first encounter with an IED; it grazed the Humvee he rode in.
“We got pretty lucky on that one,” Parker said.
Most of the time he felt “pretty much in control,” Parker said, as he was stationed for 10 months in Tal Afar in Northern Iraq, where insurgency activity was less pronounced than in other parts of the country.
He spent another three months in Ramadi in Central Iraq, where there was more action.
When American forces accidentally killed an Iraqi, Parker said the family of the slain Iraqi was compensated with about $3,000. “That’s it?” interjected one student in Guido’s class.
Parker said in Iraq that was a lot of money.
Parker showed that the war was not all action. A lot of time the servicemen were just waiting and would sleep on the job.
“I slept during a firefight once,” he said. “I sat in a ditch to take cover and fell asleep for 10 to 15 minutes.”
He showed several pictures of fellow soldiers sleeping, explaining that it became easy to sleep anywhere, especially if only getting a couple of hours of sleep the previous night.
Students had numerous questions for Parker, ranging from easily answered ones, such as his rank when he left — corporal — to the more complex ones, such as whether Iraqis wanted the U.S. servicemen there.
“Some of them acted like they wanted us there,” replied Parker to this question, adding adults would glare at the Americans as they passed by. He said there were good things, such as making places safer, but he said this often just made the insurgents go to other places. He said in Tal Afar insurgents moved back in after the Americans left.
“It was good,” said 11th-grader Laura Boggs of his talk. “He answered a lot of questions.”
Boggs said from the news, all that is heard is often bad. “It’s nice to see there is some good — some reason to go.”
She said a brother, Bobbie, just came back from Iraq and a younger brother of hers, Mike, now wants to go. She said at first he “wasn’t thrilled about the idea.”
Parker said while he was in Iraq he remained in contact with his social studies teacher Cathy Spallone, in Groton, who suggested talking to local students. Spallone said her son goes to Cortland High School and his teacher, Christine Gregory, was interested in having soldiers talk.
Spallone said Parker was a strong history student — a critical thinker and creative, and could have entered a four-year college easily directly from high school, but chose to enlist in the Army. “He is one of the brightest kids I have taught.”
Spallone said several students at Groton were very much affected by Sept. 11, watching it live at the school. “We were all so stunned,” she said.
Spallone said Parker has talked to her classes and she helped him sort through pictures he had taken. She had also set up a War in Iraq Web site and former students serving in Iraq kept in contact with her and her classes through it. She said her Human Rights and World Genocide class was especially interested in discussions with Parker.
Parker went into the service in August 2003 after graduating from Groton in June that year. He was stationed in Germany for two years before going into Iraq.
“It’s a great experience for him,”  Gregory, a social studies teacher at Cortland, said of his visit.
She said several social studies teachers invited Parker to speak to their classes, which she organized. She has 11th-grader Jack Spallone, Cathy Spallone’s son, in her Advanced Placement history class.
Although in class Parker said he did not know what he wanted to do, Spallone said he told her that he was considering a degree in history education.
Parker, who is now in the Army reserves, told Guido’s students he would probably start college in the fall.
Parker said most of the soldiers do not favor U.S. involvement in Iraq, but the military wants soldiers to have the attitude that our military is needed there.
“Most of the people I worked with were totally against the war,” Parker said. He said before going over, servicemen have the attitude that they have a job to do.
“We’re listening to their stories and I think they’ll shape our views,” Cathy Spallone said.




Cincy voters approve $3.8M renovation

Staff Reporter

CINCINNATUS — Voters approved a $3.8 million renovation project Wednesday night by a three-to-one margin.
Around 20 school district residents and school officials hugged and cheered as the results of the vote were announced.
The project passed 153-46 and will come at no cost to taxpayers, school officials said.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said School Board President Sandy Rausa.
The project — to be paid for in part with state Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid, or EXCEL, aid — will allow the school to reinstate cuts to a $14.5 million project approved in March 2006.
It will enable the school to use state money to take care of a laundry list of improvements that the school needs while freeing up money for advancements that can now take place under the capital project.
That $14.5 million project will go out to bid this month. Officials hope to begin construction this fall.
The EXCEL project will include improvements such as a single-story, four-classroom addition, new lighting and ceilings, roof replacements, technology updates and an enhanced security system.
Superintendent of Schools Steve Hubbard said he is “elated” over the project approval.
“It’s our job to do everything we can for these kids,” he said. “They deserve it.”
Under the project approved Wednesday, Hubbard said, the school will now be able to take its reading first teachers out of what he calls “closet spaces” and give them their own classroom.
The district will also put a wash bay in the bus garage, demolish an entrance ramp in front of the school, create an occupational and physical therapy room that will also serve as a community fitness room, add new scoreboards in both the school gyms and put new bleachers in the gym, all of which were originally cut and will now be done under the capital project, he said.


Cortlandville seeks funds for planned business park

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The Town Board approved an application Wednesday night for $150,000 grant to help pay for the extension of public water and sewer service to a business park planned off Route 13.
The money would be part of the proposed $4.1 million first phase of the Finger Lakes East Business Park coordinated by the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, BDC/IDA Executive Director Linda Hartsock said.
The 260-acre project site surrounding the New Monarch Machine Tool Co. property is designated a BuildNow-NY site, a state program that develops properties to make them attractive to companies looking for sites to build facilities.
The town is applying for funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a state and federal partnership dedicated to the Appalachian region.
Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said the total cost to the town of extending the water and sewer lines to the site would be about $300,000, half of which would be provided by the ARC grant, and that the town would seek help from state and federal legislators to make up the difference.
“We’ve discussed whether the town could help with something in terms of a local share, and the IDA will also be putting in a local match from our allocated reserve fund,” Hartsock said.
The park, which would be on the north side of Route 13 between Gracie and Bennie roads, needs $4.1 million in funding for infrastructure and property purchase costs for its northern half during the project’s first phase.
A $433,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to go toward infrastructure development has already been approved. The state provided a matching grant of $75,000 to the BDC/IDA for the initial engineering and environmental review work, while the BDC/IDA provided a $75,000 local match. Those funds have already been expended.


Homer business location disputed

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The town may ask a court to hold the owner of a pest control business in contempt of court, now that it appears he is   operating the business illegally out of his home.
The board passed a resolution Wednesday stating it will get affidavits from the neighbors of the business’s owner and the town’s code enforcement officer.
Both say the business — Sweeney’s Pest Control — is not operating out of its new location next to Kory’s Place, a diner at 9 West St.
If the town deems the affidavits strong enough, it will ask the state Supreme Court to hold Michael Sweeney in contempt of court.
A state Supreme Court ruling in January 2005 found Sweeney’s Pest Control violated town zoning by being at Sweeney’s 1465 Ayers Road home.
The business appeared to have moved to a new West Street location by Oct. 1, the date the board had imposed, and board member Kevin Williams said it was operating at that location until at least January, when he went there to pay a bill.
But since then the business has moved back to Sweeney’s home, according to Valerie and Ken Mack, residents of 1450 Ayers Road who brought a lawsuit against Sweeney’s Pest Control in 2004.
They see the business’ trucks go by their home to Sweeney’s home numerous times each day, according to a letter the Macks sent the Town Board last month. They also say no activity takes place at the West Street location.
Valerie Mack said this morning she won’t complete an affidavit for the town since she has provided it more than enough evidence showing Sweeney is operating his business from Ayers Road.
She said unless the town takes Sweeney to court “very quickly,” she will file another lawsuit against Sweeney and the town.


City sees increase in amount of complaints over unkempt lawns

Staff Reporter

The city of Cortland is asking its residents to take better care of their lawns before the city has to do it for them.
Assistant Fire Chief Charles Glover, director of code enforcement, said there has been an increased number of complaints relating to the height of city lawns that have both been called in by residents and observed by the code enforcement officers on their patrols.
The number of complaints has nearly doubled this year, said fire Capt. William Knickerbocker, a codes office employee. There are usually 20 to 40 complaints from April until now; this year there have been 60 to 70, he said.
“We’re dealing with it more and more,” Knickerbocker said.
Many of the complaints stem from rental properties, he added.
The city’s ordinance states that the code department can cite residents whenever vegetation on front lawns is higher than 6 inches, but Glover said the office does not step in until it gets into the 1-foot-tall range.
However, when the situation gets out of hand, Cortland Housing Assistance Council is called upon to cut the grass for the unresponsive property owner. CHAC charges by the hour and there are administrative costs involved; both are billed to the landowner.
The city has cleaned up 17 properties since May 17, Knickerbocker said.