“It’s a privilege to serve.” This is the response I received when I asked Rico Albacarys, NYC Park Supervisor, what it feels like to get a notice from the President of the United States that your naval unit is being called into active duty in Iraq. Rico received his orders on August 6, 2005. He will be leaving on September 26 for one year.

Rico is a standup kind of guy and I wasn’t surprised when I heard his response even though it will be an upheaval for his family. He will be leaving his wife, Gloria, and two young children, ages 9 and 11, for one year and Rico states they are all apprehensive, especially his Mom. Why wouldn’t they be? Iraq is a wild card of danger, becoming more volatile each day. I have to say that it’s a comfort to me as an American to hear a brave American like Rico say he considers it “a privilege” to serve this great country.

I’ll give you some background on Rico. He’s been with the NYC Department of Parks for about twenty years. He is now a Park Supervisor, responsible for the operations of the parks in Community Boards 4 and 5. That means Rico has a large amount of park acreage in the two community boards to supervise. He’s energetic and a no-nonsense kind of guy, he handles the responsibility well. From time to time you can see him scurrying around Juniper Valley Park in his little Parks Department electric hybrid car taking care of the day-to-day needs in Juniper. One of his key responsibilities as a park supervisor under the Parks Inspection Program is to make sure all the parks in CB4 and CB5 are in a safe condition, with no hidden or obvious dangers to park participants. If you know Rico, you know it’s an aspect of his job that he takes very seriously and if ever there is even a remote chance of danger to a child, adult or animal, trust me, Rico will see to it that repairs are made and safety is restored quickly.

I asked Rico what the status of his job with the NYC Parks Department will be when his naval unit is deployed to Iraq. Rico stated that he is assured that his job will be waiting for him on his return to the states in about a year. That’s a great comfort to Rico because his kids are still very young and rely on him heavily for all the “Dad” things he does for them. His wife too is nervous as she takes on the Mom and Dad responsibilities in their household. It’s good to know that on his return he has a job waiting for him and while he is away all his health care coverage and other benefits will be in place for his family.

I should explain that Governor Pataki signed the Patriot Plan into law on July 4, 2003. The “Patriot Plan” is a bill that provides a comprehensive package of new benefits and enhanced protections for New York's military personnel and their families. The plan will assist troops and their families who face potential added expenses and disruptions caused by being called to active duty in the nation's ongoing war against terrorism.

Rico’s military background goes back to the early 1980’s. He was on active duty in the Airborne Battalion with the Army from 1980-1984. Then he served in the National Guard Reserve for another ten years. For the past eighteen months he has been in the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, known as the Sea-bees. He has the title of E5 Petty Officer 2nd Class. As you can see, Rico has an extensive military background.

We want to wish Rico the best of luck in Iraq and tell him that we all support him and our armed forces. We look forward to welcoming Rico back to America and our NYC parks. We hope that the coming year goes quickly, (don’t they all?)

I’ll close this article with something else Rico said to me when we were talking about the security of his job, with all the benefits in place, and the comfort that is to him and his family, He stated about America, “What a great country this is.” Yes, Rico, and we’re all fortunate to be living here and hope that the freedoms we love will be secure for our kids and grandchildren and it’s people like you who secure those freedoms. Thank you, good luck, hurry home.