January 2011

IBEW On Duty
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On Second Tour, Ohio Veteran Sees Progress in Iraq

Ryan Omaits was still in his teens when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a pivotal day that left a lasting mark on the young man, now a first-year apprentice out of Steubenville, Ohio, Local 246.

"After 9/11, I felt like I needed to do something to serve my country," Omaits said. He signed up for the Army Reserves, deployed to Iraq in 2004 and spent nearly two years in an engineering battalion after key events like the fierce battle for Fallujah.

Now on his second tour in the still-fragile country, Omaits says conditions are different than at the height of combat a few years prior. Stationed at Joint Base Balad—one of the largest U.S. bases located in the Sunni Triangle just north of Baghdad—the staff sergeant commands 21 troops and works with the Iraqi army to train new soldiers.

"The situation on the ground is much improved since the first time I was here," said Omaits, 28. "It's going much more smoothly than it did just a few years ago."

One of Omaits' chief responsibilities is to supervise security for U.S. forces dismantling temporary bridges that were constructed to facilitate transport of troops and supplies from base to base. More than 20 bridges were built to replace older structures that were blown up by insurgents to cut off coalition forces' supply routes.

While Omaits thanks the military for "giving [him] some direction" those years ago, he also credits a fellow service member for turning him on to the IBEW. Last year, Omaits joined the apprenticeship through the Helmets to Hardhats program after talking with another soldier who touted the benefits of the union and the attention it gives to veterans. Omaits also credits his brother's father-in-law, fellow Local 246 member Rick Fischer, for additional support.

"I had been working at a steel mill, and every day just felt like doing the same thing over and over," Omaits said. "I like the idea of working construction as an electrician. Every job is different, and it challenges you to think. When you complete a project, you feel a real sense of accomplishment."

Omaits expects to return home early next summer and appreciates support he receives from both the local and his employer, signatory contractor Bruce & Merrilees.

"Everyone has been supportive all the way through—from when I was training in the reserves to when I went overseas," he said. "They've been great."

Local 246 Business Manager Kyle Brown praised Omaits' work ethic.

"Ryan was an excellent candidate when he applied and has gone on to perform over and above in his apprenticeship," Brown said. "He's respected by his contractors and co-workers, and we're looking forward to having him back home safely."

Steubenville, Ohio, Local 246 member Ryan Omaits.

Ontario Member Joins Afghanistan Peacekeeping Force

More than 2,500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces serve in Afghanistan on the front lines of the global war on terror.

Windsor, Ontario, Local 773 member Roger Miner is one of them. The experience has given Miner, who is serving his first tour of duty overseas, a renewed sense of respect for military veterans.

"People who haven't experienced what our troops go through don't know how good they have it," the master corporal says.

Canadians have suffered the highest per capita casualty rate of any nation participating in the NATO coalition, losing more than 150 solders since the occupation began in 2001, says the Washington Post.

Miner has been enrolled in the Canadian Army Reserves for five years. He is currently attached to the Royal Canadian Regiment, one of Canada's oldest infantry regiments.

A five-year IBEW member, Miner has been stationed in Afghanistan since May.

Miner's service is much appreciated by his brothers and sisters back home.

"We wish Brother Miner a safe return and congratulate him on his valiant efforts to keep us safe," says Local 773 Business Manager Solomon Furer.

Windsor, Ontario, Local 773 member Roger Miner.