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Gerrits settling back into civilian life after third overseas deployment

By Heather Graves

HOWARD – Until recently, Tyler Gerrits, an engineer/paramedic for the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, spent his days and nights in a different bunkhouse — in the deserts of Iraq serving with the Army National Guard and its 135th Medical Company. 

During his most recent 11-month deployment, First Sergeant Gerrits served as a member of the Role 2 Medical Facility, which provided routine and emergency care for the U.S. Military, Coalition Partners, U.S. Contractors and local nationals.

In addition to helping man the medical facility in Iraq, Gerrits was also part of a team that started a medical training program for Iraqi Air Force medical staff, something he said hadn’t occurred for more than seven years.

“It was a great opportunity to advise, assist and enable the Iraqi Military in order to be more self-sufficient,” he said.

Gerrits said his military occupational specialty (or MOS) as a combat medic has also helped him achieve his career goals with the fire department.

Welcome home

Gerrits said it was his wife, Danyel’s, idea to make his return a surprise for their two children – Quinn and Quaid.

“My wife came up with the idea to somehow surprise the kids,” he said. “It was a last minute effort to get it all coordinated between the school and Green Bay Metro Fire Department to get the truck. The guys on my fire crew were a great help.”

Gerrits said he arrived home at 8:45 p.m. the night before the big surprise.

“My wife snuck out of the house to the airport to pick me up,” he said. “We went home and I slept on the couch to get up early and hide from the kids the next morning. The next day we arrived at the school to surprise the kids during their monthly fire drill where they had no idea I would be there waiting in the fire truck.”

Gerrits said the surprise was everything he hoped it would be.

“Once they got closer to the fire truck, my daughter caught sight of me in the truck and took off running,” he said. “It took my son a little while to realize what was going on. My daughter, of course, busted out in happy tears, and my son was excited for a hug and some high-fives. I was so excited to give them a hug, and it took all I had to not break down and cry. I was so happy to be reunited with my kids.”

It was being away from his family that Gerrits said was the hardest part of being deployed.

“Missing my family, not being able to take care of things back home, and not being able to do the things I enjoy doing (were the hardest),” he said.

He said he also missed working on cars, building things, spending time at the cabin, deer hunting, hanging out with friends and snowboarding.

Gerrits said the difference in the weather was also quite the adjustment.

“I like the Wisconsin seasons and the small city feel,” he said. “I like the community, the people and my job. I missed how green everything was – no grass or trees in the desert. I also missed the fresh air.”

Danyel said she’s happy to have her husband home safe and sound, and is proud of his service.

“Americans need to stay grateful for everything we have,” she said. “It’s easy for us to take all the great things around us for granted.”

Hometown hero

Raised in the Howard-Suamico area, Gerrits went to Meadowbrook Elementary School, the same school his two kids now attend, and is a Bay Port High School graduate.

He joined the military right out of high school in 1998. 

At the time there was a waiting list for firefighter school, so he said, to fill his time, he went to bootcamp, followed by college at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and Fox Valley Technical College before joining the fire department.

Gerrits is no stranger to military services – with his dad serving in the Vietnam War and several other family members with long military service histories.

Over the years, he has worked his way through the ranks as a combat medic in the infantry, and as a medical instructor at the Wisconsin Military Academy at Fort McCoy.

Transition to civilian life

Doing similar tasks as a member of the fire department as he did in Iraq, Gerrits said, has made the transition back to civilian life relatively easy.

“Adjustment has been easy. I’ve enjoyed some time off with family and feel like things are back to normal,” Gerrits said. 

He said it’s hard to believe he was gone as long as he was.

“The days overseas seemed to be long, however, the weeks seemed to go by fast,” Gerrits said. “This most recent deployment we had reliable internet access, so maintaining communication with everyone back home was easy.”

He said the pace of civilian life is slower.

“While that is a good thing, I do enjoy staying busy so managing my time is a challenge,” Gerrits said. “I have a lot of to-do’s to catch up on around my house – a list that grew while I was gone.”

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