MIDDLETOWN — The 1205th Transportation Railway Services Unit, a U.S. Army Reserve unit activated during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, is holding a reunion this week in North Carolina.
The 1205th was based at the now-closed military facility on Mile Lane in Middletown when it was deployed to the Sunny Point military ocean terminal in Southport, N.C.
Much of the unit's duties involved maintenance of railway infrastructure, but it played a key role in getting the ammunition and supplies from the trains onto military vessels headed for the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm.
The reunion will be held at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, or MOTSU, from July 24 to 27. Retired unit members will tour the ocean terminal, now listed as the Army's largest ammunition terminal in the country and the primary deep-ocean port on the East coast.
Other reunion events include dinners and picnics and some sightseeing.
Bob Jacques, who retired as first sergeant and was a conductor during the deployment, said the unit had its hands full when it was first deployed in 1991 to restore miles of track near the terminal that were in disrepair.
The rail yard the 1205th was using was dormant after the Korean War, and the unit put in 12-hour shifts every day getting the track repaired while it also had to move around the freight of explosives and ammunition so it could be unloaded onto the ships.
The retired soldiers have been meeting throughout the spring and summer, getting together once a month to plan the reunion in between bouts of laughter over their miscues and not-so-fond memories of the oppressive humidity during their active duty summer.
Vinny Bianchi, 60, of North Haven, was a conductor in the unit. He recalled derailing an engine one day leaving deep grooves in a farmer's field. Bianchi and the farmer managed to back the train up and get it back onto the tracks.
"He said 'You're doing a good job,' and I said I did a good job getting it off [the tracks], I better do a good job getting it back on," Bianchi said.
The members recalled being wary of going too far away from the tracks because the swampy areas were loaded with snakes and the occasional alligator, and they spoke of being part of the immense military operation participating in an overseas invasion.
"Everyone was gearing up for the war in Iraq," said Jim Brandt, 66, of Woodbridge, a senior railway sergeant. "Even after the hostilities were over it was replenishing what had been used, then handling ammo coming back into the U.S."
The 1205th was a CONUS unit, which must be deployed as a full unit and can only be stationed within the continental United States. They trained with civilian railroad companies, even using the Essex Steam Train tracks on occasion.
After Operation Desert Storm, the unit stayed for months working to restock the Army's supplies. Many of its members stayed in North Carolina after the active duty term was over, but the majority returned home to New England in September 1991.
Part of the reunion will be about reconnecting with the men and women who stayed in North Carolina after more than 20 years, said Ron Organek of Middletown, who was a brakeman and a conductor in the unit.
"It's going to be really fun," Organek said. "Seeing some of them again after maybe 20 years it will be great to get together again and talk about old stories. I'm really looking forward to it."
The reunion this week will include members of the 729th Transportation Battalion, which includes among its history the setting up of transportation operations after the invasion of France in World War II. Also joining will be members of the 226th Transportation Railway Operating Company, which was formed after the 1205th was dissolved in the early 2000s and is now based in Massachusetts.
"Anyone who's in our lineage from the 729 up forward to the 226 are invited [to the reunion]. They're all part of the family," Jacques said.
This year's event is the second reunion the group will have. The reunion two years ago had 19 members attend, and the group will continue to plan reunions in coming years.