By Emmanuel Ureña
Originally known as Armistice Day, November 11 was initially observed in honor of the soldiers who served in World War I. A little more than a decade later, the United States government would go on to make November 11 an official national holiday to pay homage to veterans who so courageously answered the call of duty in all of the wars in which the U.S. had fought throughout history. During the Eisenhower Administration, the name of this special day was officially changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Every year since, the entire nation continues to celebrate the noble men and women whom have bravely fought, and selflessly sacrificed so much, so that everyone in America can live free and the U.S. can continue to serve as a beacon of hope.
“Mt. Olive Life” caught up with some local heroes who have proudly served their country in the armed forces to learn about their inspiration for joining the military, their life after serving, and the charitable work that they do in support of their fellow veterans.
Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Steve Niblett (U.S. Army)
“I come from a great legacy of military veterans,” Budd Lake resident Steve Niblett said. His father, Jack, his uncle, James, his brother, Joey, and his father-in-law, Jim Pardee, all proudly served their country in the armed forces. Niblett notes this military lineage as an inspiration for pursuing a career in the armed forces.
Niblett says that seeing the service academies up close motivated him to one day becoming an officer, and he worked towards that until his dream came to fruition. Niblett was nominated by President Gerald Ford in 1974, and was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
In June of 1979, Niblett graduated from West Point, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army infantry. He went on to serve both stateside and overseas throughout his 28 years with the military.
“I was an Army infantry officer leading soldiers in combat and support units at the platoon, company and battalion levels,” he explained, and he did so in places like the Republic of Korea, Honduras and Iraq.
It was one of his stateside assignments, however, that would bring Niblett to the Garden State when he served for two years in Picatinny Arsenal located in Rockaway—just a short ride away from Mt. Olive, where he met a special lady named Candace. The two would marry a year later in 1991, and two years after their union, he would officially make Budd Lake his hometown. He and his wife would go on to have three children: Jay, Elise and Austin, who continued in his family’s legacy, and is today a U.S. Army airborne ranger.
After moe than two decades of distinguished service, Niblett received an honorable discharge in 2007 as lieutenant colonel. At this time, he was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal to accompany the many other commendations and service medals he received throughout his career, which include the Bronze Star and the Joint Services Commendation Medal for his work as an Iraqi Special Forces Brigade Training Chief during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a civilian, Niblett worked in engineering and financial jobs, and eventually began working at Prudential Insurance Company of America, where he still works today as an associate/project manager. Prudential also offered Niblett a way to give back to his fellow veterans by assisting the company in hiring military veterans, and by taking a leadership role in Prudential’s Veterans Network (VetNet).
“I am actively involved with the Prudential Roseland Veterans Network (VetNet),” said NIblet. “I have organized numerous events for the disabled veterans at the Lyons Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. I get a lot out of giving back to veterans in need. The military was good to me, and I wish to give back to veterans when I can.”
Also currently the VFW Post Commander at Netcong and the VFW District 10 Commander in Morris County, Niblett often participates in activities to help out veterans and the community, including assisting Hurricane Florence veterans in North Carolina in a New Jersey statewide effort to collect and deliver relief supplies to hurricane victims.
This Veterans Day, Niblett says he’ll be spending time with his wife and fellow members of the VFW Post at Netcong for a lunch celebrating and recognizing those veterans who so bravely and selflessly served their country.
First Lieutenant (Ret.) Sara Vasso (U.S. Army)
“I grew up in a small town in Northern Iowa, and it was a fairly sheltered and homogenous upbringing,” she said. “Getting out into the world – working and living with people from all kinds of backgrounds – as well as two years living in Germany and seven months in the Middle East, has profoundly changed me.”
Enlisting in the Army while she was studying at the University of Iowa, Vasso served for a total of 12 years—two on active duty and then 10 years in the Army Reserves. Reaching the rank of sergeant, Vasso served seven months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Desert Storm. After completing nursing school, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and was a first lieutenant by the time she retired.
Military life isn’t something new to Vasso’s life, however. She comes from a military family and, as a matter of fact, she is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“My great, great grandfather was in the Civil War, my great grandfather was in WWI, my grandfather was in WWII, and my father served during the Korean War,” she said. “They all inspired me to join. Both of my brothers served in the U.S. Army as well.”
With such a long line of veterans in her family, it’s no wonder that Vasso is a member of organizations like the VFW, and is an active member of the Wharton Post 91 of the American Legion along with her husband, Amery. As a member of these organizations, she participates in outreach programs aimed at supporting veterans and the community as a whole.
Even though she did get to travel as she hoped for when she enlisted, Vasso says that she got much more from the experience: life lessons, life-long friendships, awareness and a love for country.
“[In the military] you learn so much, and it teaches you life skills that I believe you can’t get anywhere else,” she explained. “You will develop the most amazing friendships. I am still friends with people I served with 25 years ago, and we will always have a special bond. Your eyes will be opened to the world beyond your immediate environment. You will expand your outlook on life. Seeing how other people live in different parts of the world brought me a greater sense of understanding, tolerance and, most of all, love of America.”
First Sergeant (Ret.) Amery Vasso (U.S. Army)
For Amery Vasso, the decision to enlist in the Army was at first a financial decision. He joined the armed forces in order to fund his college education. In retrospect, however, Vasso says that deep down he always wanted to be a soldier—perhaps to follow in the footsteps of his father who served in the Navy during World War II and both of his grandfathers who served in the Army and Navy during World War I.
“I think I had always wanted to serve in the military, and the college money is really not a reason to join, as the commitment to military service is so much deeper than any financial incentive,” Vasso said.
Vasso served in leadership positions in combat arms units, which spanned from 12 to as much as 800 soldiers at times. Attaining the title of first sergeant, he served across the United States as well as Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq.
“My role was the professional development of soldiers and to ensure the combat readiness of the units I was assigned to,” he explained.
After retiring in 2007, Vasso worked for the Department of the Army, and later in the insurance industry. Although he bid farewell to his days of active duty, Vasso has not forgotten his fellow soldiers, and as the Morris County Commander for the American Legion, he represents 22 posts throughout the county assisting in providing a common and united voice on issues important to Morris County veterans. He also works with adjacent counties to support one another in broader issues important to Northern New Jersey. Other organizations he is a member of include Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETs and the All Veterans Alliance in Mt. Olive for which he holds supportive events for veterans.
“[We hold] outreach activities for veterans, children and youth as well as services to honor and remember all veterans,” Vasso said. “And, raise funds and donate to charitable organizations serving veterans and youth.”
Another way in which Vasso honors veterans and soldiers throughout history is by participating in re-enactments.
“I enjoy history and my involvement in re-enacting is to provide some insight and knowledge to the public of the history of New Jersey Civil War regiments,” he explained, adding, “We provide living history programs throughout New Jersey, including schools. I have participated in numerous re-enactments—the most notables being [the Battles of] Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.”
This Veterans Day, catch Amery and Sara where they have been for the past few years: marching at the New York City Veterans Day Parade.