While it’s becoming less common for elected officials to have prior military service, it is extremely rare for a sitting official to be called to duty.
Valley Stream’s Vincent Grasso is the exception. The village Board of Trustees will be without his service at home when he departs this summer to serve his country abroad.
A lieutenant in the Navy Reserves, Grasso is being summoned to active duty to support the Afghanistan war effort. He is expected to leave sometime in July for a tour of duty that should last about 12 months. He has already served time in Iraq.
Grasso was appointed to the village board in January 2010 by then-Mayor Ed Cahill to fill a vacancy. He retained his seat as part of the United Community Party ticket that swept the March 2011 village elections, running alongside Mayor Ed Fare, Trustee Dermond Thomas and Judge Robert Bogle.
He said he has no plans to step down from the board in anticipation of his upcoming deployment. The village will function with a four-member board for some time, though that has not impeded village business in the past. The board was short a member following the death of Trustee Guido Cirenza in 2009, after Cahill’s death in 2010 and after Fare moved from trustee to mayor.
“I have the complete faith and confidence in my fellow board members,” Grasso said. “Their ability to steward the village is unquestioned.”
He noted that his grandmother received a single letter in six months while his grandfather was serving in the Pacific during World War II. With the technology that is available today, Fare said, Grasso will be able to remain an active part of village government while overseas. Although he won’t be able to cast votes, he will be able to share his input and remain a part of the discussion.
“His voice will always be heard,” Fare said. “I always enjoy his opinions.”
Fare added that while the two don’t always agree, they always manage to reach a compromise, and that is how the village board has functioned as a whole for several years. Because of that, Fare agrees that the board can function just fine while short one member. Grasso is one of two Democrats, along with Thomas, on the board.
Deputy Mayor John Tufarelli said the board has not yet openly discussed the impact of Grasso’s departure, but there is admiration among the trustees for their colleague. “Anybody that sacrifices for their country, God bless,” Tufarelli said. “That’s what the United States is all about.”
Grasso joined the Army Reserves in 1993 and the Navy Reserves in 2001. He served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006-07, where he was a member of Seal Team 5, working in intelligence support.
He explained that servicemen typically get a break from duty that is five times the length of their last deployment. Since he was in Iraq for eight months, he was entitled to a 40-month reprieve. Grasso knew that he would be recalled; the only question was when. “Since that time came and went, I’ve been at the edge of my seat waiting for a call,” he said. “As a military reservist, I’ve taken an oath that when my nation calls, I will answer.”
He said he doesn’t know what his exact assignment will be, but he will find out when he reports for training. The military campaign that has unfolded in Afghanistan since 2001, he said, has included the training of Afghan soldiers and police officers, building infrastructure and anti-terrorism missions.
He will leave behind his wife, Mary, and his 10-year-old daughter, Isabella. Grasso will also take a leave from his job as executive director of the Nassau County Bridge Authority, which oversees the Atlantic Beach Bridge.
Mary Grasso serves as an ombudsman for her husband’s unit, facilitating communication between the reservists and their families. “Obviously she’s concerned,” he said of his deployment, “but she supports me. My daughter, she’s a little more concerned but she’s holding up well.”
Grasso said his daughter understands the situation better now than when he first left for Iraq in 2006. He hopes to be back for her graduation from sixth grade at the William L. Buck School in June 2014.
Fare wishes his colleague much luck. “I’m extremely proud that he’s on our board and he’s serving our country,” Fare said. “Hopefully he comes back safe and sound.”