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Sugar Grove soldier comes home
SUGAR GROVE—The first thing Sgt. Melissa Castrovillo did on her return from Afghanistan earlier this month was pamper herself.
She’d spent the last nine months stationed as a military police officer somewhere in Afghanistan—exactly where is classified—and relaxation was hard to come by.
So she got a pedicure. She got her hair done. She bought a new car. She spent some time with her family. And she enjoyed a little bit of alone time.
“The most difficult part was being away from home,” Melissa said. “You start to appreciate all the privileges you have when you are home, like just getting in your car and going for a drive or having a cookout outside. You can’t do those simple things over there at all. It’s different when someone will do your hair for you and you can get pampered.”
Though she can’t talk much about what she did overseas—she’s been ordered not to reveal details of her deployment to civilians—she was part of the 933rd MP Company and assigned to Guard Force, a security team in charge of protecting the camp from insurgent attacks. She frequently pulled tower duty, stationed in one of the towers over the camp and scanning the area for potential threats.
“It’s trying to maintain your composure, but for the most part, it was okay,” she said.
One of the hardest things, she said, was being a woman in a mostly male camp.
“For the most part, my company was very supportive of women in the military, but you have other people you have to deal with when you arrive who treat you as if you are inferior,” she said. “They don’t believe you can do everything that a male can do. At times, you have to deal with the men looking at your physical attributes, but my company was very good about it.”
Melissa signed up for the National Guard during her sophomore year at Aurora University and has over two years remaining in her six-year commitment. She completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Aurora University in 2012, just before she was deployed.
“I wanted to do something to feel as though I was actually doing something for others,” she said. “I don’t regret it for a single day.”
Now that she’s back, she’s applying to graduate programs in forensic psychology. She said she hopes to attend the Chicago School of Psychology and eventually become a profiler for the FBI or another law enforcement agency.
It’s possible she’ll be called up again, but she thinks it’s unlikely.
“As it’s looking right now, we’re probably going to stay home. They try not to redeploy the same unit continuously,” she said. “They try to switch it up, and they are trying to withdraw from Afghanistan right now.”
That’s a relief to her parents, Mark and Debra Castrovillo, who have spent the last two years worried about Melissa and her brother, Matthew, who returned from his deployment in Afghanistan on Sept. 17 last year, one day before Melissa left to begin her tour of duty.
For the Castrovillos, that meant two years of sleepless nights spent worrying about one of their children.
“It was a long time not sleeping. When we went to bed at night, we knew our children were working in Afghanistan,” Mark said. “You were never in a deep sleep. You always knew that when you were in bed they were working.”
Though Mark is very proud of both his children—“You can’t be any more proud of the military,” he said—their deployment was tough on the family.
“When we look at the soldiers leaving, it’s very difficult for them,” he said. “But even for us as parents, it’s tumultuous. When I was up, Debbie was down; when I was down, Debbie was up. We never let ourselves get down together.”
Holidays were especially hard, Debra said.
“It was difficult to put up the Christmas tree without Melissa,” she said. “There was an emptiness you feel. There’s good moments, and then there are moments where you are thinking about them and are down. Even now that she’s home, it’s emotional to talk about.”
It was the support from the community that kept the family going.
There were people in Elburn who donated lotion to help soothe soldiers’ chapped hands, Girl Scouts who wrote letters and sent cookies to Melissa, and a little boy who saved all his Halloween candy and sent it to her. In Afghanistan, Melissa had a bulletin board covered in letters from Kaneland elementary students that she looked at every day.
“I had a few that were funny, and we looked for the funny ones to kind of cheer you up,” Melissa said. “It was nice to have a package in general. You’d hope it was from your family, and when you got one from the Girl Scouts or a grade school, it was nice to know that there were people at home waiting for you and wishing you a safe return.”
And there were the people who visited her parents, working to keep their spirits up as first Matthew and then Melissa went into a combat zone.
“The people who help you out behind the scenes are just amazing people,” Mark said.
That support was so important to the Castrovillos that they urge others to remember the soldiers who are still deployed.
“The one thing that will get you through your deployment is knowing that there’s people that care,” Melissa said. “It’s the one thing that will get you home. So if you do support the military, please show it.”