Military buddies reunite for holidays

Matt, Joey and Joel - who were best friends at Grand Haven High School - planned to join the military together after graduation. Instead, they went their separate ways. A few years later, by mere coincidence, they all moved back to Grand Haven and put their original plan into action.
Kelle Lynn
Dec 27, 2011

Over this holiday season, they were brought back together.

Specialist Matt Milligan, 25, joined the U.S. Army in January 2010 and is stationed at Fort Bliss at El Paso, Texas. On Dec. 12, he returned from spending 4-5 months in Iraq.

Milligan said he was told to expect to be there for one year until they got the news in November that all bases would be closing. The rest of his tour was spent helping to close bases down.

“For the most part, everyone was happy to leave Iraq and come home,” Milligan said. “The 10-year war is over.”

After completing the rest of his term — which ends July 8, 2013 — Milligan said he hopes to use his training and college education to find employment as a boat mechanic at a local marina.    

Joey Nadeau, 26, joined the U.S. Navy in May 2010 and is based at Naval Base San Diego. Nadeau, a hospital corpsman third class, said the training was similar to a paramedic and he currently works in the office doing medical administration.

Once he returns from his two-week leave, Nadeau said he may be deployed on the USS McCluskey in January for five or six months.

“I’m really looking forward to being on the ship,” he said. “One of the reasons I joined the Navy is to travel and see new places, which is a passion of mine. It’s been nice being home, spending time with family and friends since, I haven’t been back in a year.” 

Specialist Joel Gerencer, 24, joined the U.S. Army in September 2009 and is based at Fort Shaster, located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu next to Pearl Harbor. He works in the Intelligence Division as an interrogator.

Gerencer, his wife and two children are currently on an open-ended emergency family leave for his wife’s father, Tom Sobolik of Grand Haven. The holidays brought the special gift of being able to spend time with each other while they were home.

“It was surreal being in the same place at the same time with the guys,” Gerencer said.

Since joining the Navy, Nadeau has been able to stay in touch with Milligan and Gerencer via telephone or Facebook.

Tom Gerencer, the Grand Haven Township fire chief and Joel’s dad, said he was elated to have the whole family together for the holiday season.

“I can speak for all the parents — we’re so proud of all three boys,” the elder Gerencer said. “They spent so much time together growing up, it’s like having all three of our kids together at the same time for Christmas.”

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