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U.S. Marines

Rob Sproston in his Marine uniform. Photo from Rob Sproston

“If you’re willing to put yourself and your dreams on the line, at the very least you’ll discover an inner strength you may have not known existed.” — Kurt Warner, Super Bowl quarterback and Hall of Famer

These words from this noted athlete who lived through a life of adversity, also identify the strength, character, humanity and resiliency of Baiting Hollow resident Robert “Rob” Sproston. 

On March 31, 2020, Riverhead police officer Sproston was responding to a domestic incident of a young woman who was assaulted by her boyfriend with a knife. Her car was then stolen by the man.  

On his way to the Baiting Hollow Country Club, Sproston was picking up lunch for the officers working on Main Street within the heart of Riverhead. As he was heading north on Osborn Avenue, not too far from Youngs Avenue, he heard the call of this developing incident, where the stolen car was heading westward toward his direction.

As the officer was trying to figure out the situation from the information that was being reported on his radio and preparing to be in pursuit of the subject, his life would forever be changed. Driving at a high speed with his sirens blasting and lights flashing, Sproston was trying to do his job in handling this delicate situation.  

Rocky Point High School graduates, Matt Staker, Rob Sproston and Anthony Montalbano. Photo from Rob Sproston

As he headed up Osborn Avenue, another driver made a left onto Youngs Avenue, and he tried to move his police vehicle around the car.  

Making the left, the driver drove directly into Sproston’s car, and the officer crashed into a chain-link fence. A pole shot through his windshield, hitting him through his face. Horribly injured in his car, the officer was near death before the first responders made it to the scene. 

The life that Sproston led before the crash helped him prepare for this life-altering moment. As a young man, this “all-American kid” was always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude. He was an active member of the Rocky Point Fire Department, played several years of varsity lacrosse on the Rocky Point High School team, and is a proud alumnus of the Class of 2010.  

During his youthful years, Sproston enjoyed riding his quad with his friends within the powerlines behind the McDonald’s in Rocky Point. And he understood the practice of hard work through the intricacies of installing residential roofs with his father Billy.

In 2014, Rob Sproston began his career path by entering the Suffolk County Police Academy at the Grant Campus of Suffolk Community College in Brentwood. After graduation, he was hired as a part-time police officer for the Town of Riverhead.  

Right away, he learned about the makeup of the community and believed that it was a good experience toward his professional growth within the field of law enforcement. While Sproston was not yet a full-time officer, he was thankful to gain this experience to work with the police, and to learn about the various challenges of this difficult job.

In 2016, with the prospect of being a full-time officer, he always wanted to serve this country and entered the United States Marine Corps.  

As a 22-year-old, he was an older recruit who understood the importance of getting through the difficulties of military training for each day. Always a positive figure, he worked well with the other recruits to make it through their daily routines at Parris Island, South Carolina. 

Sproston always believed that if you did not “embrace the suck,” that it would be difficult to make it through the hardships of training and the discipline of the Marines.  

After he completed this training, Sproston was sent to Camp Geiger, North Carolina, where he learned how to become proficient within infantry training, weapons and tactics. Currently, he is with the Marine Corps Forces Reserve in Garden City, where he serves in an infantry sniper platoon, spends time in the field and enjoys the camaraderie of being in the military.  

While he is proud of his time in the Marines, Sproston is glad to be serving closer to home, to be near his job, friends and family.

Before joining the service, he took the police exam to gain a permanent full-time position within a Suffolk County law enforcement department. He was eventually placed on a lottery and picked by the Riverhead Police Department in 2017.  

Always willing to serve his nation and community, he was extremely pleased to be in uniform through the police and military. As a regular officer, Sproston patrolled the busy traffic and commercial areas of Route 58. This assignment offered him the chance to gain important knowledge of the local citizens, and the types of crimes that are common within this part of Riverhead.  

And so on the day of the crash in March 2020, this police officer was near death, and right away the local fire department was dispatched to respond and provide aid. Service runs deep through the Sproston family, as his father Billy was one of the local fire and emergency support that arrived on this call.  

At this point, his father did not know that his son was the officer in the wrecked vehicle as he approached this scene. Senior fire officials tried to keep his father away as they prepared to move him to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.  

Rob Sproston’s face was practically ripped apart from the crash and he lost two pints of blood. He was stabilized at Peconic Bay and was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he received major surgery and treatment toward the reconstruction of his face. For two weeks, he was in an induced coma. His father was at his side during this entire ordeal.

Rob Sproston in his Marine uniform. Photo from Rob Sproston

Speaking about these harrowing events, the son was completely reserved as he identified this near-death incident and his amazing recovery.  

This young man still has minor nose-and-mouth surgery ahead, but his iron spirit completely demonstrates his unyielding resolve to continue a normal life. 

Always an active citizen to help his community through the police and to defend our nation within the Marine Corps, Sproston has overcome several obstacles to return to duty. His professional and personal goal was achieved on July 1, 2021, when he was cleared by the police department to return to limited duty. He is looking forward to getting back into a sector car to be in the field.  

Outside of the police, Sproston has resumed his life by working out in the gym and being cleared by a Navy doctor to return back to his infantry platoon. He is looking forward to the challenge of attending sniper school and being around his fellow Marines — always flashing a big smile.

Longtime Rocky Point High School social studies teacher and coach, Christopher Nentwich, said it best about Sproston’s positive qualities: “He was an ‘old-school’ student who was loyal, dedicated, hardworking and with a great sense of humor. I recommended Rob to several members of the police department and believed that he would be an outstanding addition to serve and protect the community of Riverhead.”

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Photo by Andrew Harris

 

By Andrew Harris

As soon as Comsewoge High School Students and Staff found out that Michael Abatiello, class of 2021, graduated from his Marine boot camp last week, they excitedly reached out to him. 

When he came back to the high school students and staff cheered and presented him with gifts that students fundraised for our Comsewogue Active Warrior Network.

“It is a priority for us to stay connected to our military graduates serving all over the world,” said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools. 

Teacher Katy Dornicik agreed, and was happy that Michael was able to visit and be recognized by his peers.

“Michael always had one vision and would do anything in his power to make his dream become a reality,” she said. “Since 7th grade, he had his mind set on becoming a Marine. His work ethic and desire to succeed made it all happen. I am so proud of him.”

Students and administration will continue to honor any Comsewogue graduate (or their family if they are not able to be there) who are active in the  military at the club and craft fair at the high school on Saturday, Dec. 11 at noon.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.

Above, Harbor Country Day students and staff, along with two U.S. Marines, stand in front of a truck filled with Toys for Tots donations. Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School

On Dec. 14, United States Marines from the Sixth Communications Battalion, Alpha Company, in Farmingdale, visited Harbor Country Day School in St. James to collect thousands of toys donated to the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program. In addition to collecting donated toys from its own students, Harbor Country Day also served as a drop-off location for the surrounding community.

Harbor Country Day has contributed to the Toys for Tots drive since 1998, when former Harbor employee Mike Guido instituted the program. Now retired from the school, Guido directs the delivery of toys from various sites throughout Smithtown to Harbor Country Day and other drop-off locations. The John W. Cooke V.F.W. Post 395 of St. James, of which Guido is a member, also contributed funds, which were used to purchase toys for the drive.

“We are honored to play a part in the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program,” said John Cissel, head of school for Harbor Country Day School. “During this time of year, when our lives are exceptionally busy and hectic, we cherish the opportunity to slow down a bit and remind our students about the importance of ‘stepping outside of ourselves’ and helping others in need. The Toys for Tots program is a perfect opportunity to do that and, at the same time, to make a valuable contribution to our surrounding community.”

Phil Tepe, Paul Kelly and Fred Amore, members of the Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, and Supervisor Frank Petrone unveil names at the Vietnam memorial wall on June 11. Photo from A.J. Carter

Huntington Town has added 378 names to its Vietnam War memorial, and unveiled tribute plaques on June 11 as part of a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict and the half-century that has passed since it began.

Almost 3 million Americans served in the military during the Vietnam War between March 1965 and April 1975, and more than 58,000 died in the conflict.

The town kicked off the day with a breakfast that served veterans, their families and supporters and included musical performances as well as a keynote address from Huntington native Frank Libutti, a retired U.S. Marine corps lieutenant general. He spoke about his service and experiences as a platoon commander in Vietnam. During the breakfast, according to a town press release, the names of the 49 Huntington residents who were killed in that war were read aloud.

Later, people gathered at Veterans Plaza in front of Town Hall for a ceremony dedicating the plaques with the 378 new names at the Vietnam memorial wall. The town said there are now 1,540 names at that memorial, which was erected in 2003 and includes names of Vietnam War-era veterans who live or have lived in the town.

The Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board was named an official Vietnam War commemorative partner, as part of an initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the war’s beginning, and the local event was listed on the national website for the program.

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Sound Beach residents observed Memorial Day and remembered the men and women lost at war on Monday. The Sound Beach Civic Association led a service at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park in honor of their neighbors — William Binder, World War II; Stewart Carroll, World War II; Joseph DeGrennaro, Vietnam; Bruce Kerndl, Vietnam; Charles Prchal, Vietnam; Kerry Hein, Desert Storm; and Peter Hahn, Iraq — who died in the line of duty. Veterans and those still serving were also honored.

By Chris Setter

The Northport community held its annual Memorial Day parade and remembrance ceremony on Monday, May 25. The American Legion Post 694 of Northport hosted the event, which included participants from Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school cadets, World War II veterans and more.

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Middle Country Road in Centereach was decked out in red, white and blue on Sunday in honor of Memorial Day. Hundreds watched the vintage cars, marching bands, bagpipers, motorcycles, scouts and military and fire trucks at the hamlet’s Memorial Day parade, which was organized by the Centereach Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4927.

Residents across Three Village in East Setauket, Stony Brook and beyond stopped on Monday to honor the memories of our nation’s heroes as their respective Memorial Day parades stepped off.

Groups representing various facets of the community came out in full force to march in the parade before somber ceremonies stopped to say thanks to those who dedicated their lives to military service.

The American Legion Riders from Greenlawn ride in the 2015 Memorial Day parade and honor a fallen soldier. Photo by Dan Woulfin
The Huntington Fire Department rides in the 2015 Memorial Day parade. Photo by Dan Woulfin
The Huntington Fire Department rides in the 2015 Memorial Day parade. Photo by Dan Woulfin

By Dan Woulfin

Huntington held its annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 25, and residents from all around watched their local veterans march down the street in honor of the American men and women of the armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, laying down their lives for freedom.

Firefighters, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and marching bands from local high schools and middle schools also marched in the parade alongside the veterans.

Police Officer Lance Prager with his son Joshua. Photo from Lance Prager

Suffolk County Police Officer Lance Prager, who also serves in the Army National Guard, will be hosting a charity event Saturday, where 93 percent of the proceeds go towards helping veterans.

Prager, 49, a father of three, is a retired chief warrant officer for the United States Marine Corps and has served three tours in Iraq. The current Suffolk County SWAT officer has a love for his country and the people who serve it, and is holding the event to help those in need.

The event will take place May 23 at the Checkmate Inn in East Setauket from noon to 5 p.m. There is a $20 donation at the door that includes two free beers, a free barbecue and a live band. There will also be 50/50 raffles and other prizes.

The money raised will go to the Semper Fi Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit set up to provide immediate financial support to post-Sept. 11 injured and critically ill members of the United States armed forces and their families. The group provides relief for financial needs that arise during hospitalization and recovery as well as assistance for those with perpetual needs.

“I’m so proud and honored to be associated with them,” Prager said.

The fund provides support for service members and their families, specialized and adaptive equipment, adaptive housing, transportation, education assistance, posttraumatic stress support and more. Since the fund began in 2003, it has raised millions of dollars to help thousands of wounded service members.

Veterans hold a special place in Prager’s heart. He took numerous leaves of absences from the police department to serve his country during the Iraq war.

In addition to the event he hosts annually, the service member also runs marathons to help raise money for the cause. This year he will run his sixth Marine Corps Marathon along with his 16-year-old son Joshua, who is running his first.

To learn more or to donate to the fund, visit www.Semperfifund.org.