Share This Page

Family, friends gather to wish Salem woman well as she deploys to Afghanistan

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 12:06 a.m.
Samantha Malik of Salem Township gets a hug from Shanna Giles of Crabtree at a surprise send off for Malik, who is being deployed to Afghanistan, on December 9, 2012 in Salem Township. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Ladder trucks hold a flag over route 119 as the caravan escorting Samantha Malik to the Pennsylvania Turnpike rolls out during a surprise send off for Malik, who is being deployed to Afghanistan, on December 9, 2012 in Salem Township. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
National Guardsman Samantha Malik, 21, of Salem gets a hug on Sunday, December 9, 2012, from Canice Giles of Crabtree during a surprise send-off in New Alexandria for Malik, who is being deployed to Afghanistan. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

As her family drove toward Metzgar Elementary School in New Alexandria on Sunday, Samantha Malik's eyes grew wide and she grinned.

When the car pulled into the school's driveway, Malik barely had time to get out before family and friends pulled her into bear hugs.

Sgt. Malik, 21, of Salem was en route to Pittsburgh International Airport, heading to Fort Hood, Texas, after a four-day leave.

Days before Christmas, she and about 70 other members of the Company B 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, National Guard, will deploy to Afghanistan.

Malik thanked those who gathered on Sunday — many of whom were clutching send-off signs or waving American flags — to wish her well.

“This is the most overwhelming thing I could ever imagine could happen to me. I never expected all of my friends and family to be here. Thank you for coming out. It means so much to me. I love you all,” Malik said, tearing up.

“We love you back,” many in the crowd responded.

The gathering was a surprise for Malik and her father, New Alexandria fire Chief Ted Malik, said Sue Sterrett, borough activities committee chairwoman.

“Fire departments are very tight-knit. There were a lot of private messages on Facebook,” Sterrett said.

Malik's mother, Sandy, credited Randy Neiderhiser, her husband's co-worker at the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety, with coming up with the plan.

“I made a few phone calls, and it just blossomed,” Neiderhiser said.

The idea was to show Malik that her community is supporting her and to offer some emotional support to her family, including her brother Chris, Neiderhiser said.

A recent graduate of Westmoreland County Community College with an associate degree, Samantha Malik planned to join the National Guard on graduating from Chester County-based 21st Century Cyber Charter School in 2009.

She said at the time that her inspiration came from her grandfather, who served in the Navy during the Korean War.

Malik graduated from basic training and a course on helicopter repair, and she expects to deploy for the first time on Dec. 21.

Sandy Malik admitted having “mixed emotions” on Sunday.

“But I am thinking the sooner she goes, the sooner she comes home,” she said.

Malik's unit is expected to return in October.

Ted Malik said he was overwhelmed by the community's response.

“It's incredible. It leaves me speechless. How do you put into words how it makes you feel inside?” he said.

K.J. Florek, Samantha Malik's grandmother, expressed confidence in her granddaughter's abilities.

“‘Look out, Afghanistan' is what I say because she's Army strong. Trust me, she will get the job done and come back to us,” Florek said.

Fire trucks from numerous area communities participated in Sunday's event, and helicopters from Life-Flight and STAT MedEvac landed on the school lawn.

After many rounds of embraces and well wishes, the family piled back into the car and headed for a second surprise.

Just before the Route 819 intersection with Route 22, an American flag, raised by two fire truck ladders, provided a patriotic farewell.

As the family drove beneath the flag, a police car and fire truck escort joined them, delivering them safely to the Allegheny County line.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.