Late last month, Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Angelique Williams finished an eight month deployment as part of a Customs' mission. On Thursday at the annual Veterans Day Parade, she stood amongst fellow veterans, most of whom served three decades before her.
Williams, who is 33, calls Wainscott her home. Her mother, Nancy Walker, whose family has strong roots in the community, lives here. On leave, Williams stays here amongst a large family and many friends.
She had only planned to attend the parade. At other veterans' insistence, Williams, in her desert camouflage uniform, fell in line -- the only woman amongst them. Readjusting to life off Camp Arifjan in Kuwait has proven difficult, she said.
"Everybody's life went on. Even though mine continued, it stopped at a certain point," said Williams on Wednesday morning. Friends find it a bit more difficult to talk to her about everyday life. Phone calls have become less frequent. Though she has been deployed twice before, this was her first since Sept. 11.
"I think this time for me is different. I lost a lot more people."
In three months time, she grieved seven soldiers she called friends. She took the death of Army Sgt. Faith R. Hinkley of Monte Vista, Colo., the hardest. Hinkley was killed during an air raid attack in Iskandariya, Iraq on Aug. 7, 2010. She was 23.
In an 11th hour ceremony at the American Legion after the parade, Williams' tears flowed during Taps. Hinkley and others were weighing on her thoughts. Less than a month home from war, the tough, statuesque sailor said, "I don't think I'm here yet."
Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1997 after realizing she needed to make a change in her life -- fast. Originally from the Brentwood and Central Islip area, her family eventually moved to Tallmadge, Ohio, where she fell in with gangs. "I put my mom through hell. My parents put me out. There were times I was homeless, sleeping in cars, wherever I could. Who wanted to do that for the rest of their life?"
"I woke up on the floor of somebody's house, the house was in shambles, and I couldn't believe I was living like that," she remembered. "I picked up the phone, looking through the phone-book, and called the Navy Recruiter."
It was in her father, Plinio Ruiz's native Puerto Rico that she first got the thought to join the Navy. "I was watching television with my grandmother, it was when all those ads were on to enlist in the Army, and I said, 'I want to join to the Army.' My grandmother said, 'No, I want you to join the Navy so you can see the water.'"
The recruiter was at the house by the afternoon. A high school drop-out, she went to night school to earn her diploma, a requirement to enlist in the Navy Reserves. In Dec. 1997, she was in boot-camp.
Her grandmother "passed away during my wild time, I wasn't the greatest kid," Williams said. "I know she died disappointed with me."
In 1999, she was deployed for six months in support of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Fox, spending times in the Middle East and Thailand. A second deployment soon followed for four months on the same ship she had previously been deployed on, the U.S.S. Rainier.
She remained on active duty until 2004. Curious about "civilian life," she spent two years as a reserve. "I didn't want to use the military as a crutch to get through life." However, she realized she missed the life more than she had expected. She's now a career sailor, though she will tell you she has seven years until retirement.
Her last deployment was with the Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group. While she was positioned at Camp Arifjan, the rest of her battalion was spread out between different locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
East Hampton veterans embraced her, though most didn't know she was local. They handed her applications for the legion and the VFW, hugged her when she cried, and shook her hand in thanks. Her response? "Thank you."