News Writing & Photography: Welcome Home, Soldier

This feature, published November 2014 and originally headlined, “Veteran Homecoming: Toms River Firefighter, Pfc. John D. Mount,” garnered widespread attention and included an exclusive interview with the serviceman and his father, the latter of whom was chief of the township fire company.

TOMS RIVER – Earlier this fall, the Riverside Signal received the honor of being asked to photograph the homecoming of Pfc. John D. Mount, a lifelong township resident, 2008 graduate of Toms River High School East and firefighter with Toms River Vol. Fire Company No. 1.

On the dusky evening of Friday, September 26th, Pfc. Mount was surprised with a welcome home that included multiple members and engines from companies within the Toms River Fire Department, members of the Toms River Police Department and American Legion Post 129 Motorcycle Riders awaiting his arrival at the Toms River Shopping Center near the Highland Parkway entrance.

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Following a joyous and tearful reunion with family members and friends, Pfc. Mount was escorted atop a vintage fire engine from Toms River Fire Company No. 1 to his home in the northern part of the township, but not before paying tribute to the memorial at Toms River High School North of Maj. James M. Weis USMC, a township resident who was killed in action in July 2010 while in Helmand Province, Afghanistan with our armed forces.

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Arriving home, the group was welcomed by dozens of neighbors carrying American flags, a large American flag hung from high on the back of a department apparatus, local boy scouts and more friends and family members who convened for a celebration at the Mount household.

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Toms River Vol. Fire Company No. 1 Chief John J. Mount, Jr., his father, had arranged the homecoming event and joined his son in speaking about their family and service both with the fire company and armed forces.

CHIEF MOUNT: Being born and raised here in Toms River, our family has always been active in the community. My father was a life member in the fire company, also member of various other organizations: Toms River First Aid, Rotary Club, Jaycees, and on the Dover Township Committee from 1964-70, where he served as mayor his last year.
I have been in the fire company going on 35 years, presently serving as fire chief for my 4th year. I have also coached my daughter’s soccer, basketball and softball teams over the years.

PFC. MOUNT: My father was in the fire service since before I was born and watching him with how involved he was in the community. Also, knowing that my grandfather and other family members had a long standing tradition of being firefighters and helping in the community. It was a must for me.

CHIEF MOUNT: John was always quiet growing up and never seemed to show a lot of interest in the fire service – it was not until he graduated high school that he decided to get involved, [but] once he did get involved he was hooked. Growing up I would take him with me on fire calls [and] he would sit in the car and watch. Once he joined he took his training very seriously.
When he was graduating from high school we always talked about three options after school: one, college; two, work; and three, the military. After about two years of trying options one and two, he decided all on his own for option three. I was a little shocked, at first, but extremely proud. I never served in the military but his grandfathers, great-grandfathers and his godfather did.

PFC. MOUNT: Many of my relatives served in the military [and] I felt I wanted to do my part to help out our country as they did.
One of my jobs prior to joining the military was working as a role player for a private contractor hired by the military at Fort Dix. We worked in makeshift Middle East Village and would play as villagers when the military would come in.
During that time I met several soldiers as well as prior service military personnel. These people as well as my family members influenced me to a point that I felt it was the right choice for me at the time.

CHIEF MOUNT: He was still in the fire academy for firefighter level 1 when he went to basic boot camp [and] was not able to take the final firefighter practical exam, so he could not graduate. When he came home on leave from boot camp he took time to take and pass the practical exam – his fellow classmates were such a tight group they tried to hold off their graduation until he was home on leave but was never able to do so because of the schedule.
When he would return home on leave, he couldn’t wait to respond on calls with us and me. A couple of years ago we had snow standby at the firehouse during his leave – he stayed with me at the firehouse for a night or two. Of course, the rest of the family wasn’t too happy, cause he was at the firehouse the entire time.

PFC. MOUNT: [Military life] was a change as the military has strict rules and guidelines. This helped me become more disciplined in my ways.

CHIEF MOUNT I believe the military has given him a lot of insight on life. The Army and his experiences have helped him mature faster and understand how things work in the real world outside of [his] parents’ home. The military has given him structure. I believe all these things will make him a better person to help in make a better decision on what he wants to do.

PFC. MOUNT: My time there made me realize how lucky we are to live in such a great country. The things they I have taken for granted prior to being deployed. The simple things of just being able to go where I want and when I want and not have to be afraid of stepping on an [Improvised Explosive Device (IED)] when you go out for a walk or drive.
It has helped me by helping me look at life and not take it for granted. Also to set goals for myself whether they be short or long range goals. My military experience has also helped me stay motivated to reach these goals.

CHIEF MOUNT: The fire service is similar to the military. There is structure and chain of command. There procedures/rules that have to be followed for the safety and welfare of all involved. In critical situations structure fires, extrications, [and] rescues, you depend upon your training to safely accomplish the task at hand. It also teaches you teamwork. The training he received in the fire service helped him have a foundation for the military and that he received from the military will only enhance his readiness when he returns home to the fire service.

PFC. MOUNT: I would tell [youths considering joining the military] to think carefully before they made this decision. There are many benefits in joining the military but it is also a life altering decision that they make.
I would just like to thank my family and friends for all the support they have shown me through the years that I have been in the service. Without their support I’m not sure if I would be able to get through many of the things I’ve been through. I would also like to thank the township of Toms River for their support and warm welcome upon my return home. I am very blessed to have been surrounded by so many wonderful people and my life and I am thankful for every single one of them.

After joining the Army in 2010, Pfc. Mount graduated from boot camp and was stationed in South Korea for a year before being transferred to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, from which he was deployed to Afghanistan in February of this year. While there he received his Combat Infantry Badge (CIB).

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