>> Wednesday, August 17, 2011
We are coming up on two weeks since we've lost an honored member of our Battalion. This week is going to be the hardest, ending with the Memorial Service on Friday here in Colorado.
But our Battalion in Afghanistan mourned as well. They conducted their own ceremony - poignant and full of tradition in it's own way. One of the soldiers attending the memorial shared with us a glimpse of this service and I now share it with you. Please note 1) in keeping with OPSEC, some things have been blacked out and 2) this memorial was just for the aviation crew on board that Chinook.
The crew of CH-47D 89-00175 call sign Extortion 17 were men that I was honored to have worked with here in Afghanistan. Just a few hours ago at 0630 this morning we were able to have a small memorial here on the FOB honoring them.
The ceremony was held at the XXXXXXX Headquarters Flag Pole. The flag stood at half mast as three staggered formations of solders were individually called ...to attention and then to parade rest. Around the sides of the small gathering stood a few hundred soldiers, all in their own micro formations. These small formations happened without any orders to do so. You see, every heart here was centered on giving every ounce of respect to these men whom they quite sincerely call brothers. Every bit of order and decency seemed to automatically happen without anyone choreographing it. Truly a beautiful sight to behold.
The three main formations consisted of the three companies of XXXXXX. In the middle and closest to the Flag was Bravo Company. It was from B Co that these hero's came from. B Co is made up of two National Guard units, one from Kansas and the other from Colorado. Both units lost their brothers on that fateful August 6th.
Directly in front of me was standing (at parade rest) a Staff Sergeant that was holding in his hand, behind his back, a rosary. Through the entire ceremony I noted him taking long drawn breaths and continuously and methodically moving his fingers over each bead in that rosary. I wish I was able to capture that on film as it was truly moving for me to see.
Amongst the micro formations surrounding the ceremony were formations of Czech Soldiers, Jordanian Soldiers and Afghan Soldiers. They too were all standing in properly arranged formations out of genuine respect.
The Ceremony began with the Chaplain giving a prayer and asking God to help heal the brokenhearted. It was a beautiful opening and already many in attendance were beginning to shed tears. Following his prayer the three main formations were called to attention. They then were called to render a salute with "Present Arms!" This salute was mirrored by every person in uniform in attendance, to include the Czech, Jordanians, and Afghans. It was held in place while our National Anthem was played. This is where MY tears began.
After the National Anthem was played the Task Force Commander gave a brief speech. He spoke about how these men spent their careers honoring every facet of the Army Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. He gave examples of how each one of these men lived up to those values individually. They truly set the example in their daily lives and were indeed some of America's finest.
Following the Task Force Commander was B Co's Commander. Through a broken voice and tears streaming down his face he spoke of each of these men individually. Not just as solders, but as Fathers, sons, siblings, husbands, and to him personally.... friends. One such story he told was of the tattoo that CW4 Carter (the Co-pilot) had on his arm. It was a poem that said the following:
When I get to Heaven
To St. Peter I will tell
"Here I am reporting, sir!
I've spent my time in hell."
My heart crumbled when I heard those words, as I could honestly see him doing just that.
After B Co's Commander finished he was followed by five soldiers one at a time. Each one of them were the closest friends of each of the individual hero's. They shared stories of great times together, of how these men inspired them, and brought each of their unique personalities to brighten even the darkest of days. These stories were personal, so I am not going to share them here. They were meant for the friends and brothers in arms that served with these guys.
After these men shared their personal stories of their friends, no, BROTHERS, the Chaplain returned to give a brief sermon out of Psalms 62. Encouraging the soldiers there to seek strength from God, from each other, and from their families. The fight here is long from over.
Next was, and always is the most powerfully moving part of any Military Memorial for me personally. The roll call then 21 gun salute and the playing of taps.
For those of you that have never attended a Military Memorial the Roll Call is a tradition that goes way back to our beginning as an Army. You see, every day when you have the first formation of the day, it is for accountability. It's how NCO's and Commanders ensure they have all their guys accounted for. The Roll Call at a memorial service is conducted by an Officer or NCO calling out the names of their men. When the names are called Soldiers respond with "HERE Sergeant!!" When the NCO gets to the name of one of their soldiers lost, they wait for a response. Silence never sounds so loud or feels so heavy in that moment. They repeat the Soldiers rank, first name, and last name, and wait.....again.....silence.
They then call out the soldiers rank, first name, middle initial, and last name one last time, as everybody longs to hear that "HERE Sergeant!". It never comes.
In that last moment of silence you faintly hear in the rear a NCO say "Ready, Fire." BANG! "Ready, Fire." BANG! "Ready, Fire." BANG! Then the bugle begins playing taps.
I will freely admit by the time the Roll Call has begun, my eyes are misty. When that first volley of of the 21 Gun Salute sounds off I jump hard. Every time. I know it's coming but it still hits me like a ton of bricks. That is when the tears freely fall from my eyes. Taps has to be the most painfully moving sound for me to hear. It seems to never end as the litany of faces of friends and comrades I have lost appear in my minds eye one, by one, by one.
Never Forgotten my brothers, never forgotten.
Immediately after Taps a beautiful thing happens that is uniquely Aviation. Four Helicopters flying in diamond formation conduct a fly over. This was done with an Apache flanked by two Blackhawks, and followed by a Chinook. When the formation got directly overhead the Chinook broke hard high and to the right. This symbolizes the accent into the heavens as it leaves the rest of it's formation. Stunning, moving, powerful, beautiful.
The next was the leaders of each of the military's present stepping up to the display in the picture posted and rendering their honors with a salute, a gift, and a moment of silence, before turning and paying respect to the close friends that spoke earlier in the ceremony. That concludes the official ceremony.
Still, the soldiers of XXXXXX are not finished. They form a line and one by one go up to the display and render their own personal respects.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother!"
My friends of the Campfire, allow me to present my brothers in arms who gave their lives in duty so that we me may cherish the very freedoms we enjoy every day.
CW2 Brian Nichols - Pilot in Command.
CW4 David R. Carter - Pilot
SGT. Patrick "Hamby" Hamburger - Flight Engineer
SPC Alexander Bennet - Flight Engineer
SPC Spencer "Dunk" Duncan - Crew Chief
May They Rest in Eternal Peace.