Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely, 23, of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sgt Stokely died in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, 48th Brigade Combat Team, Griffin, Georgia.

Robert Stokely told his son, Michael, to ask himself two questions before joining the Georgia Army National Guard.

“Are you prepared to kill?” the father recalled Wednesday. “And are you prepared to be killed?”

Michael Stokely, 23, was killed after stepping on an explosive device a few miles south of Baghdad.

That was in 2000, when the Loganville High School student on the verge of 18 was considering the military.

Michael Stokely joined the guard and in May went to Kuwait on his way to Iraq. Tuesday morning, Stokely’s family learned the 23-year-old was killed after stepping on an explosive device a few miles south of Baghdad.

He was one of four Georgia soldiers in the guard’s 48th Brigade Combat Team to die this week in Iraq.

Three others were killed Monday when their vehicle overturned into a canal during combat operations. Sgt. Thomas Strickland, 27, of Douglasville; Spc. Joshua Dingler, 19, of Hiram; and Sgt. Paul Saylor, 21, of Bremen were assigned to 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment at the time of their deaths.

Stokely’s death brought to 16 the number of fatalities suffered by the 48th since it arrived in Iraq in early June; 15 of them since July 24.

Spc. Michael Stokely was awarded a posthumous promotion to sergeant, according to Ron Morton, an Army spokesman.

“He was just an awesome guy,” said his mother, Melissa Gardner, who lives in Oxford with Stokely’s stepfather, William Gardner.

Robert Stokely, the Coweta County solicitor, described his son as “soft-spoken and quiet but talkative — if that makes sense.

“I think popular would be an understatement,” he continued. “There are politicians who would pay good money to have his popularity.”

Michael Stokely played soccer in high school but his real interest was the military —“the structure, the camaraderie, the sense of purpose,” his father said.

“He wanted to serve,” Robert Stokely said.

During a 10-day leave in May, just a month after his final birthday, Stokely married his sweetheart since high school, the former Niki Yancey.

Melissa Gardner said her son had talked about joining the armed forces ever since middle school. His stepfather had been a Marine, and a grandfather and an uncle had served in the Air Force.

She last talked to her son Aug. 8 by phone.

“He wanted to know about friends, relatives and the weather.

“He would always say, ‘Mom, I’m fine. Everything’s fine,’ ” Gardner recalled.

Justin Oulton, Stokely’s best friend, laughed about how they met.

“Our first meeting started in a fight,” he said. The two were playing soccer and “he got frustrated and threw me down.”

But the anger didn’t last. “We just got it out of the way,” Oulton said.

Before Stokely’s marriage, he and Oulton shared a farmhouse in the Conyers area for about 18 months to save money. They worked at Hills Ace Hardware in Loganville and waited tables.

Oulton said Stokely was uncomplicated. He liked to play with his dogs, a pit bull and German shorthair pointer.

The two talked several times when Stokely was in Iraq. The young soldier described his duty as “hangin’ out in the desert.”

Oulton learned of his friend’s death Tuesday night. His parents made an excuse to come by and told him. His father had heard the news on the radio.

“I fell apart for a little while,” Oulton said.

Stokely had mentioned the possibility of dying while serving his country.

“He had said before, if he had to go, that was the way he would want to do it,” Oulton said. “He loved what he did. He thought he was doing a good thing over there.”

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely was killed in action on 08/16/05.

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