Sunday, October 07, 2007

Army SSgt. Joshua Holden

Remember Our Heroes

Army SSgt. Joshua Holden, 29, Tucson, Arizona.

Leukemia fells hard-charging Tucson Marine
By Aaron Mackey
Arizona Daily Star

National Guard Staff Sgt. Joshua Holden wouldn't run from a fight, whether it was in Iraq or back at home after his body became a battleground for an extremely rare blood disease and leukemia.

The Marine, who as a reservist deployed to Iraq and later joined the Guard to deploy a second time, provided security along a 90-mile fuel line in Iraq and taught his comrades advanced survival skills.

But eventually the fight against his own body became too much, as the disease, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, or PNH, led Holden to develop leukemia. He died Sunday from complications related to the leukemia and PNH. He was 29.

Holden was known for his hard-charging work ethic and upbeat attitude. Friends and relatives said he never took time for self-pity, instead devoting the last year and a half of his life to educating others about the blood disease.

The attitude was as ingrained in Holden as his offbeat sense of humor, said Ian Cruikshank, a former Marine reservist who grew up with Holden before both deployed to Iraq.

"That's one thing he told me that the Marine Corps taught to him — you take life's hits, and you keep working with what you have," Cruikshank said.

"He fought it — he certainly would not be the type to cry and moan."

The consummate perfectionist, Holden was dedicated to mastering anything he tried and wasn't satisfied until he could turn around and teach the skill to others, whether it was assembling a machine gun, building a car-audio speaker housing or executing ballroom dance moves.

"He was always learning something new and getting to the point where he could teach you how to do it," Cruikshank said.

"He was somebody you could count on to do anything that was required," said Holden's older brother, James. "He wasn't somebody who would shy away from a responsibility or a task, regardless of the size of it."

Born in Japan to Patrick and Donna Holden while his father served in the U.S. Air Force, Holden grew up in Tucson.

After graduating from Sahuaro High School, Holden followed in his brother's footsteps, enlisting in the Marines in October 1997.

Eager to serve, Holden tried to get deployed after the Sept. 11 attacks, his brother said.

Later, when he learned that Cruikshank's Tucson-based Marine Reserve unit was going to be deployed to Iraq, he asked for transfer into the unit.

"He signed up basically to look after me," Cruikshank said. "We've been best friends since junior high."

Holden was one of several active Marines to transfer into Bulk Fuel Company Alpha to provide security. The unit deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and helped build a 90-mile temporary fuel line during the invasion.

Immediately after joining the unit, Holden asserted himself and tried to ready the Marines for war, Cruikshank said.

"We didn't really have too much time to do a low crawl on the sand, feeling for land mine triggers," Cruikshank said. "He retrained everybody in a lot of the fundamentals that suddenly we needed."

Once in Iraq, Holden did his best to maintain the unit's high level of training, though he instigated plenty of small pranks to help pass the time.

One time, Holden took a pair of pantyhose — used by soldiers to avoid bug bites — and strung wire inside them to form rabbit ears. He then wore the rabbit ears around, Cruikshank said.

"We spent a lot of time trying to get on our staff sergeant's nerves," Cruikshank said. "He did anything he could to relieve boredom."

Holden returned to Tucson with his unit in June 2003 and began taking classes at Pima Community College. He later got into ballroom dancing and became good enough to be an instructor.

In 2004, Holden enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, looking for a career. After he was told the Marines were seeking volunteers to return to Iraq, Holden tried to get back into the Corps, his brother said.

But Guard officials told him he could deploy with them, and in July 2005 he was mobilized with the security forces of the 1-180th Field Artillery unit, based in Mesa.

Holden served with the unit on active duty until his death, Maj. Paul Aguirre, spokesman for the Arizona National Guard, said in an e-mail.

In Iraq, Holden helped transport inmates from jails to the courts, his brother said.
The first signs of health problems came in October 2006, as Holden was competing in a unit fitness test to see who was the strongest soldier.

While doing push-ups, he began breathing heavily. Later, he felt weak and grew extremely ill.

Officials brought Holden back to the United States, where he was diagnosed with PNH.
The disease, caused by mutations of blood stem cells, can lead to a weakened immune system, said Dr. Andrew Yeager, director of the blood and marrow-transplant program at the University of Arizona's Cancer Center.

PNH, which affects roughly 10,000 Americans, can be cured by a bone marrow transplant.

Eventually, a donor was found for Holden and a transplant arranged, but complications began to weaken his health, his brother said.

In Holden's case, the disease opened the door for the leukemia, a blood cancer that also can be cured by a bone marrow transplant, said Yeager, who treated Holden.
Despite the setbacks, Holden remained upbeat. He spent his days visiting local schools and talking to the media, trying to raise awareness of PNH and the need for bone marrow donors.

"He didn't view it as taking away hope," his brother said. "He viewed it as it wasn't an option so it really didn't matter, so he was just going to deal with it."
Eventually, he needed a ventilator to breathe, though he still remained positive.
Discussing the possibility of death, Holden told his brother that he was grateful he got to come home and see his family, unlike troops killed in combat.

"Even if he didn't make it, he felt lucky that he got to do the service that he wanted to do, and when all was said and done, he got to come home and say good-bye to his friends and family," his brother said.


Anonymous said...

I miss you, my friend.


Anonymous said...

I was searching internet, thinking that he was still alive. I am sadden by the fact he passed away. I remember when I was a freshman in High School, he took pity on me and invited me out to the County Fair. Rest well......

SGT Agront

Anonymous said...

I served with Josh in Iraq in 03. He was one of the funniest Marines I ever met. He used to make fun of all the Warrant Officers walking around calling each other "Gunner". Being a Marine's Marine, we thought it ironic that he was also a ballroom dance instructor. He was true Renaissance man. At his funeral, I saw my old college roommate Robert, who was also in the Guard. When I asked him what he was doing here, he advised he had been Josh's Platoon Leader in the Guard. We traded stories of Josh and couldn't believe what a small world it was. Josh you will always be remembered by those you met, no matter how brief.

C. Wonder