Saturday, May 22, 2010

Army Pfc. Jason D. Fingar

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Jason D. Fingar, 24, of Columbia, Mo.

Pfc Fingar was assigned to 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; died May 22, 2010 in Durai, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his military vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

Pfc. Jason D. Fingar was in a caravan of armored vehicles in southwestern Afghanistan Saturday when his vehicle was struck by a bomb. Three soldiers made it out alive, but Fingar became the first soldier from Columbia to be killed during combat since Steve J. Fitzmorris’ death in August 2008.

Fingar enlisted Sept. 17, 2008, in St. Louis and received his initial training at Fort Knox, Ky. He was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

His brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July, and he was due to return in the coming weeks, friends said. Fingar was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Fifth Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division.

Martez Brown, 23, said he is a close friend of the Fingar family and worked with Jason at the Salvation Army and at a local restaurant.

He said Fingar loved to play guitar with the praise team at the Salvation Army, loved to read the Bible and loved the armored Stryker vehicle he rode in while on patrol in Afghanistan.

"Jason was one of those friends that was hard to come by," Brown said. "If you needed money, he'd front it for you and never ask for anything back." He "was one of those guys you want to see die old, not die like this, in a bomb crash."

On Pearl Avenue, where Fingar lived with his family before his deployment, several of his neighbors hung American flags to commemorate his sacrifice.

Danette Knedler, who lives across the street, said she saw the uniformed military personnel arrive to notify the family of the death on Saturday and has tried to offer quiet support since then.

She and others have brought over hot meals and that her grandson mowed the lawn over the weekend.

"We're just kind of doing what neighbors can do," she said. "It's just a sad, sad deal. It should never happen."

Knedler was told the family has now left town to retrieve the body.

On Sunday, at an emotional service at the Salvation Army chapel, Brown said dozens of people who don't typically attend church services came to share memories and grieve for the fallen soldier.

"They're taking it hard," Brown said of Fingar's many friends. "I've never seen so many people come to that church in my life."

According to military records, Fingar had been awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, and Driver and Mechanic Badge during his military career.
Fingar, 24, lived with his family in Columbia before enlisting in the Army in 2008. In early 2009, he was assigned to the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009, and was set to return home June 30.

Friends across the country expected to see Fingar soon, but are now mourning his death.

Shannon Forner, 31, lived in Washington and has been friends with Fingar for five years. She and Fingar became fast friends. By the time he was deployed, the two would talk on the phone up to two or three times a week. “He always had something sarcastic and silly to say,” Forner said. Fingar is the youngest of four siblings, three boys and a girl.

“They were three very mischievous and sarcastic brothers, but they did it out of love,” Forner said. “They were brothers, but they were friends.”

Forner said Fingar’s close relationship with his family, as well as his goofy personality, made him good with kids. Raven Gilles of the Pullyaup Valley Corps in Washington, also remembers Fingar's way with children.

“I could sense that he had a great compassion for kids,” Gilles said. “He was always a lot of fun to be with.”

Spc. Aaron Estabrook shared a barrack with Fingar during their initial training in Fort Knox, Ky. They both went to Fort Lewis, Wash., and served in Afghanistan. Estabrook remembered Fingar’s “contagious smile.” He said Fingar was positive and passionate, even while in Afghanistan.

Fingar’s determination made him an exceptional soldier, according to Estabrook. But Fingar's talents stretched beyond the military.

An avid musician, Fingar played the guitar and piano, plus brass instruments. He played in a Salvation Army church band while in Washington.

Spc. Corey Pham was a member of Fingar’s platoon. He said Fingar was always playing a band called Skillet, whose song “Hero" was his favorite.

Jason Poff, a Salvation Army pastor in Joplin and 10-year friend, said Fingar was like a big brother to his four young children, who have been “crushed” by his death.

Gilles said she was amazed how Fingar dealt with the dangerous Afghan environment every day.

Fingar had one or two close calls with roadside bombings, Forner said, to which she warned him to "please be careful."

Fingar would have received a specialist rank the first of June, Pham said. He had already received multiple awards and decorations for his service in the Army, including the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal and Driver and Mechanic Badge.

His friends described Fingar as a devoted Christian.

Poff said he and his wife talked with Fingar about why he joined the Army. “He said to us very plainly that he was determined to prove to us and to everybody that you could be a man of God and still fight for your country,” Poff said. “And that’s what he wanted to do, and he did it proudly.”

Pham said Fingar was in his platoon for a reason — to share God’s word with his fellow soldiers. “God’s will was done with Jason because any time anybody was in despair, he always had a way to motivate them and tell them how he overcomes everything,” Pham said.

Fingar’s death hit members of his platoon hard. Pham said they had never suffered a loss like this.

Poff, who will perform Fingar’s service, said he has tried to find answers for why Fingar died, but chooses to focus on his life.

“I’d rather look at how he lived,” Poff said. “He lived every day as an adventure and so the challenge for anybody that knew him is to honor him by the way we live. Don’t take any moment for granted.”

Forner said she is thankful for his faith. “I know that, even though it sounds cliche, he’s in a better place," she said.

Friends, family, and fellow servicemen formed an aisle along the tarmac, guiding the hearse toward a small, white airplane. Not a sound could be heard but the sniffles of tears and hum of planes in this weekend’s air show.

Pfc. Jason Fingar’s American flag-laden casket was slowly and deliberately lowered out of the plane. Seven young Army soldiers marched with the casket before setting it in the hearse.

David and Rhonda Fingar held hands with their three children during the procession. Their youngest son, Jason, was killed by a road-side bomb May 22 while serving in the Army in Afghanistan.

Michael W. Posner, an active Navy sailor from San Diego, has volunteered for the Columbia air show for the past 10 years. This year, though, Posner stood in line to support Fingar instead of staying at the air show. It’s the right thing to do, he said. “The community of Columbia, Mo., is singular in its support of the military,” Posner said. “There’s no other community in the country like it.”

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Glory Riders and the Christian Riders Ministry formed the majority of the flag line. They watched and saluted as the coffin was lowered from the plane. The motorcyclists then escorted Fingar’s body through Columbia, from the airport to Memorial Funeral Home.

Vern Bastian is the senior ride captain for the northeast section of Missouri. He explained that the group is not a motorcycle organization but a national volunteer group. Anyone, anywhere can stand in the flag line and show a family the respect they deserve, he said.

And people of all ages formed the line. An adolescent boy held a flag, while his father put his hand on his heart. An elderly woman comforted her friend. Uniformed soldiers stood in solemn salute.

Vern Bastian said the group’s purpose is simple: to honor the people who supply and maintain our freedom.

He said the fact that Fingar’s service falls on Memorial Day should really “wake up” Columbia and bring out a lot of people to his service. Bastian expects well over 200 riders to come into town Monday for Fingar’s service.

“The definition of a veteran is someone who at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount up to an including their life,” said Hollie Bastian, Vern Bastion's wife. “That’s honor.”

Air show worker Ken Hines did not know Fingar, but felt deeply affected given Fingar was his the same age as his daughter. “I feel a sense of sadness and loss and not just for him, but for all those kids dying overseas,” Hines said.

Army Pfc. Jason D. Fingar was killed in action on 5/22/10.

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