Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Army Pfc. Anthony T. Justesen

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Anthony T. Justesen, 22, of Wilsonville, Ore.

Pfc. Justesen was assigned to 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died June 23, 2010 at Ganjkin village, Pusht Rod district, Farah province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Asked why he wanted to join the Army, Anthony T. Justesen offered a simple answer. "I just want everyone to be proud of me," he confided to his mother, Shawna Rehder of Wilsonville.

That was two years ago.

On Wednesday, a month before his Afghanistan tour was to end, Pfc. Justesen, 22, was killed when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised bomb.

He is the 139th serviceman or woman with strong ties to Oregon or southwest Washington to die in the Mideast wars and the 23rd Oregonian killed in Afghanistan. Justesen served in the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.

After moving with his family from Aurora to Wilsonville, Justesen attended St. Luke School in Woodburn before leaving and earning his GED. He joined the Army after working at Jiffy Lube for about a year, according to his stepfather, Steven Rehder, eager for a more challenging profession with a better paycheck.

"He decided all on his own he wanted something bigger," Rehder said. "He wanted something better. He wanted to go do something for his country."

Steven Rehder, who raised Justesen from about age 6, said he will always remember his son's "heart of gold." During Steven Rehder's first visit to Justesen's elementary school, he glanced down and found an 8-year-old Anthony hugging the legs of a teacher. That unbridled affection followed Justesen to adulthood, he said.

"Every time he'd see me, he'd give me a hug," Rehder said. "Even though he was a full grown man with a 14-inch gun, he was still hugging his daddy."

The family – which includes sisters Teniele Justesen, 23, Samantha Justesen, 20, and brothers Jerome Rehder, 15, and Kimberley Rehder, 12 – continued to be close, even as some of the children started families of their own. He was also survived by his father, Robert Justesen.

During Anthony Justesen's short leaves from Afghanistan, Teniele's three children knew to expect a visit to the park with "Uncle Tony."

Teniele Justesen said her 5-year-old son Shawn is still eagerly awaiting his uncle's return, talking about a promised Chuck E. Cheese visit. "And Shawn learned how to ride his bike," Teniele Justesen said. "He just wanted to show Uncle Tony."

Jennifer Gentle, who grew up with Justesen, said she was surprised when he had joined the service but said the experience had given him a new confidence and sense of identity. "The Army turned him around. After the Army, he was a lot more outgoing and friendly. He became more appreciative and had a new kind of respect."

He also earned the respect and affection of his fellow soldiers.

"Justesen was a true warrior and was dedicated to his platoon and troop," said Staff Sgt. Keith Hambright, Justesen's platoon sergeant, in a statement. "Justesen was loved by every soldier in his platoon and always kept everyone full of joy and laughter."

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the Combat Action Badge.

Justesen kept in contact with family and friends through Facebook, Skype, and the occasional phone call.

"He didn't want me to worry," Shawna Rehder said. "He said it was really hot, that there was a lot of sand, and that he wanted to come home."

On Memorial Day, he posted a special message to his Facebook page:

"I truly thank you, all of those who have prayed for a soldier, through our prayers we are strong, through our faith we are unified, the representation of all that is right with the united states of America. we may be ignorant and lazy, wasteful or unappreciative at times, yet we are happy and free, through all our sacrifices."

More recent postings indicated he was counting the days until his return.

"I just wanna go home," he wrote on June 20. "Back in twelve or so days," he posted on Monday.

After the Army, he wanted to work in law enforcement and had asked his parents to research police academies and the requirements to join a SWAT team.

"When he went into the army, he found he had a knack for patrolling, for protecting people," Steven Rehder said.

The Rehders last spoke to Anthony Justesen on Monday, showing off the new Samsung Gravity 2 cellular phone that was waiting for him at home. They always tried to keep the conversation light -- Steven Rehder apologized for his bad spelling on Facebook -- but the family always signed off the same way.

"I told him I loved him and I missed him," Steven Rehder said. "And we told him we were proud of him."

Army Pfc. Anthony T. Justesen was killed in action on 6/23/10.

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