Saturday, June 04, 2011

Army Pfc. Robert L. Voakes Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Robert L. Voakes Jr., 21, of L’Anse, Mich.

Pfc Voakes was assigned to 793rd Military Police Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; died of wounds suffered June 4, 2011 in Laghman province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Spc. Devin A. Snyder, Sgt. Joshua D. Powell and Sgt. Christopher R. Bell.

Robert Lee Voakes, Nigig-enz (Little Otter), was a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. He valued his Native American heritage and enjoyed attending Powwows and dancing. He was actively involved in the community with Boy Scouts, basketball, football, KBIC Rez Runners, youth hockey, KBIC youth programs, and was a KBIC tribal police cadet. He was President of KBIC Youth Club.

Spc Voakes graduated from Baraga High School in 2009. He was active in the drama club, basketball, football, high fi mentoring and the International Club which enabled him to tour Italy.

Spc Voakes joined the Army in November 2009 and served at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri before arriving in Alaska in April 2010.

Spc Voakes had many interests and enjoyed life. He loved music and had his own unique style of dress. People were drawn to him by his friendly disposition and humor. He was a blood donor, and had also donated his hair to Locks of Love. His “baby” was a 1976 black Coupe DeVille Cadillac. His other "baby" was Mr. BigglesWorth, his pet fish.

Friend, Steve Denomie, recalled the force of Voakes' personality. "You could be having your worst day ever, and he could make you laugh and turn it into a good day," Denomie said.

"We were all shocked when we heard the news," said Dennis Ruuspakka, BHS principal. "I remember Robert as a very quiet, polite young man who went about his business. He was very well liked by every teacher and by every student at the school.

"Robert played basketball and was in school plays. He was involved in many things and always did a really good job," Ruuspakka said.

"Robert was understated and soft spoken," said Bruce Rundman, the BHS guidance counselor. "He had a real gentle presence and a quiet wit. Robert was really funny, but unfailingly polite.

"Robert was a super nice kid. He played on the junior varsity basketball team while I was coaching varsity," Rundman said. "He gave me one of my best laughs of my coaching career. The JVs were scrimmaging the varsity and it was shirts and skins. Robert looked at me and said, 'Hey coach, when are you going to take your sweater vest off?'

"Robert wasn't a class clown, but had a really great sense of humor."

The plane carrying Spc Voakes' body landed today (Monday, June 13), at Houghton County Memorial Airport, shortly after 9 a.m. In the minutes before, some pressed against the chain-link fence, watching the sky.

A procession carried the body of Spc Voakes from the airport to Reid Funeral Service and Chapel in L'Anse.

Veterans from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, stationed outside the security gate, were the first to salute the hearse as it passed through, followed by a procession of dozens of vehicles, including fire, police, ambulances and family members.

Spc Voakes' hearse was preceded only by a car from the KBIC Tribal Police, which he had hoped to join once he returned from Afghanistan.

Eleven members of the Patriot Guard Riders, some of whom came from Iron Mountain, were on hand to honor Voakes. They included Joe Dowd, who taught Voakes the Ojibwe language in elementary school.

"Once he got in a class and started opening up, he had questions about life and the way the Indians used to do things," Dowd said. "He was full of life, respectful."

Military funeral services were held at Baraga High School Gymnasium, Baraga, MI. Interment will be in the Pinery Cemetery.

Robert is survived by his parents, Valerie and Robert Voakes; brothers, Jeremy and Christopher; and sisters, Nancy and Miranda.

Army Pfc. Robert L. Voakes Jr. was killed in action on 6/4/11.

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