Friday, January 29, 2010

Army Spc. Marc P. Decoteau

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Marc P. Decoteau, 19, of Waterville Valley, N.H.

Spc. Decoteau was assigned to the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne), 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 29, 2010 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained while supporting combat operations.

Small resort town suffers another war casualty
The Associated Press

WATERVILLE VALLEY, N.H. — This small town is reeling from the death of another local resident who died in military action. Army Pfc. Marc Paul Decoteau was killed in action in Afghanistan on Jan. 29, according to military officials.

Decoteau was stationed in Afghanistan as part of a Psychological Operations unit based out of Fort Bragg, N.C., Maj. Greg Heilshorn of the New Hampshire National Guard told the New Hampshire Union Leader. His remains were to return Jan. 31 at Dover, Del., Air Force Base, military officials said.

Decoteau was the son of Mark and Nancy Decoteau of Waterville Valley. He enlisted in the Army after his graduation in 2008 from Plymouth Regional High School.

Four years ago, the community suffered another war loss when Army Capt. Doug DiCenzo, another Plymouth Regional graduate, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Decoteau was an outstanding student-athlete at Plymouth Regional High School, where his football coach, Chuck Lenahan, said he was “as good as they come.”

“He was there every day at practice, doing anything he could to benefit the team,” Lenahan said. “He was one of those kids who never got in trouble. Everyone liked him.”

Close family friend Bill Dauer of Plymouth — his son, Spencer, played football with Marc Decoteau — said grief has hit the community “like a ton of bricks.”

“It’s been very devastating and traumatic,” said Dauer, who attended West Point in the early 1980s with Decoteau’s father, Mark.

Mark Decoteau, the soldier’s father, is town manager in Waterville Valley, which has about 300 year-round residents. The loss also is being felt in Warren, where Nancy Decoteau is town administrator.

Decouteau’s funeral scheduled
The Associated Press

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — A funeral is planned this weekend for a New Hampshire soldier killed in Afghanistan.

Nineteen-year-old Army Spc. Marc Paul Decoteau of Waterville Valley was killed Jan. 29.

WMUR-TV says a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 6 at Decoteau’s alma mater, Plymouth Regional High School.

Decoteau’s family released a statement Feb. 3 thanking everyone in their community and the state for their support.

Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Marc P. Decoteau Memorial Fund at Community Guarantee Savings Bank in Plymouth to benefit the Plymouth Regional High School lacrosse team.

Hundreds witness fallen soldier’s return
The Associated Press

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — Hundreds of people in a New Hampshire town have honored a local soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.

Schoolchildren, Boy Scout troops and high school athletic teams were among those who stood near the Douglas Dicenzo Memorial Bridge in Plymouth on Feb. 5 to pay tribute to 19-year-old Army Spc. Marc Decoteau, whose casket was escorted by state police and fire trucks in an hour-long procession from Concord. Decoteau died Jan. 29.

He enlisted in the Army after his 2008 graduation from Plymouth Regional High School, where he was remembered as an outstanding student-athlete, helping to win two state football championships. His family lives in Waterville Valley.

A funeral service is scheduled at the school Feb. 6.

Army Spc. Marc P. Decoteau was killed in action on 1/29/10.

Army Capt. David J. Thompson

Remember Our Heroes

Army Capt. David J. Thompson, 39, of Hooker, Okla.

Capt Thompson was assigned to the 3rd Battalion 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 29, 2010 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained while supporting combat operations.

Served in Army, Guard for 21 years
The Associated Press

David J. Thompson was a compassionate, understanding man who had a heartwarming laugh and had wanted to be a soldier since he was a youngster, according to notes left by friends in an online memorial.

Many referred to him as John Paul or simply “J.P.” Douglas Jenison of Ohio called him “one of the greatest men I ever knew and served with.”

Thompson, 39, of Hooker, Okla., was killed Jan. 29 in Wardak province, Afghanistan. The Army said only that he died of injuries from an incident that is under investigation. He was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and was on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

He enlisted in the Army in 1989, beginning a career that would take him from South Carolina to Alaska and included humanitarian aid deployments with the North Carolina National Guard.

From 1999 to 2002, he served in the Guard and attended East Carolina University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He was commissioned as a chemical officer.

Thompson lived near Fort Bragg with his wife, Emily, and daughters Isabelle and Abigail.

Survivors include his parents, Charles and Freida Thompson; and a sister, Alisha Mueller.

Army Capt. David J. Thompson was killed in action on 1/29/10.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Army Pfc. Scott G. Barnett

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Scott G. Barnett, 24, of Concord, Calif.

Pfc. Barnett was assigned to the 412th Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Katterbach, Germany; died Jan. 28, 2010 in Tallil, Iraq, of injuries sustained while supporting combat operations.

GI enlisted in Army last year
The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Military officials say a soldier from Concord has been killed in Iraq.

The Department of Defense says Army Pfc. Scott Barnett died Jan. 28 of injuries he suffered while supporting combat operations in Tallil, Iraq, a city about 160 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Barnett, 24, joined the Army in 2009. He was assigned to the 412th Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Katterbach, Germany.

‘We had everything going’
The Associated Press

In high school, Scott Barnett fell in love with Nikki Gill, his future wife, went to Linkin Park concerts with her and participated in walks to raise cancer awareness.

Now Nikki Barnett, the 24-year-old soldier’s wife — who battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager — says he was her “soul mate.”

“We loved each other so insanely much,” she said.

Scott Barnett of Concord, Calif., died Jan. 28 in Tallil, Iraq, of injuries sustained while supporting combat operations. He was based at Katterbach, Germany.

“He had his ups and downs, but he was proud to be fighting for his country,” Nikki Barnett said. “We always told each other it was temporary. ‘You’ll be home soon. You’ll be back.’ ”

Scott Barnett attended Olympic High School in Concord, where the two had a math class together. It was 2003. They started talking after he made her laugh.

“We just started talking, and we never stopped,” she said.

Five years later, Scott Barnett enlisted in the Army, saying it was what he wanted.

“We knew the risk. We didn’t take it as seriously as we should have,” she said. “We didn’t think it could happen to us. We were young, in love. We had everything going.”

Army Pfc. Scott G. Barnett was killed in action on 1/28/10.

Army Staff Sgt. Rusty H. Christian

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Rusty H. Christian, 24, of Greeneville, Tenn.

SSgt Christian was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; died Jan. 28, 2010 in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Friends of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier with Greeneville roots who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this week recalled him Friday as "a little brother" who grew up to love service in the Army.

Staff Sgt. Rusty Christian, 24, a graduate of Greeneville High School, was killed near a military outpost called Camp Cobra in Afghanistan in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion earlier this week, according to his mother, Donna Ball, of Kingsport, a former Greeneville resident.

"He was like an extra little brother to me," said Derrick Shannon, who described himself as a "best friend" of Rusty's brother, Aaron Christian. "I watched him (Rusty Christian) grow up."

Aaron Christian is now a mathematics teacher and assistant football coach at Chuckey-Doak High School.


Shannon, who served in Iraq in 2004 with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Gray-based Lima Company, 24th Marine Regiment, said Friday in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun that he and Rusty Christian had maintained a friendly rivalry because he served in the Marines, while Christian had joined the Army.

When Rusty, who was already a veteran of service in Iraq, was accepted for training as a Green Beret (Special Forces soldier) last year, he was "very excited," according to Shannon.

Shannon noted that he first met Rusty Christian when he himself and Rusty's older brother, Aaron, were attending Doak Elementary School in Tusculum.

Shannon said that, although he was several years older than Rusty, the two remained friends.

"I was in his wedding out in Seattle," Shannon said Friday.

He recalled that he had "chatted" with Rusty only about two weeks ago via the Internet while Rusty was serving in Afghanistan.

"He was very proud of what they (his Special Forces unit) were doing over there," Shannon said.


Shannon said in the interview Friday that he was en route to Tri-Cities Regional Airport to see Rusty's mother, stepfather, and brother off on a flight to Dover, Del., where they were to meet Rusty's body when it was flown back to the U.S.

Shannon noted that Sgt. Christian's wife, Amber Christian, of Fort Lewis, Wash., was to meet the other family members at Dover Air Force Base. "She's flying in from Seattle," Shannon said.

Christian will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., his mother, Donna Ball, said by telephone from her Kingsport home on Thursday night.


Staff Sgt. Christian died along with three Afghan soldiers when an IED exploded near a military truck they were walking beside, his mother said Thursday evening.

Another U.S. soldier was wounded.

She said she had received no other details of how her son's death occurred.

Sgt. Christian had only been in Afghanistan since the first week of January, Mrs. Ball said.

He was a 2004 graduate of Greeneville High School who had enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduation from GHS.

His mother noted that Christian, a veteran of military service in Iraq, would have been in the Army six years this summer.


Mrs. Ball, who said she learned of her son's death about 2:30 p.m. Thursday in a telephone call from his wife, Amber Christian, who was residing with the couple's two young children at Fort Lewis, Wash., where Rusty Christian was based before he deployed to Afghanistan.

The Christians' children are a daughter, Taylor, who turned three on Jan. 26, and a son, Gavin, who will be one-year-old on Feb. 26.

In Kingsport, Mrs. Ball, who formerly lived in Greeneville, said, her son is survived by his stepfather, Jim Ball, and herself.

"You never think this day will come," Mrs. Ball said Thursday evening.

SSgt. Christian is survived by his wife, Amber; their two children, daughter Taylor, age 3, and son Gavin, almost 1; his mother and stepfather, Donna and Jim Ball; his father and stepmother, Mike and Nancy Christian; and a brother, Aaron.

Army Staff Sgt. Rusty H. Christian was killed in action on 1/28/10.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Army Sgt. Carlos E. Gill

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Carlos E. Gill, 25, of Fayetteville, N.C.

Sgt. Gill was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.; died Jan. 26, 2010 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., of an illness. He was evacuated Dec. 19, 2009, from Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, where he was supporting combat operations.

A Fort Lewis soldier died of an illness Tuesday, a week after he was evacuated from Afghanistan, where he was serving with a Stryker brigade, the Department of Defense announced Friday.

Sgt. Carlos E. Gill, 25, of Fayetteville N.C., died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The Army did not disclose the nature of the illness.

Carlos Edward Gill had been evacuated from Kandahar Air Field on Dec. 19. He was assigned to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Sgt. Gill was a member of the Stryker brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment.

Now about halfway through its year long deployment in southern Afghanistan, the Fort Lewis-based brigade has lost several troops. Thirty-one soldiers have been reported killed in action, most from explosions.

Sgt. Gill's awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service ribbon and the Overseas Service Ribbon.

According to unit records, Gill enlisted January 12, 2005 at Fayetteville, N.C. Following basic training and Advanced Individual Training in Military Occupational Specialty 25U: Signal Support Systems Specialist, he reported to Yongsan, Korea on June 30, 2006. He was reassigned to Fort Lewis July 3, 2008 and was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, The brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July, 2009. This was his first deployment.

Sgt. Gill's civilian and military education includes a high school diploma (2002), the Military Occupational Specialty 25U: Signal Support Systems
Specialist (2006) and Warrior Leadership Course (2008).

Sgt. Gill is survived by his mother Cheryl Walker, father Clarence Gill, brother Christopher Gill, fiancee Rhea Irineo and baby daughter Kamora Victoria.

Marine Sgt. David J. Smith

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. David J. Smith, 25, of Frederick, Md.

Sgt. Smith was assigned to 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Jan. 26, 2010 from wounds received Jan. 23 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Reserve NCO dies from combat wounds
Staff report

A California-based reservist has died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan, the Pentagon reported Feb. 1.

Sgt. David J. Smith, 25, of Frederick, Md., died Jan. 26. He was wounded three days earlier while supporting combat operations in Helmand province.

Smith, who enlisted Dec. 29, 2003, was assigned to Company B, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and served as a light armored vehicle crewman.

He deployed to Iraq from 2006-07 and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.

His awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.

No other information was immediately available.

Marine to be buried at Arlington
The Associated Press

FREDERICK, Md. — A 25-year-old Marine from Frederick who was mortally wounded in Afghanistan will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Pentagon says Sgt. David Smith died Jan. 26 at a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds suffered Jan. 23 in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

A funeral service will be conducted Feb. 9 at 9 a.m. at the Frederick Christian Fellowship Church Complex. Burial at Arlington will start at 3 p.m.

Was the life of the party
The Associated Press

David Smith loved to dance — and when he stepped onto a dance floor, people made sure to make room.

His girlfriend, Kimberly Mott, said Smith loved to be the center of attention, recalling the way he danced at his sister’s wedding last summer.

“He always wore a hat, and he would always incorporate the brim of the hat with the dancing,” Mott said. “Even if he didn’t have a hat, he would pretend it was there.”

Smith, 25, of Frederick, Md., was critically wounded Jan. 23 in a suicide attack in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He died of his injuries three days later. He was assigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., and was pursuing a degree from East Carolina University.

The Marine always wanted to make a difference, which is why he went to Iraq in 2006 and volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan.

His desire began as a child: He spent hours pretending to rescue his older sister from danger and always wanted to be a heroic soldier when playing with his younger brother, Daniel Brown.

“We would always tear up my mom’s basement, make forts out of cushions and everything, and fight each other and shoot each other,” Brown said. “And he’d get wounded and I’d fix him up.”

Smith also is survived by his mother, Mary Jane McWilliams, and his father, Leonard Smith.

Marine Sgt. David J. Smith died 1/26/10 from wounds received in action on 1/23/10.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy J. Poole

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy J. Poole, 22, of Bowling Green, Ky.

LCpl Poole was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died Jan. 24, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

LCpl. Timothy J. Poole Jr., 22, a 2007 graduate of Warren East High School, was killed Sunday during combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

Poole served with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and moved with his family to Bowling Green in October 2005. After Poole enlisted, the family moved back to Jacksonville, where Poole will be laid to rest in Jacksonville National Cemetery.

He attended school in Bowling Green for just a short while, but he was remembered by many who knew him as a quiet, polite young man who wanted to be Marine.

Warren East agriculture teacher Dan Costellow taught Poole in two classes.

“I remember him as a nice kid who wanted to go into the military. I was happy for him and felt like it would help him figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life,” Costellow said. “Anytime you hear about a soldier being killed for us, it is sad, but this young man was my student. This is just terrible and upsets me a great deal.”

“Our hearts go out to his friends and family and all those who knew him,” said Cindy Beals, Warren East High School principal. Beals was an assistant principal at the school at the time Poole attended. “It is just a terrible thing,” she said.

Warren East Assistant Principal Edwin Moss remembers Poole, who attended the school for less than two years during his junior and senior years. “Some kids just have a presence and you remember them, and he did,” Moss said. “He was a nice young man, very mannerly. His desire at the time was to become a Marine. He just stood out.”

Sgt. Joel Extine, a Marine Corp. recruiter from Bowling Green, signed Poole up in 2007 following his graduation. “He was an excellent young man,” Extine said. “He came in that day with his dad and brother, was very polite and quiet. He said he had always wanted to be a Marine. He had the heart of a Marine and could run like the wind. He was the kind of kid we wanted to enlist.”

Poole attended Lee High School in Jacksonville before moving to Kentucky. He returned to Jacksonville in November before going back to his base in Hawaii and leaving for Afghanistan, telling family that if he died in action it would be in service to his country, a sacrifice he was willing to take, said Mike Lyons, assignment editor for WTLV/WJXX in Jacksonville, who spoke with Poole’s father, Timothy Poole Sr., as he was headed to Dover, Del., on Tuesday to await the return of his son’s body.

"The only thing he ever really wanted to do was serve his country and make his real dad proud and I think he done that," said his stepfather, Charles Martin. "Lance Corporal" was his title, but his family called him "Bubba."

Poole Sr. was too emotional to speak on camera Wednesday night, but described seeing his son's casket carried off the plane. "When you see it on the news, you don't think about it. But when you see the casket in person, it hits you," said Poole Sr.

Poole Jr. grew up at an area trailer park. Former neighbor Karen Stiers was busy taking calls from family and friends all day about Poole. She said she was still in disbelief. "I don't know from day to day if they are going to come home or if they're not going to come home. It's a hard thing," said Stiers.

Poole's father said his son was ready for anything, saying, "(My son) knew the price. We had talked about it. He didn't care. He understood the price for freedom."

Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy J. Poole was killed in action on 1/24/10.

Marine Sgt. Daniel M. Angus

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Daniel M. Angus, 28, of Thonotosassa, Fla.

Sgt. Angus was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Jan. 24, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps helped shape the life of Daniel M. Angus and turned him into a man. He survived two tours of duty in Iraq, but now his family is planning his funeral after he was killed in an explosion in war-torn Afghanistan.
Angus, 28, of Thonotosassa, died Sunday while on foot patrol in Helmand province when an improvised explosive device detonated, said his mother, Kathy Angus. Two other Marines also were killed.

"He died doing what he loved," his mother said of the 2000 Armwood High School graduate. "He loved the Marine Corps and he gave his life for it."

Angus was working construction and living in Thonotosassa with little direction a few years back. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003, hoping "to accomplish something in his life," Kathy Angus said. He succeeded and rose to the rank of sergeant. He knew he had found his calling and was planning to make the Marine Corps a career.

"He found himself," Kathy Angus said. "He was well-liked. He did whatever was asked of him and then some."

A childhood friend, Carroll Hanson of Thonotosassa, said Angus grew as a person in the Marines. "The Marine Corps made him a man," said Hanson, 28. "It made him blossom. It brought out all the best in him. It made him shine."

Angus served in Iraq from July 2004 to February 2005 and again from December 2005 to March 2006. He was promoted to sergeant on May 1, 2007. Along the way, he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, two Good Conduct Medals, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a number of service decorations.

"He was an excellent Marine," Kathy Angus said from Dover, Del., where she awaited the return of her son's remains. "The structure was good for him. He was an excellent leader."

The Marines were part of the first wave of the surge of 30,000 military personnel sent to Afghanistan in hopes of defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion were expecting to face a bloody fight, according to a Chinese television station report in December.

Angus was interviewed for the story. "It's a jump-and-run kind of thing," Angus told the television reporter. "You never know when you are going to go. It is not my first Christmas away from home. It is not going to be my last."

The veteran Marine had no way of knowing that it would be.

He leaves behind a wife, Bonnie, whom he married just days before he left for Afghanistan on Dec. 17. The couple has a daughter, Kaitlyn, who will turn 2 in March. Bonnie Angus and their daughter live in Kingston, Tenn., Kathy Angus said.

"They thought they were going to get old and fat together," Kathy Angus said. "Obviously, that's not going to happen."

Born in New York state, Daniel Angus and his family moved to the Thonotosassa area when he was 2. After graduating from Armwood, he began working a construction job in the area, but there was little opportunity for him, his mother said.

"He wanted more for his life," Kathy Angus said.

Outside of military life, Angus loved the outdoors, especially going to the mud hole. He had a big four wheeler that he drove in the woods and through the mud. He also owned a huge pickup that he used to cruise the town and to also go mudding, Kathy Angus said. He liked to fish and hunt, too.

"He was my only son," Kathy Angus said. "I have a daughter, but he was my only son."

Tentative funeral arrangements are planned for Feb. 6 at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park in Riverview. A military funeral will be held at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Kathy Angus said.

Marine Sgt. Daniel M. Angus was killed in action on 1/24/10.

Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary D. Smith

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary D. Smith, 19, of Hornell, N.Y.

LCpl Smith was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Jan. 24, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

A marine from the City of Hornell has died in Afghanistan. Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan tells News 10 Now that Lance Corporal Zach Smith, a 2008 graduate of Hornell High School, was killed in action this weekend.
Mayor Hogan says he learned about the incident Sunday morning and believes Smith was killed by an improvised explosive device. Hogan says Smith is the first person from Hornell to die in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is the first time that the brutality of war has really knocked on our community’s door and delivered a message that, you know, war is brutal and unjust and not fair in any way. This young man was a tremendous young man and he will be missed and this is a tremendous tragedy,” said Shawn Hogan, Hornell Mayor.

Mayor Hogan has ordered all city flags to be flown at half staff until Smith’s body is returned home.

“He always wanted to be a Marine. It’s something he always wanted and looked forward to. He was taking after his uncle Matt. That’s why he joined the Marines,” said his grandfather, Sid Smith of North Hornell.

Smith’s grandmother, Alice Smith, spoke for all in the Hornell area who knew him. “He was a great kid,” she said, adding, “Full of life and and love, always on the up. He had a lot of friends and was a thoughtful boy."

Mayor Shawn Hogan said the Smiths are his neighbors on Mays Avenue and he was deeply saddened by the news.

“He grew up across the street from me and he always brought a smile to my face and happiness to my heart because he was such a warm personality … It’s almost like a part of my family is gone. I just know this is a big loss for the community. You often hear about these brave young men dying and it’s always somebody else’s brother or son. Now this is something we have to cope with,” said Hogan.

Hogan ordered the city flags flown at half staff Sunday morning until Smith’s body is returned home.

“The brutality of war was dumped at our door step this morning and it’s ugly,” Hogan said.

Known by those close to him for his sense of humor and athleticism, Smith touched the lives of many coaches at Hornell High School.

Mickey Carretto retired from the HHS football program after the 2008 season. Carretto coached the Red Raiders offensive line and linebackers from 1998 to 2008.

“I’ve known him since he was a baby,” Carretto said. “He was one of the most sincere, honest, nice kids that you’ll ever meet up with. Always a smile on his face and he always had a great positive attitude. He always took the time with the younger kids, he took them under his wing so to speak. In fact, he treated my little girls like gold. They’re as devastated as anybody right now … You can’t say enough good things about him. A?blue-chip kid who will be missed by everybody.”

Gene Mastin, HHS athletic director and head varsity football coach, spoke to the same degree of the soldier, neighbor, friend and family member that remains on so many minds.

“They don’t come any better,” Mastin said. “If Hornell ever had a favorite son it was probably Zach Smith. He was universally liked. Everything about him was good,” he said. “Devastating. You deal with so many great kids and Zach was right at the top of the list. I can’t imagine … he was just everything that was good about any kid growing up today. He was just one of the best, most well-respected kids we’ve had in our school.”

Mastin said the pair formed a close bond over the years without effort.

“I don’t know but we did,”Mastin said. “He was just one of those kids that was so easy to like. And such a hard worker. He called me every week of every game, throughout the playoffs and things like that … You get close with people, and this was somebody I was going to be close with for the rest of our lives. A great kid and a great family. One of those things that you really grapple to find words for. Just devastating.”

He and his wife, Anne, were high school sweethearts. He was a football player, she was a cheerleader.

Smith is survived by his wife, Anne (Deebs) Smith, whom he married last summer; his brother, Nathaniel, 23; his sister, Grace, 10; his parents, Christopher Smith, an Amity-based state trooper who is the Canaseraga Central School resource officer, and his wife, Kim, and his father-in-law and mother-in-law, Mike and Andrea Deebs of Hornell.

Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary D. Smith was killed in action on 1/24/10.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Kane

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Kane, 22, of Towson, Md.

LCpl Kane was assigned to 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Jan. 23, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

At 13, Jeremy Kane was deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The event shaped his life, and led him to a fateful choice.

"He knew he had to do something for his country, and that was join the military," said his mother, Melinda, of Cherry Hill. "He wanted to serve."

To drive home the point, Kane joined the Marine Corps on Sept. 11, 2006, during his freshman year at Rutgers University and served as a reservist. On Saturday, three months into his deployment in Afghanistan, the 22-year-old lance corporal was killed when a suicide bomber attacked his unit in Helmand Province.

The attack apparently was in retaliation for the seizure of tons of opium and weapons the Marines had discovered, according to early reports. Hours later, three military officers arrived at Melinda Kane's door with the heartrending news. "I knew when I opened the door they were there for one reason," she said. "It's hard to comprehend. Everyone was worried but confident he would come back safe and sound.

"He was bright, in excellent condition, and well-trained," she said. "There was no reason to believe he would be harmed."

Melinda Kane, 52, said her son had recently phoned his girlfriend to plan a homecoming party for his return in May. "They talked about what kind of celebration they would have," she said.

Jeremy Kane graduated from Cherry Hill High School East in 2006 and studied criminal justice at Rutgers. He planned to return to the university to finish his senior year.

"He was an avid reader," his mother said. "He read books most adults would never read. He listened to classical music and hung out with friends, playing video games."

Kane's father, Bruce, was a pathologist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and had served as a major in the Army. He died in June 2008 while his son was undergoing Marine Corps training.

Kane "thought it was his duty as an American to serve his country," his mother said. "His grandfather had also been in the Marines."

He "chose the Marines because it was the most difficult and most respected," she said. "He was in communications and told me he wouldn't leave the base, but I think he said that to placate me."

Kane had two brothers: Benjamin, 16, a junior at Cherry Hill East, and Daniel, 19, a sophomore at Virginia Tech.

Family and friends, including Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, gathered at the Kane home. The mayor's Platt Memorial Chapel in Cherry Hill is handling funeral arrangements, which were pending.

"This is a heartbreaking day for the people of Cherry Hill," Platt said. "Jeremy Kane was a distinguished and dedicated member of our community, and we're all very saddened by his passing."

Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.), whose district includes Cherry Hill, phoned the family to offer condolences. "Cherry Hill has lost a brave and heroic young man who dedicated his life to serving our country," Adler said. "He sacrificed his life to protect our communities and families. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today."

Melinda Kane remembered his first call from Afghanistan. He asked for chocolates and pens to hand out to the children of a local village.

"I want people to know that this was someone from Cherry Hill," she said. "He had options, and this was his choice.

"He knew the dangers but wanted a rich, full life. I don't think he ever thought this would happen."

Bryan Adams, a friend of Kane's from his days at Rutgers University, shared word of his friend's death via social networking site Facebook.

His notation read: "I am writing this message with a heavy heart; I regret to inform you that yesterday Jeremy Kane was killed in Afghanistan. Jeremy was an outstanding role model and representative for military and veteran students at Rutgers-Camden...."

Adams fondly remembered Kane as a person with a "vibrant personality" who truly cared about his fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

Adams went on to say that, "Jeremy was a stellar student and an active member of Veterans for Education. [We] are going to sincerely miss him and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and may he rest in peace."

Another friend of Kane's, Bill Bell wrote, "Just saw Jeremy on the Fox news. He looked like a hero in his marine uniform. I'm so proud to have been able to say I was friends with such an amazing man."

And amazing he was. In addition to fulfilling his call to duty, Kane, who had recently lost his beloved father to cancer, was on the verge of completing a degree at Rutgers University where he majored in criminal justice and political science.

He was a physical fitness buff and an active member of Veterans for Education who worked part-time as a security guard at the Tweeter Center in Camden.

LCpl. Kane's mother said despite his father's death 18 months ago of stomach cancer and being so close to finishing college, her son was understandably conflicted when he learned that his reserve unit was being activated and sent to Afghanistan, but he understood his responsibility to the Marine Corps and deployed proudly in October.

Kane's father was a military man himself who worked as a pathologist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden at the time of his death. In addition to his mother and siblings, Kane leaves his girlfriend, Julia Smoot, to mourn his death.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Kane was killed in action on 1/23/10.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Army Pfc. Gifford E. Hurt

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Gifford E. Hurt, 19, of Yonkers, N.Y.

Pfc. Hurt was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment, 214th Fires Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Sill, Okla.; died Jan. 20, 2010 in Mosul, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a noncombat-related accident.

Army background influenced decision to enlist

The Associated Press

Gifford Hurt’s parents are Army veterans, and he grew up on military bases.

No one was surprised when Hurt, of Yonkers N.Y., decided on an Army career and enlisted a year ago at age 18.

“All of our friends are in the military, and that’s all he knew,” said his mother, Lisa Davis.

Hurt’s assignment at Fort Sill, Okla., required him to work at the post while several others were deployed to Iraq. But when an opportunity arose, Hurt, known as “GJ,” eagerly volunteered to join them.

Hurt was a passenger in a Humvee in Mosul, Iraq, when it crashed Jan. 20, killing him. The Army says the crash was not combat related and is under investigation.

Hurt enjoyed boxing, basketball and weight training. He also was skilled at defusing conflicts, said Mike Henry, who went through basic training with him.

“There would be fights going on, and he would be the one to stop the fighting,” Henry said.

Another comrade, Frank Perez, said in an online tribute that Hurt will not be forgotten and that his unit “will finish out this mission in your memory.”

Survivors also include his father, Gifford Hurt Sr.; two sisters, Ashley Trapp and Alyssa Thompson, and two brothers, Tarique and Malik Thompson.

Army Pfc. Gifford E. Hurt was killed in a non-combat related accident on 1/20/10.

Army Staff Sgt. Thaddeus S. Montgomery

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Thaddeus S. Montgomery, 29, of West Yellowstone, Mont.

SSgt. Montgomery was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died Jan. 20, 2010 at Lorengal Outpost, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained in a non-combat-related incident.

This was SSGT Montgomery's third deployment. He served two previous tours in Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan in June of 2009. Montgomery was a decorated soldier. He received more than a dozen military honors over the course of his almost seven-year Army career. The honors included two Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, two Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/ Campaign Star Iraq Campaign Medal w/ two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, three Overseas Service Ribbons, NATO Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and an Expert Infantry Badge.

Montgomery is survived by a 3-year-old son, Thaddeus Montgomery III. He is also survived by a fiancée, Erica Amora Tadeo of Malaysia, his father, Thaddeus Montgomery Sr. and his mother, Debra Hays. Other survivors include a sister, Stephanie Montgomery, of Atlanta and a brother, Dustin (Holly) Border, of Madison, according to friends.

Army Staff Sgt. Thaddeus S. Montgomery was killed in a non-combat related incident on 1/20/10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett, 29, of Knightdale, N.C.

TSgt. Ginett was assigned to the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy; died Jan. 19, 2010 near Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device.

Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett (aka "Brother Circus Trick" to his EOD brothers}

Relatives and friends are mourning the loss of a Knightdale native and Airman who died in Afghanistan of wounds inflicted by an improvised explosive device.

Ginett worked in explosive ordinance disposal and was a master sniper. Ginett's parents said that they learned of his death Tuesday after three men came to their front door.

“There was a captain, a lieutenant and a chaplain. And once I saw them, I knew,” said Christina Kazakavage, Ginett's mother.

Christina Kazakavage said Saturday that she takes comfort knowing her son died doing what he loved. “He understood what he was supposed to do,” Christina Kazakavage said.

“He’s over there saving lives,” said James Kazakavage, Ginett's step-father.

Ginett lived in Knightdale before joining the Air Force at age 18. He served three tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan. Ginett earned the Bronze Star on his first tour in Afghanistan. He and six others in his unit came under fire from 28 members of the Taliban. They killed 13 insurgents and captured the others, according to his parents. His unit was unharmed.

“He said, 'I wasn't supposed to take a life, that was not my mission. I’m supposed to save lives by getting rid of the explosives,'” Christina Kazakavage recalled from a conversation with her son.

According to his grandfather, Jim Haslam of Cary, Ginett's unit was walking toward a location where a cache of IEDs was thought to be hidden. One other person (Army Capt Paul Pena) was killed in the incident and three were wounded, Haslam said.

Ginett opted for explosive ordnance duty after he graduated from boot camp. Though he had planned for a career in the military since he was in high school, he had other interests, too. He interned for four summers during high school with cartoonists at Walt Disney World in Florida, and he worked in Nancy Redman's pottery studio in Knightdale during his last year at East Wake. Redman remembers him as an artistic friend of the family. "He just had a big interest in art," she said.

Ginett held two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree in criminal justice and political science, according to the obituary. At the time of his death, he lived with his mother, step-father and sister, Sarah Kazakavage, in Coats.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, who heads coalition forces in Kandahar province, identified Capt. Paul Pena, 27, and Tech Sgt. Adam Ginett, 29 as the two who were killed. Five other soldiers were injured. Word of the incident was delayed pending notification of family.

"Their loss will be mourned by Americans, Canadians and the Afghans they served with," Menard said. "We will remember their sacrifice."

Ginett, of Knightdale, N.C., was a counter-IED specialist. He had previously been awarded the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement or service during his previous deployments. "Adam was a dedicated soldier and a team player," Menard said.

TSgt Ginett is survived by his father Allyn Ginett, of Sodus New York, mother & step-father, Christina & James Kazakavage, and his sister Sarah Kazakavage.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett was killed in action on 1/19/10.

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena

Remember Our Heroes

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena, 27, of San Marcos, Texas

Capt. Pena was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 19, 2010 in Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

As a member of the Junior ROTC at the San Marcos Baptist Academy, Paul W. Peña was the kind of cadet who worked quietly and humbly behind the scenes, making sure important events like the unit's annual inspection went smoothly.

After he graduated and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and later during his career as an Army officer, he would return to the school, and his teachers would marvel at how the skinny teenager they knew had bulked up and blossomed into a proud soldier.

The Canadian Press reported that Peña died Tuesday along with Tech Sgt. Adam Ginett, 29, of North Carolina. The pair were on a foot patrol with Afghan soldiers in the Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar city, when they were killed by a roadside bomb.

Five other soldiers were wounded. Peña and Ginett were working with the 2nd Battalion, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, and serving under Canadian command.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz ordered the San Marcos city flag to be flown at half-staff in his memory; officials said she is asking Gov. Rick Perry's office for an official proclamation to lower the U.S. flag in San Marcos in Pena's memory.

Shelley Henry, the Baptist academy's communications director, said a memorial service in San Marcos is being planned. Peña's family could not be reached.

Peña grew up in San Marcos and attended the academy on RM 12, which today has about 250 students who board there or live in the area and attend daily, Henry said. Peña was a day student.

Henry, who was the National Honor Society adviser while Peña was a student, remembers him as a hardworking and well-liked student dedicated to JROTC. He rose to the rank of cadet major and graduated from the academy fifth in his class in 2000, Henry said.

"He was just a diligent, well-behaved kid," Henry said. "He was one of the bright stars of his class."

Max Smith, a math and physics teacher at the academy, said it came as a surprise to no one when Peña was selected to go to West Point.

"He was the ideal student, from a teacher's perspective," said Smith, a retired Army colonel. "He always came back here and let you know he was OK and that he appreciated all you'd done for him."

Smith said hearing the news about Peña's death was like "a kick in the gut" but said Peña epitomized the idea of serving one's country.

Henry said Peña was on his second deployment and recently completed a tour of duty in Iraq. He visited the school last summer and met with old teachers. She said he was unafraid to go back into combat.

"He was just a leader, and I don't think he was the kind to go in afraid," she said. "He was a brave soldier."

Henry said Capt Pena is survived only by his mother Cecilia Peña, who went to greet her son’s body at Dover Air Force Base. Henry said Peña was an Eagle Scout and a member of the National Honors Society.

Army Capt. Paul W. Pena was killed in action on 1/19/10.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael P. Shannon

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael P. Shannon, 52, of Canadensis, Pa.

SFC Shannon was assigned to Headquarters, 7th Army and U.S. Army Europe, Heidelberg, Germany; died Jan. 17, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of a heart attack.

Soldier suffers heart attack in Afghanistan

The Associated Press

CANADENSIS, Pa. — Sgt. 1st Class Michael P. Shannon would keep a straight face while telling a joke, his family says, and it often took a moment to realize he was kidding.

Though he had a healthy sense of humor, Shannon was serious about the Army.

“He was a soldier through and through,” said his wife, Donna. “The Army was his life. The only thing equal to the Army in his life was his family.”

Shannon, of Canadensis, suffered a fatal heart attack Jan. 17 while serving in Afghanistan. He was 52.

The New York City native first enlisted in 1977. He earned a bachelor’s degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, then a master’s in degree criminal justice at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y.

He met his wife while working as a corrections officer in New York. He retired in 2001 as an assistant deputy warden.

“His attitude was, we’re all going die some way,” Donna Shannon said. “No one has a master plan to avoid it, so don’t use it as an excuse to not do your part for your country and your family. That’s the kind of man he was.”

He is survived by his mother, Lorena; and three children, Rhea, 21, Michel’le, 18, and George, 9.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael P. Shannon died of a heart attack on 1/17/10.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marine Sgt. Christopher R. Hrbek

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Christopher R. Hrbek, 25, of Westwood, N.J.

Sgt. Hrbek was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. died Jan. 14, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

WESTWOOD -- On Christmas Day, Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek called home to Bergen County from Afghanistan with the news he had been nominated for a Bronze Star.

A fellow Marine, a master sergeant, had been gravely injured by a bomb buried in the dirt. Under heavy enemy fire, Sgt. Hrbek and a Navy corpsman had rushed to the man’s aid, applying tourniquets to the stumps of his severed legs and carrying him to safety.

Family members learned today Christopher Hrbek will receive the award posthumously.

Hrbek, 25, a married Westwood native, was killed Thursday when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province, his family and the Department of Defense said. He had previously served three tours of duty in Iraq.

“He was born a Marine. He wanted to die a Marine,” said Beau Hodges, 28, Hrbek’s stepbrother. “He was proud to die for his country.”

Sgt. Hrbek is at least the 14th service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. At least 96 others have died in Iraq since 2003.

A full-size flagpole springs from the lawn of the brick, colonial-style home where Chris Hrbek grew up with his mother, Cheryl, and stepfather, JayMee Hodges. An American flag and a Marine Corps flag flew at half-staff today. Relatives gathered throughout the day, by turns crying and laughing as they shared stories.

Once a slight kid who had been afraid of the dark well into his teens, Christopher Hrbek grew into a fearless, muscled warrior who planned to make a career of the Corps.

“He loved it over there,” said another stepbrother, Jim Hodges, 31. “He wanted to do this for the rest of his life.”

Hrbek made the point to one of his two sisters, Amy Dellentash, in a recent phone call home, after she had learned of his nomination for the Bronze Star. He had spoken of three-hour firefights and of coming under attack every time his unit went out on patrol. Amy Dellentash, 33, knew American service members were falling.

“I knew he was at war and in a terrible situation, and I just wanted to know if he was really okay,” she said.

She said her brother responded, “Are you kidding me? I love what I do.”

Sgt. Hrbek’s admiration for the Marine Corps took root as a sophomore at Westwood High School, where he was a member of the wrestling team and something of a class clown, relatives said. He began reading and watching movies about the Corps after scoring well on a physical evaluation used by the service, his family said.

Seven months after graduation, he was off to Paris Island for basic training. His service brought him to Iraq three times, first in 2005. He served again from February to September 2007 and then from August 2008 to March 2009. He left for Afghanistan in November. Hrbek was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Family members said Hrbek might have taken a different route, fighting fires instead of wars. Both his stepbrothers are firefighters in New York City, and his stepfather is a member of the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department. Hrbek, too, began volunteering at age 16.

The lure was strong. Beau Hodges said his stepbrother had a place in the academy last year in the New York Fire Department but chose instead to re-enlist in the Marines.

Sgt. Hrbek’s career kept him away for long stretches from his wife, Jamie Hrbek, 23, but in an interview this evening at her Emerson home, she said distance and time never seemed to take anything from their relationship.

When they first saw each other three years ago, it was only for a few seconds, she said. She was a waitress in a local restaurant. He was a customer. Hrbek was about to talk to her when he was summoned to a fire scene. It would be a month before he got her number from a friend.

“We could have said we loved each other without really seeing each other,” she said.

They talked for six hours in that first phone conversation. Late in 2007, they married. “I could say a thousand things about him,” she said. “He was filled with a sense of adventure.”

His personal decorations include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, the Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, and a number of campaign and service decorations.

Sgt. Hrbek also is survived by his wife Jamie Wengerter Hodges, father Richard Hrbek of Emerson, mother and step dad Cheryl and JayMee Hodges, step brothers Jim and Beau Hodges and sister Amy Dellentash as well as the members of the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department.

Marine Sgt. Christopher R. Hrbek was killed in aciton on 01/14/10.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Army Spc. Kyle J. Wright

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Kyle J. Wright, 22, of Romeoville, Ill.,

Spc. Wright was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash. died Jan. 13, 2010 at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered earlier that day when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province.

A Romeoville soldier serving in Afghanistan was killed Wednesday when his vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device.

Army Spc. Kyle J. Wright 22, was a 2006 graduate of Romeoville High School and joined the Army after graduating. He was based at Fort Lewis, Wash. Wright's father, Richard Wright said that his son died instantly when he drove over an IED.

ROMEOVILLE — A Romeoville soldier who followed in the military footsteps of his father and grandfather, has been killed in Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Kyle J. Wright, 22, was killed Wednesday in the line of duty when the Stryker vehicle he was riding in hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Kyle Wright, a 2006 graduate from Romeoville High School, was the only person who died in the incident, said his father, Rich Wright, of Romeoville

“They were interdicting drugs and weapons on the main highway in Afghanistan,” he said. “He was a hell of a stand-up kid. ... He was a professional soldier. He took it very seriously. He had three Army achievement medals. Everything he did, he did to the full extent,” said Rich Wright who is an employee in Valley View School District with his wife and Kyle’s step mom, Tiffany Wright.

A day before Kyle Wright was killed, he sent an e-mail to his father with a link from a CNN story about interdicting approximately $40 million in drugs.

“It was the third big bust that they had. They were doing a hell of a job as far as interdicting,” Rich Wright said. “They were interdicting the drug trafficking along that road and clearing the road of IEDs. Obviously, they didn’t clear them all.

Full military honors
Rich Wright’s son-in-law, Sgt. Zachary Greene, who is also deployed in Afghanistan and was Kyle Wright’s supply sergeant, identified the body at the air base at Kandahar. He will escort the body home.

“It’s like a nightmare that’s not going to end,” Rich Wright said. Rich Wright had planned to leave Thursday afternoon for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Kyle Wright requested a funeral with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery and Rich Wright said they were trying to make that happen.

“There was nothing extraordinary about him. But then he was extraordinary in every way. He had a sense of honor. There are two kinds of people in this world .... those who stand up and those who don’t. He was a stander-upper,” Rich Wright recalled.

Third generation
For the Wright men, joining the military was an honor.

“I’m a vet. His grandfather was a vet. He was third generation,” Rich Wright said.

Kyle’s grandfather, 1st Sgt. Ruben John Wright, is buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, Korea and Vietnam for 27 years. Rich Wright was a medic in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, serving six years. Kyle Wright was in the Alpha Company, Second Battalion, First Infantry Regiment, Fifth Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006. He learned Arabic at Defense Language Institute at Fort Lewis where he was stationed in Washington.

“(Kyle) was in the Army’s newest Stryker brigade. He was fluent in Arabic,” Rich Wright said.

Kyle Wright was deployed to Afghanistan in July and planned to return a year later.

Mustang Love
Flags throughout Valley View School District flew at half staff Thursday following word of Kyle Wright’s death.

Kyle Wright attended Timber Ridge Middle School and Plainfield South High School for his freshman year before transferring to Romeoville High School where he graduated in 2006.

Lindy Steeves, assistant principal at Romeoville High School, has a picture of Wright in his military uniform on her wall in her office.

Steeves recalled Kyle Wright’s love for his Mustang.

“He had a Mustang. He was taking autos. He brought his Mustang to school all the time. The auto teacher helped him repair the Mustang,” Steeves said. “One of the things that he was very passionate about was — he wanted to go into the service. He wanted to serve his country.”

Stepsister Kayla LeVine, 20, grew up with Kyle Wright, attending Romeoville High School together.

“Kyle and I grew up to be very good friends. ... He was just a regular old kid. ... He did well in school. He always wanted to go into the Army,” she said. “He always wanted to be a military guy. His father was his role model. He really looked forward to going into the Army and following his father’s footsteps, and he always just wanted to make his dad proud. ... That is what he wanted in life was to make his dad proud of him.”

Stepbrother Justin Rhodes, 16, a sophomore at RHS, said he wanted to follow Kyle’s footsteps and join the military. He is currently in the U.S. Marine Corps Junior ROTC — just like his big brother did at RHS.

“He was my role model. He was who I wanted to be like. He was the one who got me into skateboarding, riding bikes, fast cars,” Rhodes said. “He taught me everything a teenager needs to know. ... His first car was a Mustang. He always had a thing about fast cars.”

Fighting For Freedom
Kayla LeVine and Justin Rhodes said they learned a lot from their older brother. “Freedom isn’t free. Freedom is not free and that saying will get tossed around your whole life. Until it really hits home you never really realized what that saying is,” LeVine said. “He died serving for our country — for our freedom.

“In our home, we respected the people who fought for our freedom. Our family is a very military-oriented group. We are very proud to be Americans,” Levine said. “Things are not handed to you in life. Everybody fights for something for everybody else. That’s what Kyle was doing. Kyle was fighting to keep our country safe.”

Kyle Wright got to come home briefly in November, visiting his family in New York, Washington and Romeoville.

“We were fortunate enough that he got that early release because if not — the last time we saw him was in the summer,” LeVine said.

Kyle Wright is survived by his father and stepmother Rich and Tiffany Wright, his stepbrother Justin Rhodes and stepsister, Kayla LeVine, all from Romeoville, and his mother, Lynn Perry and sisters Krystal Greene and Kelly Wright of Webster, N.Y., and his grandmother, Joyce Wright of Missouri. He has two nephews.

Plans will be made for a full military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, as were Kyle's wishes.

Army Spc. Kyle J. Wright was killed in action on 01/13/10.

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel D. Merriweather

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel D. Merriweather, 25, of Collierville Tenn.

SSgt. Merriweather was assigned to the 118th Military Police Company (Airborne), 503rd Military Police Battalion (Airborne), 16th Military Police Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 13, 2010 at Combat Outpost McClain, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Pfc. Geoffrey A. Whitsitt.

DoD: Memphis soldier killed in Afghanistan
The Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Department of Defense says a Memphis soldier was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.

Family members told The Commercial Appeal 25-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Dewayne Merriweather was killed Jan. 13 when the Humvee he was driving triggered the bomb.

He was assigned to the 118th Military Police Company, 503rd Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., where he lived with his wife, Rachelle.

Merriweather’s sister, 27-year-old Adrienne Winton, told the paper her brother left behind two sons, 3-year-old Kale Rausch and 3-month-old Daniel Merriweather Jr.

Merriweather last saw his family in October when he returned to Memphis for two weeks for the birth of his second child.

“He was a very loving, caring person,” Winton said. “He cared about his family. He would always call me and tell me what was going on.”

Winton said Merriweather joined the Army in 2002, shortly after graduating from Overton High School, where he studied broadcast journalism and played football.

“He was always behind the camera,” she said. “He didn’t have one of those personalities where he liked to be in front of the camera.”

Merriweather chose to join the military because he wasn’t a “school person,” she said. He preferred guns, sports, cowboy hats and boots, and country music.

He had served two previous tours of duty — first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq — before he was shipped back to Afghanistan in May.

He also leaves his parents, Pamela and Darryl Finnie; and his 14-year-old brother, Darryl Finnie Jr.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed, but the family has asked that memorials be given to HIV research in lieu of flowers.

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel D. Merriweather was killed in action on 1/13/10.

Army Pfc. Geoffrey A. Whitsitt

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Geoffrey A. Whitsitt, 21, of Taylors, S.C.

Pfc. Whitsitt was assigned to the 118th Military Police Company (Airborne), 503rd Military Police Battalion (Airborne), 16th Military Police Brigade (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 13, 2010 at Combat Outpost McClain, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Daniel D. Merriweather.

There had been two yellow ribbons tied around a tree in front of Steve and Debbie Whitsitt’s home near Travelers Rest, one for each of their sons serving in the Middle East. A black ribbon has gone up in place of one of those bright symbols of love and longing.

Pvt. First Class Geoffrey Whitsitt won’t be coming home. He was killed when the Army Humvee he was driving hit a homemade bomb in Afghanistan, his father said.

His brother Steven, a sailor stationed in the Persian Gulf, is expected home by Sunday for the funeral.

His parents, relying on their faith, said Geoffrey is really at home now, with God, and find comfort in knowing their son died having no regrets.

“We know that yesterday morning sometime he went from the battlefield in Afghanistan and the next instant he was in the loving arms of his savior,” his father said.

Two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, Geoffrey was living his lifelong dream, his father said.

“Geoff knew at four years old he wanted to be a soldier, and he never waivered from that,” he said.

His goal was to become an Army Ranger, Whitsitt said.

“He had a warrior spirit,” according to his mother.

But above all, he was driven by the desire to help others and to serve God, she said.

“He loved his life. He loved his friends. There is nothing that I can think of that I would have wanted differently in how he lived his life,” she said. “He loved God.”

Geoffrey grew up in the country and loved to run through the woods and fields around his home, his dad said.

“He was my fishing buddy and my friend,” he said.

He was homeschooled until 10th grade and graduated from Greenville Tech Charter High in 2007.

Principal Fred Crawford said he made the announcement about Whitsitt’s death late in the day and plans to have counselors on hand today for students who need help.

“Our school is so small, everybody knows everybody,” he said. “It’s a huge loss. It’s certainly heartbreaking news. He’s part of the family.”

Whitsitt was one of five graduates of the charter school now serving in the military in the Middle East, Crawford said. Students planned to send care packages to their former classmates.

The Army hadn’t released any information on Whitsitt’s death by late Thursday, although an officer from Fort Gordon, Ga., which is handling the funeral arrangements, met with the family in the afternoon.

Funeral arrangements hadn’t been completed, the family said.

Steve Whitsitt said he and his wife had just walked out to the front porch of their home on Marsh Creek Road to have lunch Wednesday when a government vehicle pulled up.

“We knew as soon as we saw the first one get out of the car that it was not going to be good news,” he said.

They had known that their son was in a very dangerous situation. He had been involved in a firefight in October and lost some of his friends in that encounter.

“We knew it was something that could happen,” he said.

For now, the Whitsitts are relying on their faith to get them through the loss of their youngest son. Their grief is overshadowed only by their pride.

“Geoff was a remarkable young man,” his father said. “He will be sorely missed by a lot of people. But he will inspire a lot of people also.”

Army Pfc. Geoffrey A. Whitsitt was killed in action on 1/13/10.

Army Sgt. Lucas T. Beachnaw

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Lucas T. Beachnaw, 23, of Lowell, Mich.

Sgt. Beachnaw was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Camp Ederle, Italy; died Jan. 13, 2010 in Darya Ya, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit using small-arms fire.

Kevin Beachnaw's heart sank as he opened the door Wednesday night to see two U.S. Army representative standing before him. "Being from a military family, I knew ...," he said, choking up.

They told him his 23-year-old son, Sgt. Lucas Beachnaw with the 173rd Airborne Infantry, had been killed Wednesday in Afghanistan in small arms fire. "I can't stop crying," the father said Thursday from his Charlotte area home. "I feel like my eyes are burning."

He had just chatted on the telephone Tuesday with his son about the daily rigors of Army training school, deer hunting and sending him a care package of venison summer sausage and jerky.

He met the plane carrying his son's remains Friday at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., along with Lucas' roommate and Army comrade. (There are no photos of his dignified transfer)

A 2004 Lowell High School graduate who joined the Army in 2006, Lucas was on his second tour in Afghanistan after being deployed in December. His earlier deployment was a 15-month stint in 2006 and 2007.

A squad leader, he was on patrol in eastern Afghanistan when a firefight erupted and he was killed, family members said.

Lucas' death was the third by a soldier or airman with West Michigan ties who died supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan since the war began Oct. 7, 2001. Twenty-eight other military personnel from West Michigan have died in Iraq since the war started in March 2003.

Relatives described Lucas as someone who liked outdoor sports, particularly snowboarding, and who had a knack for humor.

"The first thing he did was make you laugh," said his sister, Terra DeLong. Her brother was a man who "lived life to the fullest" and took advantage of his military station in Vicenza, Italy, to see the sights, including Rome. He once called her from a snowboarding trip to The Alps. "He called just to rub it in, that he was on the top of the mountain," she said.

Beachnaw went through sniper training last year and earned the top-gun honor as best in his class, an achievement he was proud of, his family said. In October, he successfully completed a three-week school on helicopter landing zones and air navigation that has a high failure rate among participants.

Beachnaw was back in the States in July for DeLong's wedding and in October for the navigation training. She moved her wedding to July from the fall so her brother could attend. "I wasn't going to get married without my brother being there," she said.

Beachnaw came from a family with a history of military service. DeLong served in the U.S. Air Force. His grandfather, Donald Beachnaw, was a career Army man with 37 years service.

Another sister, Jamie Beachnaw, described Lucas as "the kind of person everyone loved. Whether you knew him for a week or his entire life, you loved him. "He never did anything small. He did everything huge," she said.

Family members said he talked about joining the ski patrol in Colorado if he ever left the Army.

Lucas loved playing with Jamie Beachnaw's 3-year-old daughter, Emma, but had not yet met her 4-month-old son, Brock. She wants her children to know his sacrifice. "I just want to make sure they remember him as a hero," Jamie said.

Army Sgt. Lucas T. Beachnaw was killed in action on 1/13/10.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Air Force Lt Colonel Kenneth Bourland

Remember Our Heroes

Searchers on Sunday recovered the body of a U.S. Air Force officer and Birmingham native who was among the thousands missing following the Jan. 12 Haitian earthquake that devastated the Carribbean nation. Major Ken Bourland, 37, was found in the ruins of the Hotel Montana, said his mother, Adrienne Bourland, of Cook Springs.

"Air Force officers came to the house this afternoon, about 60 or 90 minutes after Ken's body was recovered" to notify the family, Adrienne Bourland said late Sunday night from her son's home in suburban Miami. "We knew that eventually Ken would be found ... we had confidence that the military people on the ground would find him."

Minutes before the earthquake struck, he exchanged e-mails with his wife, Peggy, in Weston. When she heard about the quake, she went back to her computer. "Please tell me you're OK," she wrote.

But the five-story hotel was leveled. Bourland's body was found Sunday and flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. His remains were positively identified Monday. "We just ask that everyone pray for the family and remember them in this difficult time," said his brother-in-law, Bobby Greer, who referred calls to the U.S. Southern Command.

Bourland worked at Southern Command as the Caribbean desk officer. He was in Haiti with Lt. Gen. Ken Keen and four others from Southern Command, all of whom survived.

"His expertise and contributions helped SouthCom strengthen existing partnerships with defense and security counterparts across the Caribbean," said Southern Commend spokesman Robert Appin.

Bourland was scheduled to be promoted to lieutenant colonel. The Air Force is preparing to act on the promotion posthumously.

Family members remained hopeful Tuesday that a Birmingham native currently missing in Haiti would be found alive.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken Bourland, 37, of Florida, has been missing since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12.

“They are still digging and searching,” Adrienne Bourland said.

Adrienne and Dennis Bourland, Ken’s parents, of Cook Springs, traveled to Florida to be with Ken’s wife, Peggy, and their three grandsons last week. "I heard from a friend on Facebook that they turned off the heavy equipment so they could use sonar (acoustic equipment), and they were sure of survivors still remaining in the hotel (where Ken is believed to be trapped),” she said Tuesday afternoon.

A statement released by Peggy Bourland stated Ken was in Haiti on a routine trip with his job at Southcom.

According to the statement, Ken Bourland sent an e-mail from his hotel room, on the second floor, to his wife and three sons moments before the earthquake. “This was the last contact we had with him. Therefore, we are almost 100 percent certain he was in the hotel, possibly in his room, when the earthquake struck,” the statement read. “The USAF and the people of Southcom have informed us of the various rescue teams currently working at the Hotel Montana. They are working tirelessly to rescue Ken and the many others trapped beneath the rubble. We are so thankful for their effort.”

Adrienne Bourland said one of the assistant pastors of Ken and Peggy Bourland’s church, First Baptist Church in Westin, Florida, started a Facebook group called “Praying for the Rescue of Ken Bourland.”

Tuesday afternoon, the group had more than 2,400 members and numerous posts of people praying for Ken’s rescue.

“Things like that, knowing that people are praying for you and care about you, we are just humbled by the things people are doing for us,” Adrienne Bourland said.

Bourland said friends held a candlelight vigil for Ken, and have been posting on Facebook. Other individuals who don’t know the Bourlands, but are still praying for Ken’s safe return, have posted supporting comments as well.

“Facebook has been such a wonderful tool,” Adrienne Bourland said.

Ken Bourland’s parents traveled to Florida last week to be with their daughter-in-law and three grandsons.

“Ken was one of a group of five people representing the Air Force at a conference,” Adrienne Bourland said. She said the conference consisted of several different Caribbean countries, representatives from the United Nations, and other non-governmental organizations involved in disaster relief, including Samaritan’s Purse, American Red Cross, etc. The team helps prepare countries for assistance.

“Ken is the only one of his group still missing,” Adrienne Bourland said Monday afternoon. She said the other four members of his group are alive, although some are injured.

Adrienne Bourland said the family was hoping to hear news of her son’s rescue Monday. “We have not had any word today,” she said Monday afternoon. “But we always look at it as if we haven’t heard any bad news, there is hope. We have never given up hope.”

Adrienne Bourland said her son has had a lot of military and rescue training. He has been on active military duty for 15 years, serving a 2004 tour in Iraq. “Those things are useful in the situation he is in now,” she said. “It is my belief that he will remain calm and conserve his energy. He is a pretty smart fellow.”

Adrienne Bourland said the family is aware of the thoughts and prayers of the people of St. Clair County. “We want to send our appreciation to all those who are thinking of us and praying for us,” she said.

“We are hoping and praying that Ken is alive,” said Paul Brasher, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Eden, where Adrienne and Dennis Bourland are members. Brasher said church members have set up prayer lines, and are in contact with the family for updates on the search efforts. The New Hope Baptist Church marquee reads: “Our prayers are with you Ken Bourland and family.”

“We are hoping his military training, and the Lord even more, will help him survive,” Brasher said.

Brasher said the church held a special prayer time during Sunday night’s worship service, and is considering a prayer vigil, although one has not yet been scheduled.

According to the family’s statement, “We are also thankful for the support of our church, Weston First Baptist (in Florida), and our military family at Southcom and across the U.S. The calls, meals, prayers, Bible verses and numerous other ways you have encouraged us have been so uplifting. Our friends, family and neighbors have been under-girding pillars for us during this agonizing wait. We want to thank you so much!

“We are amazed at God’s love toward us at this time. We are amazed at the great outpouring of support from people all over the USA, some of which have never even met us. The response of so many has brought tears of joy to our eyes. Not only the response, but also the interest in our story by so many caring people has been such a blessing to us.”

In addition to his wife, Bourland is survived by: sons Charley, 3, and Andrew, 16 months; stepson Chance, 14; parents Dennis and Adrienne Bourland, of Cook Springs, Ala. and his sister Kellie Bourland.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham, 25, of Altoona, Pa.

SSgt. Ingham was assigned to 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan; died Jan. 11, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Cpl. Jamie R. Lowe and Cpl. Nicholas K. Uzenski.

A Marine from Blair County killed in the war in Afghanistan was being remembered in his hometown Wednesday. Matthew Ingham was a 2002 graduate of Altoona High School.
As a kid, Matt Ingham of Juniata wanted to be a game warden. But 9/11 triggered his martial spirit, and he signed up for a way of life where the quarry shoots back.

When two of Matt's fellow Marines in dress uniform walked through the door of his home office on North Fourth Avenue Monday afternoon, Matt's father, Gary, suspected the worst. "Please tell me he's injured," he recalled saying. But he knew by the set of their faces that wasn't it. "We're sorry to inform you ... " they began. He flung his glasses down, breaking one of the stems.

Still, the visitors were kind, waiting two-and-a-half hours until Matt's mother, Tammi, came home from work at the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society so they could tell her in person.

On Tuesday, Matt's platoon leader called from Afghanistan. Almost immediately, Gary and Tammi began crying. The platoon leader spoke of the ambush that killed Matt and two fellow Marines he'd stationed with him in an exposed position, anticipating an assault. He said Matt remained calm and called for helicopters. "He saved the rest of our lives," the platoon leader said.

Gary didn't like the idea of his son in combat. "But he was his own man," Gary said. He said his son was good with a gun and could shoot a bull's-eye at a thousand yards. He liked the structure of the military, and he was a "physical kid."

"His arms are like this," Gary said, making a circle with his hands about 7 inches in diameter.

He played football in junior high school, but motocross was his love. He became a professional motocross driver in Okinawa, Japan, where he was stationed. The platoon leader spoke of riding with Matt up and down hills until he had to get off.

In 2006, Matt, who has a sister, Monica, who lives in Phoenix, married Yasmin Rajpar, whom he met in eighth grade at Keith Junior High School.

"They were the loves of each others' lives," said Yasmin's mother, Shamim, an Altoona native who lives in Altoona with her husband, Haider, a native African she met in the Peace Corps. They adopted Yasmin as a baby from Pakistan and raised her here. Matt "absolutely adored" their daughter, she said. They were best friends, "like two puppies from the same litter," she said.

They hiked and kayaked together in Okinawa, where he was stationed. They saw life as an adventure, she said. She was a secondary school teacher taking courses for a master's degree. Despite the divergence of their life goals, they supported each other's ambitions, she said.

Shamim took pride in her son-in-law's excellence as a Marine. "I hope I've conveyed to you our love for him, and our high regard," she said. "He's part of our family."

Yasmin had just returned to their home in Okinawa from Christmas vacation in Altoona when she learned of Matt's death. She sounded "numb" and "flat" when her mom spoke to her Monday. She'll fly accompanied by a casualty officer to Dover, Del., where Matt's body will be brought back to the States, and she'll probably re-settle here, Shamim said.

With strangers, Matt was reserved, but with people he loved he was "loving" and "carefree," Gary said. He "messed with everybody," according to the platoon leader, but he always kept a straight face. Listening on the speakerphone to the platoon leader speak, Tammi slapped her husband on the thigh at that point.

Matt never spoke of what it was like in battle, said his father, who never served. Surely he was scared, Gary said. "I don't see how you could get used to that," he said.

But Matt was highly trained and stayed calm Monday in anticipation of the attack, his father pointed out.

Gary and Tammi flew to Dover to meet the plane that brought their son's body in about 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Gary said he goes from "numb to angry." But he remained sensitive to others. He called the Marines who delivered their message of death "super nice." He asked the platoon leader to give his phone number to the families of the other two Marines killed in the ambush, so they could call if they wanted.

He said goodbye to the platoon leader by saying, "Stay safe, so I can talk to you again."

Before Matt left for Afghanistan, Gary visited him in San Diego, where they rode motorcycles in the desert, fished in the ocean and went to bars at night. They were buddies. "That 'I'm your dad' sort of thing went out when he went into the Marines," Gary said.

The platoon leader told Gary that Matt wasn't easy to lead because of his knowledge and strong convictions. They didn't always agree but always "talked it out," the platoon leader said. He learned a lot from Matt, he said. Matt wanted to make a career of the service, his dad said.

"He was literally the No. 1 Marine I've ever had," the leader told them. "I'm sorry I couldn't bring him home."

One of Ingham’s former teachers described him as a bright student with a magnetic personality. Leanne Sidney said because of that, students at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center were naturally drawn to him.

Sidney said Ingham was natural leader, so it was no surprise to her when he told her he was joining the Marine Corps. After he graduated, she and her students adopted Ingham’s platoon in Iraq and sent him letters and care packages.

Ingham served two tours in Iraq before going to Afghanistan. Some of his classmates from the previous school year returned to class after Ingham left for his first tour of duty.

“When those juniors came back as seniors the following fall, Matt was deployed to Iraq and that really impacted the class,“ Sidney said. “He'd been sitting in class with us in June and the next fall he was off fighting for his country.”

Sidney said Ingham also like riding his motorcycle and told her that was his way of relaxing. He had also recently married his eighth-grade sweetheart, Yasmin.

Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham was killed in action on 01/11/10.

Marine Cpl. Nicholas K. Uzenski

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Nicholas K. Uzenski, 21, of Tomball, Texas

Cpl. Uzenski was assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan; died Jan. 11, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham and Cpl. Jamie R. Lowe.

A 2006 Franklin High School graduate was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, according to a family member.
Marine Cpl. Nick Uzenski, 21, died in combat, his grandmother Audrey Archibald said Tuesday night.

Three young men ran through the streets of Franklin on Wednesday afternoon in honor of a fallen friend.
One wore a faded shirt that belonged to Marine Cpl. Nick Uzenski, who died Monday fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The three men, Austin Babcock, Zach Jordan and DJ Terry, said Uzenski, a 2006 Franklin High School graduate and avid runner, would have beaten them in a foot race. "He ran every race," Babcock said. "We're not as in shape as he was."

The lettering was wearing away on an old Abercrombie & Fitch long-sleeved shirt worn by Jordan, who touched it reverently after the run as the three men cooled down in the Franklin Fire Department parking lot.

"It just doesn't seem ...," Babcock began.

"Possible," Terry finished.

A community in shock

At 10 a.m. today, bells are set to toll at Aldrich Baptist when the body of the 21-year-old arrives in Dover, Del.

Uzenski's mother, Lisa Uzenski, was notified of her son's death in person by military officials Tuesday. Her mother, Audrey Archibald, is a bus driver for the Franklin Central School District. Archibald informed school officials of Uzenski's death, which has shocked the school community, Superintendent Gordon Daniels said.

"A lot of my staff are just trying to hold it together," Daniels said. "He was such a positive young man."

Although Uzenski graduated 3 1/2 years ago, students also were affected by his death. "A lot of the kids really did know him," Daniels said.

School administrators held a meeting of its crisis team Tuesday and had grief counselors available for staff and students Tuesday and Wednesday. "He was a wonderful young man that everybody loved," Daniels said.

Daniels said the use of the school _ the largest gathering place in the community _ has been offered to the family for funeral services.

No funeral arrangements have been made, according to Linda DeAndrea, Archibald's sister-in-law.

DeAndrea said Archibald and Lisa Uzenski were traveling Wednesday to Delaware under military escort to meet with the Marine's father, Bill Uzenski. Lisa and Bill Uzenski have been divorced for several years, DeAndrea said.

Uzenski's father Bill lives in Bozeman, Mont., with his wife and their three sons. Lisa Uzenski still lives in the area and works at Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care in Oneonta. Nick Uzenski also has two teenage sisters in Montana.

Uzenski aspired to be a Marine from a young age, DeAndrea said. "He was doing what he wanted to do," she said.
Unsung hero

Uzenski was the unsung hero of the varsity basketball team, Jordan said.

Not a regular starter, the 6-foot-tall athlete played the role of the sixth man who would be the first to be substituted onto the court and played a lot of minutes, Jordan said.

His basketball coach, Matt Campbell, who is also Franklin's athletic director, said Uzenski was a committed player.

"He was well-rounded. He was a good shooter. He was very intelligent on the court," Campbell said. "He did whatever was asked of him. Even if it wasn't what he was best at, he would try and get it done. From a coaching standpoint, I would love to have 12 Nicks on my team every year."

That tenacity also transferred to the classroom, Campbell said.

"When you lose somebody as special as Nick, it is difficult," Campbell said. "He had a glow. A personality that was unique. He was a special young man. He was extremely polite. You couldn't find anybody that had a negative thing to say about him."

Uzenski, whose father and uncle served in the Marines, had a way of walking and an aura of discipline while he was in high school that hinted he would someday be a Marine, Campbell said.

Uzenski's death has shocked the entire community, said Franklin Mayor John Campbell, Matt Campbell's father. "It's very tragic," Campbell said. "He was a good kid. You hear it every day, of men losing their lives. But this has really hit home."

Campbell said he is planning a community wide effort to place a monument in a local park to honor Uzenski and other Franklin residents who lost their lives in service to their country.

The Department of Defense lists Uzenski's address as Tomball, Texas, and his friends said he lived there for a short time with his father.

Recon Marines must be screened for the special duty and receive advanced training such as airborne school. They are typically tasked with observing and reporting on enemy activity.

Uzenski had arrived in Afghanistan in late fall and was to be home at about June. He turned 21 on Dec. 30, Archibald said.

Marine Cpl. Nicholas K. Uzenski was killed in action on 01/11/10.

Marine Cpl. Jamie R. Lowe

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Jamie R. Lowe, 21, of Johnsonville, Ill.

Cpl. Lowe was assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan; died Jan. 11, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Matthew N. Ingham and Cpl. Nicholas K. Uzenski.

Cpl Lowe enlisted in August 2007 and arrived on Okinawa a year later. His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, NATO Medal ISAF, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

“He was driven to be the best, and it showed in everything he did,” Maj. Jordan Walzer, the corporal’s officer-in-charge in Afghanistan, said in the statement.

Rasch said Lowe “had a huge impact on the morale of his company and his platoon.”

The flag in front of Cisne High School was flying at half-staff Tuesday in honor of Marine Cpl. Jamie Lowe, a 2007 graduate of the school who was killed in action Monday in Afghanistan.

"A minister came Monday afternoon and got Jamie's brother, Cody, and I knew right then what had happened," said Penny Arnold, Cisne High School principal. "I brought the students and teachers together this morning and told them what had happened. We had a moment of silence, and there were a lot of tears."

Lowe, 21, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit, died Monday during a gunbattle with insurgents.

He is the son of Kevin and Teresa Lowe of Johnsonville.

"He wanted to be a Marine very early on," Arnold said.

"He was in the Young Marines out of Mount Vernon, Ill., through high school and joined the Marines right after graduation." She described him as a "friendly kid that everyone liked".

Teresa Lowe was at work Monday afternoon at Orchardville Community Church, where she is head of the children's program, when news came of her son's death.

"Kevin (Lowe) called Teresa and told her that the military was at their house," said Mark Shell, pastor at the church.

"We drove Teresa from church to home, and I joined them a short time later. Teresa commented that her father died in Vietnam — now her son was killed in Afghanistan. What an ultimate sacrifice."

Teresa Lowe's cousin, David Legg of Fairfield, remembers Lowe as a hard-working kid who did part-time welding at his manufacturing shop during summers.

"My wife and I were driving back from Missouri and heard on the news that three Americans lost their lives in Afghanistan," Legg said. "We pulled into a restaurant for lunch, and just a short time later got a call that Jamie was one of them."

Teresa Lowe was an infant when her father, Verdell Solomon, was killed during the Vietnam War. "He never got to see Teresa, but heard her cry one time over the telephone. What an awful tragedy," Legg said.

The sign in front of Cisne High School now reads "Corporal Jamie Lowe — Thank you for serving our country."

Arnold said a moment of silence was scheduled for Tuesday night's boys' basketball game with Sandoval. Players were asked to wear black bands on their uniforms, with the cheerleaders wearing black ribbons.

Besides his parents, Lowe is survived by two brothers, Cody and Hunter Lowe, both at home.

Marine Cpl. Jamie R. Lowe was killed in action on 01/11/10.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert, 20, of Fort Atkinson, Wis.

LCpl Meinert was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died Jan. 10, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

A Wisconsin Marine who was killed in Afghanistan was remembered in Racine WI, the town he grew up in, as a "quiet boy, but a good kid," who always aspired to be a Marine.

Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert was killed when he stepped on a landmine while serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, a family member said.

Military officials notified Meinert's family of his death on Sunday, the family member said. Family would be traveling to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., to receive Meinert's body.

Lance Cpl Meinert or "Slim," as he was known to his company mates, died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, according to Maj. Alan Crouch, public affairs officer for the Hawaii Marine base where Meinert was stationed. For such a young man, Meinert was a combat veteran, Crouch said. His deployment to Afghanistan in November was his second with his unit, which had returned just eight months earlier from an eight-month deployment to Iraq, he said.

Meinert was a radio telephone operator, one of the "more technically advanced" roles in his Marine unit, Crouch said. He was awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service medal, Global War on Terrorism Service medal and the Afghanistan and Iraq Campaign medals, he said.

Meinert, 20, was born and raised in Racine. He lived there until he was about 15, when he moved with his parents to Fort Atkinson. He graduated from Fort Atkinson High School in 2007. Meinert started the enlistment process when he was 17, while he was still in high school. He joined the Marines when he turned 18, the family member said.

Jeff Zaspel, principal at Fort Atkinson, says Meinert was a pleasant person involved in many activities, especially playing jazz music.

He graduated from recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., and the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Calif., before being assigned to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Oahu.

Before Meinert went to Afghanistan he had served almost a year in Iraq, the family member said. He returned to the states, trained and was then deployed to Afghanistan. He had been in Afghanistan less than a month when he was killed.

Meinert was patrolling streets with other Marines when he stepped on the landmine, a family member said. He was wearing protective armor. Military officials said a Black Hawk helicopter transported Meinert to a hospital where he died from his injuries, the family member said.

Roberta Schulz, owner of Out of the Pan, said Meinert spent a quiet night dining at her restaurant last month with a small group of family and friends before returning to a military base in Hawaii. It was probably one of the last times he was together with his family here, Schulz said.

The dinner was Dec. 12. Meinert shipped out to Afghanistan Dec. 13. Schulz said she went to the restaurant the night Meinert was there to say goodbye. "I just remember when he left the restaurant I said, ‘thank you for what you're doing' and ‘come back safe,' " Schulz said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert was killed in action on 01/10/10.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Mark D. Juarez

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Mark D. Juarez, 23, of San Antonio

LCpl Juarez was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died Jan. 9, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

The family of Mark D. Juarez from San Antonio, Texas is grieving over their son's death. "I never thought, you know, that he was going to come back in a box," said Elida Flores, Mark D. Juarez's grandmother.

"I told him, 'Don't go. It's too dangerous over there,' " Flores, told TV station News 4 WOAI in San Antonio. "He said, 'Grandma, I want to go. I volunteered to go. And I'll come back very soon.' "

Juarez was a small-arms repairman and technician, according to base officials. He joined the Corps in March of 2007 and reported to the 1st Battalion in November of the same year.

Lance Cpl. Mark David Juarez didn't have to go to Afghanistan, but he volunteered because he loved the Marines and felt called to serve, his uncle said.

His family, now coping with news that Juarez, 23, was killed Saturday in Helmand province, believes he died for a worthy cause.

“He died for his country, and for freedom, and that's why he's a hero,” said the uncle, Toby Flores.

He said the Marine's parents, Cynthia and George Juarez, don't want circumstances of his death revealed until they've returned with his remains from Dover, Del. Military officials would not say whether Juarez was killed in a roadside bomb blast that took the life of British reporter Rupert Hamer and an Afghan soldier.

What is clear, relatives said, is that the native San Antonian they called Mark David was kind to others and determined to make something of his life.

Born in San Antonio on Nov. 14, 1986, Juarez grew up in the Beacon Hill area, near Hildebrand and San Pedro avenues, and attended St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

He had a large extended family, including a father who had been in the Navy and uncles who'd served in other military branches. He attended local Catholic schools, made good grades and “studied all the time,” his uncle said.

Flores, who had served in the Army, tried to steer Juarez toward the Air Force so he wouldn't be routinely exposed to dangers in the war zone. But Juarez wasn't afraid and was drawn by a sense of unity that permeates Marine Corps culture, his uncle said.

Juarez, responsible for issuing weapons to troops in the field, loved his job and planned to re-enlist. He recently had served nine months in Iraq and could have chosen not to deploy to Afghanistan. He went there in November. “He was not supposed to go on this tour. He volunteered for it,” Flores said.

Juarez is the 10th San Antonian killed in Afghanistan, and the first to die in combat overseas this year. All four San Antonians who died in combat last year also were killed in Afghanistan. Three of them were Marines.

Juarez's grandmother has her living room filled with photos of the young Marine. His kindergarten graduation photo shows an innocent-looking boy in a small commencement robe. In the photo from his 2005 graduation from Holy Cross High School, he had a thin mustache, but he was clean cut in his official Marine Corps photo.

Angel Cedillo, principal at Holy Cross, said Juarez was a “model kid” who never caused problems. During the school's morning prayer Monday, school officials announced his death and said a prayer over the public address system.

Juarez is the first known graduate of Holy Cross, which opened in 1957, to be killed in military service since 2001, Cedillo said.

“We prepared a prayer keeping Mark and his family in our thoughts,” he said. “He was an incredibly quiet, unassuming young man. Knowing what we know of the Marines and their values of dedication and selflessness, it makes sense that he chose to be a part of that.”

His grandmother said Juarez used his auto mechanic skills to help others and was proud of the red Dodge Neon his mother gave him after she got a new car. After joining the Marines, he passed it on to his younger brother, Dominic, 21, who also attended Holy Cross.

“He was a real lovable, nice boy, always smiling,” his grandmother said. “There wasn't anything you could ask that he wouldn't do for you.”

Marine Lance Cpl. Mark D. Juarez was killed in action on 01/09/10.