Sunday, May 30, 2010

Army Pfc. Alvaro R. Regalado Sessarego

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Alvaro R. Regalado Sessarego, 37, of Virginia Beach, Va.

Pfc. Sessarego was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas; died May 30, 2010 at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, of injuries sustained April 18, 2010 in a noncombat-related incident at Dahuk, Iraq.

Family members say Regalado was not like the rest of his fellow soldiers at boot camp.

"It was his goal to give back to this country that was doing so much for him," said mother-in-law Jackie Dayton. "He saw it as way to take care of his family."

He was not yet an American citizen when he enlisted in the Army at the age of 36.

"I never thought he would get into the Army at such a late age," Dayton said. "I never did, but his intellect spoke volumes for him."

He moved to Virginia Beach from native country Peru. There he spent time in the Peruvian Navy, and he met his wife Teresa Dayton.

"Alvaro was the love of her life," his wife said. "Alvaro was that love that you only get once. He took her breath away when he walked in the room. I don't know how you get over it."

Regalado was stationed in Fort Bliss and made is first deployment to Iraq. It would be his last.

"It just wasn't meant to be," Teresa Dayton-Regalado said.

In April, Pfc. Sessarego was working in a mess hall when there was a fire in which he was severely burned. He was flown back to Texas, but last over the weekend he died from his injuries.

"This is devastating," Dayton said. "My daughter is crushed. She doesn't know what to do."

Before his death, Regalado fulfilled his dream of becoming an American citizen.

"He will never be replaced," Dayton added. "He will never be forgotten. He will be forever one of my sons. He is a son that I am incredibly proud of."

Alvaro Regalado Sessarego, a former Peruvian sailor, missed the military life after migrating to America, so he joined the U.S. Army.

A month after taking the oath of American citizenship last fall, he shipped out to Iraq.

"He was happy to go," said his wife, Teresa Dayton-Regalado. "He wanted to give something back to his new country."

In April, only four months into his tour, Pfc. Regalado Sessarego was severely burned in a mess hall fire. He died of his injuries Sunday in the burn unit of Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He was 37.

The fire at a military base near Mosul in northern Iraq is still under investigation. Regalado Sessarego suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body.

The Army classified his death as non-combat-related.

He met his wife in 2006 while the two of them were working on a job together. She is a house cleaner; he was a painter.

"He wanted to go out with me, and I said no at first," Dayton-Regalado said. "He kept asking, and finally I said yes. Four weeks later we got married."

Her mother, Jackie Dayton, called it a perfect match.

Pfc. Sessarego lived in Virginia Beach with his wife Theresa and her three teenage boys.

Derrick Dayton says he was the father they've always wanted.

"He was a great man, a great father to me, my younger brother and my older brother," he said.

"I was really pleased that Teresa had finally found the love of her life," she said.

Regalado Sessarego had started a small construction business in Virginia Beach before joining the Army.

"He wanted to make a better life for himself," his wife said.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Bliss, Texas.

His wife said he didn't share many details of his Iraq deployment with her. "He didn't want me to worry," she said.

"He was very proud of becoming a citizen," his mother-in-law said.

Pfc. Sessarego is survived by his mother, Aurora P. Cruz, Virginia Beach, his wife Teresa Lynn and three stepsons: Andrew Dayton, 19, Derrick Dayton, 17, and Richard Dayton, 13. (Andrew will graduate from Landstown High School this month) He also has a 13-year-old daughter who lives in Peru.

His body will be sent to Peru for burial. His adopted country will honor him in a memorial ceremony at Fort Bliss.

Army Pfc. Alvaro R. Regalado Sessarego died 5/30/10 from injuries sustained 4/18/10.

Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony A. Dilisio

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony A. Dilisio, 20, of Macomb, Mich.

LCpl. Dilisio was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 30, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Marine from Macomb County killed in Afghanistan
By Zlati Meyer
Detroit Free Press

A 20-year-old Marine from Macomb Township died Sunday in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

Lance Cpl. Anthony Dilisio was supporting combat operations in Helmand Province.

He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“They stopped to check on a truck. They were ambushed and a battle ensued,” David Dilisio said this morning about his nephew, who served as a mortar man.

Anthony Dilisio, a graduate of Dakota High School who swam and played football and baseball, enlisted approximately two years ago and was deployed in December, according to David Dilisio. He was scheduled to come home at the end of July or early August.

“He was a people person and he was always compelled to give back in some way,” David Dilisio recalled. “He wanted to serve in some capacity, whether it was as a firefighter or a police officer or a Marine, which to him was the pinnacle.”

Anthony Dilisio’s father, Lorenzo, himself an Army veteran, and two of Anthony’s five siblings, flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and are scheduled to return with the body to Selfridge Air National Guard Base on Friday, according to David Dilisio. He’ll be buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Anthony Dilisio, who was engaged to be married, also enjoyed golf and music, his uncle said.

“He was a very personable guy,” he added. “He had a big heart. He had a lot of friends. There are a lot of kids in the family, who looked up to him.”

Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony A. Dilisio was killed in action on 5/30/10.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Marine Pfc. Jake W. Suter

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Pfc. Jake W. Suter, 18, of Los Angeles

Pfc. Suter was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died May 29, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Those attending Memorial Day events at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall on Monday had arrived ready to reflect on memories of fallen heroes, but few expected so recent a memory as that of young United States Marine Corps Pfc. Jake William Suter, killed in Afghanistan on Saturday morning, Afghanistan time.

Suter, 18, who lived in Stevenson Ranch and was a 2009 graduate of West Ranch High School, died after landing in the war-torn nation just a week ago. Jake became the first graduate of his high school to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

"It seems like a dream, but it's reality. There's nothing we can do now. He's with God now," said Jake's friend Josh Vasquez.

"It's been a very, very difficult time for our students, especially for our faculty. They were very close to Jake Suter," said Bob Vincent, principal of West Ranch High School.

"He wanted to be a Marine so badly and he did it so well," said his friend Nathan Ure, who recalls a time not too long ago when Suter walked into his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, proudly wearing his Marine uniform. "I'm so proud of him," Ure said. "Everyone enjoys freedom, but few do something about it, to protect it."

On his own Facebook page, where Suter listed the United States Marine Corps as his employer since June 2009, he wrote: "I am a Marine in more than just profession but in everything I am."

Since news of Suter's death reached Santa Clarita, friends from church and high school have been filling Facebook pages with praise and love. "What he was doing, he loved," Ure said. "This really hit me hard."

In a message posted on her blog Nov. 2, 2009, Suter's mother, Michelle Unthank, says: "He is in good spirits and enjoying his SOI (School of Infantry) training which he will graduate in 1 month. He is an assaultman - #0351(25 in his PLT or Co., can't remember) - ITB (Infantry Training Battalion), Alpha Co., (300+ boys), weapons platoon (100+). He has hiked and ran many miles through the hills of SD, shot rifles, AT-4 rocket launchers ...

"I'm happy that they are taking pride and expect nothing but perfection ... As they are getting combat ready in SOI, the attention to detail will be life and death later. We love all the Marines - especially the ALPHA Co."

After training briefly in Hawaii, Suter returned to Stevenson Ranch with "stories about boot camp" and was eager to do his duty for his country, Ure said.

Holly Martin Gross set up a special Facebook page - "R.I.P. Jake Suter" - for those wishing to honor him, and quoted philosopher Joseph Campbell: "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."

Bob Kellar, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Committee, shocked Memorial Day attendees with news of Suter's death, noting that the young man's parents were in Delaware and asking everyone to honor a moment of silence.

Suter's parents, Chris and Michelle Unthank, of Bates Place in Stevenson Ranch, are on the East Coast state to retrieve the body of their son. They are due back in California late Tuesday.

Marine Pfc. Jake W. Suter was killed in action on 5/29/10.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht, 24, of College Station, Texas

Cpl. Leicht was assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died May 27, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht, a Texas Marine, was serving his second overseas tour. His first one in 2007 lasted only a few weeks after his Humvee drove over an explosive, breaking his leg.

He almost lost that leg, but after two years in an Army hospital recovering, he successfully lobbied to return to the battlefield. Leicht had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks when he stepped on an explosive and was instantly killed on May 27.

His older brother Jonathan Leicht says Jacob was "someone who knew he wanted to be a soldier from the moment he could speak."

It was Jacob Leicht's second overseas tour. His first one in 2007 lasted only a few weeks after his Humvee drove over an explosive, breaking his leg.

He was killed Friday by a roadside bomb while on a foot patrol, according to a report by a Fox News reporter embedded with Marine troops. Leicht had also been in Iraq, where he received a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Ribbon, awarded only to Marines who have come under enemy fire, the Los Angeles Times reported.

During that time, Jacob got married in a traditional ceremony in Kerrville. Jonathan officiated the ceremony. That was the last time the brothers ever saw each other.

KERRVILLE, Texas (AP) — The 1000th American serviceman killed in Afghanistan had already fallen once to a hidden explosive.

On Thursday, the family of Corporal Jacob Leicht was notified that he had been killed in an explosion while on foot patrol in Afghanistan.

Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht was driving his Humvee over a bomb in Iraq that punched the dashboard radio into his face and broke his leg in two places. He spent two painful years recovering from that 2007 blast. The 24-year-old had written letters from his hospital bed begging to be put back on the front lines, and died less than a month into a desperately sought second tour.

The Texas Marine's death marks a grim milestone in the Afghanistan war. He was killed this week when he stepped on a land mine in Helmand province that ripped off his right arm.

An Associated Press tally shows Leicht is the 1,000th U.S. serviceman killed in the Afghan combat, nearly nine years after the first casualty was also a soldier from the San Antonio area.

He said he always wanted to die for his country and be remembered," said Jesse Leicht, his younger brother. "He didn't want to die having a heart attack or just being an old man. He wanted to die for something."

Cpl. Leicht's brothers told the AP the military also told the family that his death put the toll at 1,000.

When military officers went to tell Leicht's parents their adopted son had died in combat, sheriff's deputies had to help navigate them to the 130-acre family ranch tucked deep in the Texas Hill Country.

It was here that Jacob Leicht chopped thick cedar trees and hiked the rugged limestone peaks, growing up into an imposing 6-5, 200-pound Marine with a soft heart. He watched "Dora the Explorer" with his brother's children and confided to family that he was troubled by the thought of young civilians being killed in battle.

But for "Jake" Leicht, born in a Lemoore, Calif., Navy hospital, the battlefield was the destination. He threw away a college ROTC scholarship after just one semester because he feared it would lead away from the front lines.

Flags flew at half staff across the city. Near an outdoor market, a sign hung that read, "R.I.P. Cpl. Jacob Leicht," a local American hero.

"He was more clear about his calling to become a soldier than anyone I've ever met, within any field, and it was amazing to see how it all played out," Jonathan said.

Jake, who was adopted by his family from California, has three other siblings besides Jonathan. He comes from generations of military service, including two grandfathers who fought in World War II, and his father, who joined the Navy.

Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht was killed in action on 5/27/10.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera, 28, of Waterford, Conn.

Sgt. Rivera was assigned to 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut National Guard, Norwalk, Conn.; died May 25, 2010 at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., of wounds sustained May 20 when his unit was attacked by enemy forces using indirect fire at Contingency Outpost Xio Haq, Afghanistan.

Last summer, six months before he was deployed to Afghanistan for the second time, infantry Sgt. Edwin Rivera sat in his car in the driveway of his parents' house in Waterford and explained to his mother why he was returning to war.

It was the sad faces of the children that he had seen in Afghanistan during his first tour there in 2006, he told his mother, faces that still reminded him of why American soldiers were there.

"When the U.S. soldiers drive by," Rivera told his mother Gladys that night, "the children will scramble like mad in the dust just to get thrown a simple pencil from us. They don't even have pencils. I was born for this, it's my duty, to protect those families over there."

Now there is chilling immediacy to her memories, for Rivera has paid a high price for returning to those Afghan faces.

Rivera, 28, died on Tuesday night as a result of wounds he received in a firefight in Laghman Province last Thursday. His family arrived at his bedside Sunday and was with him until he died, Whitford said.

“They are taking the loss very, very hard and appreciate the outpouring of support,” Whitford said. “The family came back this morning from Bethesda (Md.), and we are assisting them in any way possible with the wake, funeral and emotional support the family may need at this time. It’s very overwhelming. They’re having a very difficult time.”

Rivera, a 2000 graduate of Waterford High School, left for Afghanistan in early January with the 1st Battalion of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a Connecticut National Guard unit based in New Haven. Many of them, like Rivera, were on their second and third deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq. Rivera's 700-member deployment group, which included the 250th Engineer Company of New London, was the largest deployment of the Connecticut Guard since the Korean War.

Rivera's family lives on a winding street of modest, meticulously-kept houses about a mile from the New London line. His parents are hard-working Puerto Ricans who moved here in the 1970s, raised a family and were proud to have their only son assert his identity as an American soldier, even after they faced the hardship of his first deployment in 2006 being extended from a promised 12 months to 15 months.

Rivera, his mother said, returned from that long posting in Afghanistan personally subdued and doubtful about the progress American troops were making there. But he gradually recovered his old cheer and, after returning to his job as an evening shift security guard at the Millstone nuclear power plant, dove back into family routines.

Rivera's wife, Yesenia, usually leaves home early for her job in a dental office, so Rivera dressed and fed their two sons, saw them off to the school bus, and picked them up after school before reporting for his shift at the nuclear plant. After he learned that he would be deployed a second time, Rivera bought a webcam for his computer at home, so he and Yesenia could see each other on his occasional calls home.

Those routines changed after Rivera left in January. His children got off the bus instead at their grandmother's. On weekends, his father, Ceferino, performed all the chores and mowed the lawns at Rivera's house.

"The center of the family shifts back to my house when Edwin is gone," Gladys Rivera said. "I take the boys after school and, of course am overjoyed to have them. But it's also a daily reminder that Edwin is gone, so far away in a hard country."

And now, of course, there are the faces and lives of other children to consider — two American children.

Last November, while Rivera was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan at a training base in Indiana, Gladys found his son, Lorenzo, lying on the couch in her living room, staring at a photograph of his father in his Army uniform. Lorenzo was 4. When his grandmother asked him what he was doing, Lorenzo said, "I'm just looking at Daddy. I miss him already."

Army Sgt. Edwin Rivera was killed in action on 5/25/10.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Army Pfc. Christopher R. Barton

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Christopher R. Barton, 22, of Concord, N.C.

Pfc Barton was assigned to 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died May 24, 2010 in Khowst province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using small-arms fire.

Barton graduated from Central Cabarrus High School in 2006 and was interested in public service, his father Roy Schmiedeshoff said.

"He volunteered thinking about public service," Schmiedeshoff said. "He volunteered for airborne and got his wings. He wanted to do that."

Barton shipped out to Afghanistan on Jan. 26.

He joined the Army in December 2008 and arrived at Fort Campbell, Ky., in June 2009. His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal; NATO Medal; Army Service Ribbon and Weapons Qualification, M4, expert.

In addition to his father, Barton is survived by his wife, Heather N. Barton; mother, Elaine Schmiedeshoff; brothers, Bryan Schmiedeshoff and Corey Barton.

Army Pfc. Christopher R. Barton was killed in action 5/24/10.

Army Maj. Ronald W. Culver Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Maj. Ronald W. Culver Jr., 44, of Shreveport, La.

Major Culver was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Louisiana National Guard, Shreveport, La.; died May 24, 2010 in Numaniyah, Iraq, when insurgents attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.

Major in La. guard killed in Iraq bombing
By John Andrew Prime
Shreveport (La.) Times

SHREVEPORT, La. — The executive officer with the Shreveport-based 2nd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, has been killed in Iraq, the Army National Guard says.

Maj. Ronald Wayne Culver Jr., 44, of El Dorado, Ark., was killed May 24 when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, said Lt. Col. David Peterson, a liaison between the National Guard and the Culver family.

The attack occurred near Numaniyah in southern Iraq, a release from the Louisiana Army National Guard revealed.

Culver is known to Shreveporters through his work with the local unit during its prior deployment as the 1/156th Armor Battalion in Iraq in 2004-05, through boss days at Camp Minden and through the unit’s work in responses to hurricanes. His widow, Tracey Culver, is the kindergarten and day care director for the First United Methodist Church of El Dorado.

“Major Culver’s positive influence and sense of duty will be felt in the squadron for years to come,” said squadron commander Lt. Col. William Rachal. “He was loved and respected by all. I have known Wayne Culver for more than 10 years and will always remember his sense of humor, sound counsel and his constant concern for soldiers. We are deeply saddened by the loss of this fine officer and friend.”

A graduate of LSU Shreveport, Culver received numerous military honors during his 22 years in the Guard, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, the Louisiana War Cross and the Louisiana Commendation Medal.

“The Army has the seven core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage,” said squadron Chaplain Capt. James Collins of Norman, Okla. “To me, Wayne exemplified those Army values. We learn them and we are supposed to live them. Not everyone does ... but he did. He was a friend to everyone, regardless of rank. It didn’t matter if they were a cook or a general, he treated everyone the same. He was a good husband, a good father and a good soldier, but most importantly, he was a good man.”

Culver was the son of Ronald W. Culver Sr. and Betty Culver, both of Shreveport. In addition to his widow, he leaves behind two children, Michelle Francis, 16, and Ronald Wayne III, 13. Before his latest deployment, he was employed by AmerCable.

He was second-in-command of the 2/108th that left Shreveport in January for a yearlong deployment to Iraq, after training in Mississippi. The unit is headquartered at Fort Humbug.

In a 2005 article in The Times, Culver, then a captain, shared a sentiment with The Times that rings true today.

“The general public may not know or understand how much of a sacrifice these soldiers have made for our freedoms back home,” he said.

Arkansas soldier who was killed in Iraq is laid to rest
The Associated Press

EL DORADO, Ark. — Family members and friends say an Arkansas soldier who was killed in Iraq loved life and his work and used his belief in God to serve others.

Hundreds filled the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium Tuesday for the funeral of Maj. Ronald Wayne Culver Jr., who was killed May 24 when an improvised explosive device struck the convoy he was escorting in Numaniyah, Iraq.

Culver was the executive officer of the Shreveport-based 2nd Squadron 108th Calvary Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana Army National Guard.

National Guard Chaplain Rob Baker said Culver loved his wife, Tracey, and their two children and made sure they knew about his relationship to Jesus Christ.

Culver was buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in Haughton, La.

Army Maj. Ronald W. Culver Jr. was killed in action on 5/24/10.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Army Capt. Kyle A. Comfort

Remember Our Heroes

Army Capt. Kyle A. Comfort, 27, of Jacksonville, Ala.

Capt. Comfort was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.; died May 8, 2010 in Now Zad, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.

Benning Ranger killed in Afghanistan
The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — A member of a Fort Benning Ranger unit, killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, was a leader who died “doing what he loved,” his wife said.

Kyle A. Comfort, 27, of Jacksonville died May 8 in Helmand province of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit, the military said. An Army news release said the combat operation in which he was taking part uncovered a large IED factory.

“Kyle’s main purpose in life was to make a difference,” said his wife, Brooke Clopton Comfort, 28, of Jacksonville, “and he really felt like we were making a difference over there.”

Kyle Comfort was a fire support officer in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Benning.

He graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2006 with a degree in criminal justice. He served as a fire support officer and platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, both with the 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.

“He was a hero. He died for his country. He died doing what he loved,” his wife told The Anniston Star. “He was a wonderful man and a wonderful soldier.”

The couple married in October 2005. Survivors include their 6-month-old daughter, Kinleigh Ann.

“Kyle was a quiet professional who lived the Ranger Creed,” Col. Michael E. Kurilla, commander, 75th Ranger Regiment, said through the Army’s press office.

Comfort’s father, the late Kenneth A. Comfort, retired from the Army as first sergeant.

“It was in his blood. He was born to be a soldier,” said Brooke Comfort.

Army Capt. Kyle A. Comfort was killed in action on 5/8/10.

Army Pfc. Jason D. Fingar

Remember Our Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His friends described Fingar as a devoted Christian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 21, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Amilcar H. Gonzalez

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Amilcar H. Gonzalez, 26, of Miami

SSgt. Gonzalez was assigned to 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.; died May 21, 2010 in Ash Shura, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Third Infantry Division soldier Staff Sgt. Amilcar H. Gonzalez has been posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Gonzalez, 26, a native of Miami, Fla., was shot and killed May 21 in Ash Shura, Iraq, when insurgents attacked his unit. A “tanker,” he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID at Fort Stewart.

Staff Sgt. Gonzalez joined the Army on Sept. 17, 2001, and arrived at Fort Stewart in April 2002, according to Fort Stewart spokesperson Kevin Larson.

“He had four deployments,” Larson said. He did not have information as to why Gonzalez will receive the medals.

1-64 Armor Commander Lt. Col. Ross Coffman wrote this sad message from Iraq Monday on the battalion’s Facebook page:

“I write you tonight with heavy heart due to the passing of Staff Sgt. Amilcar Gonzalez. He was a leader, warrior, soldier and friend to the entire Desert Rogue Family. He will be missed by all of us. Soon we will conduct the memorial service in Iraq and will all mourn together. Please keep Staff Sgt. Gonzalez’s family and the Desert Rogues in your thoughts and prayers. We continue to remain steadfast in our support of each other and our mission.”

Gonzalez, who had enlisted in September 2001 shortly after the World Trade Center terror attacks, will be posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, an Army official said.

An Army tanker, Gonzalez was was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, in Fort Stewart, Ga.

Gonzalez first arrived in Iraq in April 2002, and was deployed four times, the official said.

MIAMI -- A local family is mourning a Cutler Bay soldier who died while serving in Iraq.

Army Staff Sgt. Amilcar Gonzalez, 26, of Cutler Bay, died of wounds he suffered when his unit was attacked by insurgents in northern Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

No one answered the door at Gonzalez's home on Tuesday. But at nearby Southridge High School, even nine years after Gonzalez left the school, his computer teacher remembered him.

"He was a real polite kid, a real hardworking kid. I think he ended up with an A or B average in the class," said teacher John Zatroch.

Amilcar Gonzalez left Southridge after his junior year in June 2001, and three months later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. During the same month, terrorists took down the World Trade Center.

Gonzalez, who was called "Gonzo" for short, was a member of the 64th Armor Regiment based in Fort Stewart, Ga. The regiment is stationed in Ash Shura, a village in northern Iraq that the New York Times recently called one of the last dangerous combat missions of the seven-year war, where organized insurgents target American soldiers.

Army Staff Sgt. Amilcar H. Gonzalez was killed in action on 5/21/10.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III, 26, of Ocean, N.J.

Spc. Sokolowski was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas; died May 20, 2010 in Kirkuk, Iraq, in a noncombat-related incident.

Stanley John Sokolowski III, died Thursday, May 20, 2010, while on tour in Iraq as a U.S. soldier. He was a lifelong resident of New Jersey and graduated in 2002 from Ocean Township High School. Stanley's altruism began early in his life where a ceaseless compassion and desire to help others guided him to pursue occupational and volunteer work as a lifeguard, EMT and firefighter. Stanley was not content to just practice his craft, but worked diligently to master it. He qualified and taught as an instructor for lifeguard and CPR training; however his true passion was, to the end, to be a FDNY firefighter. Always putting himself last, Stanley never failed to extend a hand to those in need. His passion for firefighting, enthusiasm to help, and courage brought him to Iraq in 2005 as a firefighter, where he was part of a team responding to fires and medical emergencies assisting both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. In an effort to improve his chances at fulfilling his firefighter aspiration, he joined the Army in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq last year.

When he was just 16 years old, Stanley J. Sokolowski III was working as a volunteer for a local first aid company. He went on a call for an elderly woman and was saddened to find she had passed away.

"He cut her obituary out of the paper and carried it in his shirt pocket for months," recalled his mother, Christie Sokolowski. "That was the kind of kid he was."

Army Spc. Sokolowski, an Ocean Township resident, died of injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident in Kirkuk, Iraq on Thursday. He was 26.

Today, hours after the news of his death was made public by the Department of Defense, the Army soldier and former volunteer fireman was being remembered as someone who simply wanted to help people in need.

"He was a very quiet kid who was loyal to the firehouse," said Steve Pejakovich, captain of the Atlantic Engine and Truck Company No. 2 in Long Branch, where Sokolowski volunteered. "He was one of the most reliable drivers we had. We’re all saddened and upset by what has happened."

He is at least the 97th service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Iraq since 2003.

Sokolowski graduated Ocean Township High School in 2002. He had volunteered for different fire and first aid squads in Long Branch, West Long Branch and Oakhurst. He also worked as a lifeguard in several area pools and briefly at the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital.

In 2006, he worked in Iraq as a civilian contractor for Wackenhut Services Incorporated, which provides security, emergency response and fire protection for the military.

Christie Sokolowski said her son joined the Army in August, 2007, to better his chances of becoming a full-time firefighter upon completion of his duties. He was assigned to Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. Sokolowski worked in Army intelligence, his mother said. He was scheduled to come back from his current tour in November.

"As a veteran, he thought would give him a better shot of being hired as a firefighter," Sokolowski said. "He always informed us that what he was doing was not dangerous. I have e-mails saying ‘Don’t worry, this is very safe."

"I remember the day he told me signed up for the Army and I couldn’t believe it," Pejakovich added. "But he wanted to be a paid firefighter and from what I heard he was doing good."

Sokolowski loved reading books on Teddy Roosevelt and took up archery as a hobby. Solomon Hicks, an assistant captain at Atlantic Engine and Truck Company No. 2 , described Sokolowski as someone who "loved his music" and also took a certain amount of ribbing for being a vegan.

"He was a good fireman and a good friend," Hicks said.

The Pentagon, Fort Bliss and Fort Dix provided no further information regarding the nature of the incident that led to Sokolowski’s death. His mother also declined to comment on the cause of death, but said there would be an investigation.

On a notebook on her kitchen counter, Christie Sokolowski penned words and phrases written to describe her son, including: "he was a humanitarian and someone who always fought for justice" and "someone you could always count on."

Verbally, she echoed the loss. "He trusted everybody," Sokolowski said. "He took everybody at their word."

Army Spc. Stanley J. Sokolowski III died of a non-combat related incident on 5/20/10.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Shane S. Barnard

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Shane S. Barnard, 38, of De Smet, S.D.

SSgt Barnard was assigned to the 3rd Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Detachment), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; died May 19, 2010 in Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he stepped on a secondary improvised explosive device.

DeSmet native Shane Barnard died in Afghanistan on Wednesday of injuries he sustained from an improvised explosive device.

Yesterday we were able to spend some time with Barnard's brother, Alex Botkin and we wanted to share some more of that with you tonight.

"I didn't want to believe it. You know, just couldn't imagine that it could happen to my brother." Alex Botkin benefited from having a big brother like Shane Barnard. "Really close. Best friends you know since I was...forever.."

Botkin was at work when he got the news that his brother has been killed while serving in Afghanistan. Barnard was a military man, who was proud of his service and proud of his country, a man who loved his family....a man who knew it was better to give than receive. "Very loving and caring, would do you know anything for anybody.."

And it always seems that the people who are willing to care and watch out for others are the ones who end up paying the ultimate price in a war.

Which is why it's so shocking that someone as thoughtful and caring as Shane Barnard is gone.

Shane moved away from DeSmet, Alex stayed. but the two were never that far apart. "We hunted all the time when he was here when he lived here and he always made it a point to come back every year..."

Staff Sgt. Shane S. Barnard, 38, of De Smet died Wednesday in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he stepped on a secondary improvised explosive device.

He was assigned to the 787th Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.

"He was an awesome big brother. I always looked up to him; he was always my hero," said Alex Botkin of De Smet, Barnard's brother. "He volunteered to go over when he had already been deployed once. He loved his country."

Barnard had one of the most dangerous jobs in a war zone. Wearing an 80-pound suit, he carried out the job of defusing unexploded bombs and other live ordnance. That work was featured in the 2009 Oscar-winning film, "The Hurt Locker."

"He was always looking for new challenges," said Jim Girard, plant manager at DeSCo Architectural in De Smet. Barnard worked for the company from 2001 through 2004, and Girard also served with Barnard on De Smet's volunteer ambulance crew.

'Very easy guy to get along with'

"He was a very easy guy to get along with," Girard added. "He was a very avid hunter, he did a lot of waterfowl hunting, deer hunting - he had a Lab."

South Dakota has had 28 war deaths since May 2003, or 30 if two additional casualties are counted of soldiers who had ties to the state but are not on the official military list.

The last casualty was Staff Sgt. Leroy O. Webster, 28, of Sioux Falls, who was on his third tour of the war when he was shot to death near Kirkuk, a city north of Baghdad, in April 2009.

Webster was a professional soldier who completed two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq before returning to Iraq in January 2009. He lived in Sioux Falls for 18 months between deployments.

Barnard's death marked the second time this month that an explosive ordnance disposal technician from Joint Base Lewis-McChord died in Afghanistan, according to base spokesman Joe Kubistek. On May 9, 21-year-old Spc. Wade Slack of Waterville, Maine, was killed in combat by rocket or mortar fire.

Barnard probably was working to defuse a primary explosive device when he triggered a secondary device, Kubistek said.

Improvised roadside bombs - the kind that Barnard had volunteered to defuse - caused 75 percent of all casualties among coalition forces in Afghanistan in the first two months of 2010, up from 50 percent two years ago, according to USA Today.

In 2009, there were 8,159 IED attacks on coalition soldiers in Afghanistan that killed 322 and wounded another 1,818, according to the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

Soldier's first training was as combat medic

Barnard began his current enlistment in January 2005 in Sioux Falls and reported to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training. He first trained as a combat medic, then was reclassified in 2007 as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.

He was deployed to Afghanistan in March. This was his second deployment into a war zone, the first from April to September 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"He was just a good guy to get along with, he got along with anybody," said Botkin, who added that Barnard grew up in Montana before moving to De Smet and already had served his country as a U.S. Army Ranger in the 1990s.

"He was an outstanding friend, brother and father. He was outstanding in every way."

Barnard's awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal (two awards), Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal (two awards), National Defense Service Medal (two awards), Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge and his Basic Marksmanship Qualification Badge.

"On behalf of the entire Joint Base Lewis-McChord military and civilian community, we extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Barnard," Kubistek said.

In addition to his brother Alex Botkin and his mom Lois Jones, Barnard is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and three children, Ashley, 14, Trinity, 9, and D.J., 8. Funeral arrangements are pending, according to the family.

Army Staff Sgt. Shane S. Barnard was killed in action on 5/19/10.

Army Veteran Thomas Wortham

Remember Our Heroes

Officer Thomas Wortham was shot and killed after identifying himself as a police officer when four suspects attempted to rob him while he was off duty at 11:25 pm.

Officer Wortham was visiting his parent's home to show pictures from the previous week's Police Week activities that he attended in Washington, DC. As he was leaving, four men approached and attempted to rob him of his motorcycle. Officer Wortham drew his service weapon and fired at the suspects, but was fatally shot.

His father, a retired Chicago police sergeant, witnessed the shooting from his window. He exited the house, exchanging shots with the suspects, killing one and seriously wounding another. The remaining two suspects fled in a vehicle, but were taken into custody the following day.

Officer Wortham had served with the Chicago Police Department for nearly three years and was assigned to the Englewood District. He had recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq while serving with the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Last week, as a soft rain fell, Tom Wortham stood on the Cole Park basketball courts across from the home his grandfather built half a century ago.

The 30-year-old Chicago police officer was proud of that home and his Chatham community. But lately trouble had been creeping in — two shootings at the park and gangs on the neighborhood's fringes.

Wortham, just back from a second tour in Iraq, had settled in for another fight. He and other residents were not going to let Chatham go easily.

Wortham did not seem angry as he spoke with a Tribune reporter last week. Hands in his pocket, he listened respectfully as two older Chatham residents talked. When he spoke up, Wortham displayed a quiet calm but a deep concern for the brewing violence.

"It's starting to feel like it's expected in this community," he told the reporter, adding later: "When people think of the South Side of Chicago, they think violence. In Chatham, that's not what we see. It's happened. And we're going to fix it, so it doesn't happen again."

Late Wednesday, Wortham became the latest casualty, fatally gunned down in front of his family home just steps from the basketball courts after four men tried to rob him of a brand-new motorcycle, Chicago police said. His father, a retired Chicago police sergeant, witnessed the attack from the front of his home and wielded his own weapon to try to defend his son.

One of the robbers was killed and a suspect was critically injured. A third suspect surrendered to police by late afternoon, and the last was picked up during a traffic stop Thursday evening, sources said.

Wortham was a three-year officer and a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard. He had returned from Iraq in March.

"That man had strong roots, the family structure. You are not going to uproot that,'' Marc Robertson, 48, who had stood with Wortham last week, said Thursday. "I don't find too many 30-year-old men that have the passion to do volunteer work for the community. It gave me a lot of hope that I wasn't by myself. … We're numb, stunned, angry, disappointed and hurt — and rightly so because the unimaginable has happened. He is a fallen solider, a fallen officer, a fallen community leader, a fallen son and a fallen brother.''

Police were awaiting ballistics tests for a more definitive picture of the shootout, which involved a volley of shots from Wortham, who was off-duty; his father, Thomas Wortham III; and at least one of the armed robbers. Some 15 casings were being tested.

Early reports from police sources painted a harrowing assault that the elder Wortham witnessed about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. The two had just spent the night sharing photos from Wortham's trip last week to Washington, D.C., where he attended the annual national memorial to slain officers. He also wanted to show his father his newly purchased motorcycle.

After saying goodnight, Wortham walked to the bike, which was parked on the street in front of the house at 85th Street and King Drive. When he reached the street, two gunmen approached and put a gun to his head in an attempt to steal the motorcycle, sources said.

From the doorway, Wortham's father yelled at the attackers to leave his son alone, the sources said. One gunman told Wortham to shut the door, they said.

In that moment of distraction, Wortham pulled out his service weapon and identified himself as a police officer, the sources said. A burst of shots by the officer and his attackers followed, they said.

His father rushed to a ground-floor bedroom, returned with a handgun and open fire, the sources said. From ballistics tests, police will attempt to determine who exactly shot the two robbers.

Wortham, who was assigned to the Englewood District, was pronounced dead just after midnight. Wortham is the second Englewood District officer to be killed in the last year. Alejandro "Alex" Valadez, 27, was shot in West Englewood in June 2009.

One of the suspects, Brian Floyd, 20, of the 3700 block of South Princeton Avenue, lay dead on the street. A second suspect, Floyd's cousin Marcus, was critically injured.

Two other suspects who were inside a nearby red Nissan Maxima fled the area, striking and dragging Wortham with the getaway car, police said.

No charges were filed by Thursday night.

The criminal histories of three of the suspects include convictions for drug conspiracy, weapons charges and battery. Brian Floyd had a misdemeanor gun-related conviction.

Inside her Wentworth Gardens neighborhood apartment Thursday evening, Floyd's mother, Lucille, tried to make sense of the death of her only son. Her son's cousin was on a hospital ventilator in very critical condition with perhaps only days to live, she said.

The two cousins, the only boys in their family, were as close as brothers, she said. Floyd said the cousins went out Wednesday for a night of drinking with two friends. She said it somehow changed into a game of dare over who would rob someone at gunpoint, she said.

Neighbors gathered near the Wortham home all day Thursday as well-wishes and gifts were delivered to the family. Ministers and representatives from the Army also paid their respects.

The shooting sent shudders through an already rattled neighborhood.

Chatham has been a stronghold of Chicago's black middle class since the 1950s. Many of the families who moved in then have remained, creating a close-knit though aging community.

But it has been on the brink of transformation as reports of property neglect increased and — though the neighborhood was long considered safe — crime has been on the rise in the last few years.

After dark, Cole Park can become a scary place, filled with strange teenagers from different neighborhoods claiming the park as a part of their turf.

"It used to be something to be proud of," said Wesley Anderson, 44, who has lived most of his life in the neighborhood. "You'd stick your chest out and say, 'I'm from Chatham.'"

Just last month, after two recent shootings at Cole Park, Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th, closed down the basketball courts.

That was why Wortham and others had come out in the rain last week — to explain to a Tribune reporter about the need to tackle these problems straight on.

The hoops would have to be shut down — for now, they agreed. But they planned to mobilize community support around the park. They'd talk to adults in the area and persuade them to use the park and help monitor activities. And they'd ask the city for help as well.

Wortham seemed confident that the neighborhood would respond and take care of the park — and Chatham.

At Cole Park on Thursday, children and fathers played baseball in the field. Women walked the park's track in pairs, dressed in sweats and rain jackets. Neighbors waved to each other, and families walked hand in hand.

And later, in a light rain, some 200 mourners gathered to pay their respects to Wortham.

Sunday was supposed to be the day Chicago police Officer Thomas Wortham IV was to join hundreds of residents in reclaiming the Chatham neighborhood, which has been plagued recently by gun violence.

Wortham never made it. He was shot to death Wednesday night in front of his parents' home after four men tried to steal his new motorcycle, police said.

But as neighbors continued to reel over Wortham's death, they came out to Cole Park on Sunday toting coolers of pop and sharing memories to show support for the officer's family and to send a message to those responsible for the rash of crime in the neighborhood.

"If we're in the park, the bad guys stay out," Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, 6th, said.

Wortham, who worked in the Englewood Police District, had become increasingly concerned with making the park, which is across the street from his parents' home, a safer place after recent shootings shut down the basketball court.

Wortham and others planned to hold a fellowship gathering there on the first 80-degree day to stake their claim on the neighborhood.

Many longtime residents of Chatham, one of Chicago's best-known black middle-class neighborhoods, have grown concerned over the increasing crime they attribute to Chicago Housing Authority residents moving to the area. According to the agency, 118 families have used vouchers to relocate from public housing to Chatham. That is less than 1 percent of the neighborhood's households.

Lewis Jordan, the CHA's chief executive officer, said complaints that former public housing residents are responsible for an increase in crime in Chatham are unsupported by the facts.

Kassandra Scott-Ward, 59, was 8 years old when her family moved into their Chatham home. Back then, children knew where their teachers lived and neighbors raised chickens or horses and grew fruit trees in their yards.

Now, "these people have moved into a community without having a sense of community," Scott-Ward said.

Jordan said the distribution of former residents of CHA high-rises has not been concentrated in any particular area, but throughout the city.

Though Wortham, who had just returned from a second tour of duty in Iraq as a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, was absent from Sunday's fellowship meeting, the vision he had for it was honored, his friends and supporters said.

On Sunday, supporters included Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis, who looked on as Little League players filled the baseball diamond. The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived and shook hands, consoled Wortham's parents and expressed many neighbors' concerns.

"This is a state of emergency," Jackson said. "There needs to be a sense of urgency, not just a well-covered funeral."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Army Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson, 24, of Dubberly, La.

Spc. Tomlinson was assigned to Special Troops Battalion, V Corps, Heidelberg, Germany; died May 18, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Col. John M. McHugh, Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, and Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman.

Tomlinson, son of Carl Tomlinson, of Dubberly, and a 2004 graduate of Lakeside High in Sibley, was remembered by best friend George Thornton as "someone who always had a smile on his face, and if you didn't have one on yours he'd make sure you got a smile."

"He was a world-class person, a stand-up guy," Thornton said, recalling how a year or so after graduation Tomlinson surprised everyone by announcing he was joining the Army and soon would be leaving for basic training. Thornton said he was Tomlinson's friend since the sixth grade.

Lakeside Principal Beverly Smith remembered Tomlinson as a bright, friendly student not overly involved in extracurricular activities but who "was a popular student and well-liked." Counselor Ann Holomon recalled Tomlinson as artistic and creative. "Josh was a young man who was always happy, always smiling, with just a great sense of humor," said Holomon, who was a math teacher when Tomlinson was at Lakeside. "He was a smart young man: He went to the state literary rally his senior year. He was a top accelerated reader, and was student of the month one of the years he was in school. "He joined the military to make something of himself and I'm real proud of him. He's a hero."

Beverly Smith, who went to school with Tomlinson's mother, Rebecca Adams, said staffers reminisced about Tomlinson, the school's first loss in the Global War on Terror, after learning of his death.

Tomlinson was married, and his wife, Rowena Cruz Tomlinson, accompanied him to Germany on this tour, Thornton said.

"I'll always remember him as being a hero for what he did," Spc Joshua Tomlinson's brother Carl shared. "The last time I saw him I said, 'You better come back in one piece.' He gave me a hug and said, 'I will, man. I'll be back, bro.'"

Carl Tomlinson said his younger brother was a talented artist and musician who loved to go fishing with their father.

Army Colonel James Jinnette, who served with Spc. Tomlinson in Kabul, said that Spc. Tomlinson would often speak lovingly of his wife, and of the importance of duty to one's country. "Spc. Tomlinson was an excellent soldier who loved serving his nation as he loved his family. He was a highly skilled leader who represented the best America can offer. He was proud of his service, and we are proud of the way he conducted his profession here in Kabul as he escorted our highest-ranking officers and visitors with utmost discipline. He will be missed in our headquarters here in Kabul."

Spc. Tomlinson had been in Afghanistan for about eight months as a combat driver and an air defense artilleryman for Headquarters Support Group, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul. He was assigned to Special Troops Battalion, V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany. This was his first deployment. Spc. Tomlinson was due to return home to Louisiana in July.

The magnificent Patriot Guard Riders have Spc. Tomlinson on their Watch List, where messages of love and support are being left for the Tomlinson family.

Tomlinson's father and his widow were headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the fallen soldiers are being returned. They will accompany his remains to Webster Parish, where services are pending. They are expected to return on Friday.

Army Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson was killed in action on 5/18/10.

Army Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman, 28, of Waynesboro, Pa.

SSgt. Tieman was assigned to Special Troops Battalion, V Corps, Heidelberg, Germany; died May 18, 10 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Col. John M. McHugh, Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson.

Retired Master Sgt. Richard Tieman Jr. of Waynesboro served in casualty assistance, a job through which he visited families with news of a soldier's death. He said he was hardly prepared to receive news Tuesday of his son's death.

Tieman's son, Staff Sgt. Richard James Tieman, 28, was one of five soldiers killed Tuesday in a blast from a suicide car bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to his father. The blast came from a car with 1,700 pounds of explosives, he said.

"I've done casualty assistance work," he said. "When you're on the other side of the fence, it's quite disturbing. Everybody is coping as well as you'd expect under the circumstances."

Tieman was apparently in charge of a convoy as it was passing the embassy when the suicide bomber set off the bomb, according to Bob Harris, director of Franklin County's Veterans Affairs office.

Tieman's dad said the young man was serving with USAREUR headquarters and was responsible for the security of headquarters personnel. He was shuttling them from base to base.

Tieman, a newlywed, was set to return home in two months, and begin training to become a drill sergeant in Fort Jackson, S.C., his dad said. With 10 years in the military, he was planning to do 20 years total and retire, he said.

The last time Tieman and his dad spoke was on Friday. According to his dad: "He talked about coming home. He'd planned to go to Australia for their honeymoon."

The family is expected to travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware today when the soldier's body returns, according to Harris.

Harris said he was shocked by the news: "It was déjà vu all over again. I had just gone over to get grave markers. I had just counted them for the Persian Gulf and the War On Terrorism."

Harris said he was thinking, "I hope I don't have to order markers. We've been lucky so far." Then he received a call from a reporter about a casualty from Waynesboro.

His family and friends remember him as a great guy. The soldier was "full of life, fun to be around, easy going, and he loved his country," his brother, Tyler, said. "He liked playing sports, fishing, lifting weights and occasional drinking, the things that other young people typically do," said his dad. Tyler said he was a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tieman and his wife, Paulina, had just married in April. She's still in the Army, stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas.

He was planning to come home for a visit, his dad said. Tieman's assignment was his third for combat duty, according to his dad. He said that when he thinks about the sacrifices made by his son and other soldiers, he realizes it is their duty.

"My uncle was in World War II, the Korean War, and then Vietnam," he said. "Some of these guys are doing more tours of duty than my uncle."

Toby Ditch of Waynesboro said he was Tieman's best friend. "We met on the streets as kids," Ditch said. "We did all the things that kids do. We kept in touch." Ditch said Tieman was a "great individual, who was fun to be around." When he walked into a room, everyone knew it, he said. "We grew up together. I watched him grow up. He was a young punk boy and then he became a man in the service," Ditch said.

Tieman's dad said the last time he saw his son was in July. At the time, they met in Germany. They used to go fishing together each year.

Tieman’s father, Richard, says his son took pride in serving his country and followed in his footsteps as a soldier. Tieman had served two tours of duty in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan. His family says he was two months away from completing a deployment that began in August.

Tieman’s family says he was married last month. He planned a large wedding for December when he and his wife, a soldier assigned to Fort Riley, Kan., were both in the states.

SSG Tieman is survived by his wife Paulina, his mom and dad Diane and Richard, and his brother Tyler.

Army Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman was killed in action on 5/18/10.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer

Remember Our Heroes

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, 44, of Perrysburg, Ohio

Lt. Col. Belkofer was assigned to Headquarters, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died May 18, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Col. John M. McHugh, Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson.

When an Army officer came bearing news that their son had been killed in Afghanistan, Sharon and Donald Belkofer, Jr., were convinced he must be mistaken. Their middle child, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Belkofer, wasn't due in combat until October. "We argued with them," Mrs. Belkofer said. "It can't be. He's not even supposed to be over there." But there was no mistake.

Colonel Belkofer hadn't shared with his parents or two brothers that he was to spend a few weeks in leadership training in Afghanistan months before being deployed there as a commander. The 44-year-old man was one of five officers killed near Kabul Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy, military officials said. His family is struggling to believe the truth.

"It's like you're in a fog," Mr. Belkofer said yesterday, sitting close to his wife on the living room couch in their Perrysburg Township home.

"You think you're watching something in a movie. You think, this isn't even real," Mrs. Belkofer said. "Because even though you feared something like this could happen, you don't believe it will happen."

Colonel Belkofer was assigned to the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

A woman who answered the telephone at his New York home said his wife was not available for comment because she was "busy with a lot of company."

The elder Mrs. Belkofer said her daughter-in-law and her granddaughters are leaning on the "tremendous support system" of the other military families at Fort Drum.

Colonel Belkofer's 18-year service sent him to posts in Italy, Fort Meade, Md., the Pentagon, and a 13-month combat deployment Afghanistan in 2005. He remained on active duty as he earned a master's degree in business administration from Syracuse University.

His death was just two years before he would have been eligible for retirement, his family said. Colonel Belkofer volunteered for what he expected would be his final deployment and hoped it would lead to a promotion from lieutenant colonel to full colonel, his elder brother, Don Belkofer, 46, of Curtice, said.

"He was just passionate about everything that he was involved in - 110 percent or not at all," his elder brother asserted. "He wasn't the kind of guy that would take a job, put in his years, and retire." Growing up, he was an active, determined youth. "Of the three, he was probably the one if you told him to do something, you'd expect more of an argument out of him," his father said, smiling.

Before he graduated in 1983, he was a football player and stand-out wrestler at Rossford High School. He briefly attended Wright State University and the University of Toledo before transferring to Bowling Green State University.

He served in the Army National Guard before signing up for the ROTC program at BGSU, where he met his college sweetheart and future wife, Margaret "Margo" Maness.

They married in 1992, the same year he earned a bachelor's degree in architectural and environmental design technology. Both entered the Army upon graduation. She rose to become a captain before resigning to care for their two children, the family said.

Though all three of the Belkofer sons served in the military - with the eldest, Don, spending six years with the Navy, and the youngest, Doug, in the Army National Guard for seven - the family was surprised when Thomas first expressed interest in a long-term military career.

His younger brother, Doug Belkofer, 42, of Euless, Texas, said he believed he set his heart on moving up the ranks after training at Fort Benning in Georgia. "He seemed different after that. He seemed really kind of psyched up about being in the military. He seemed really excited about it," his younger brother said.

"I like to think he was doing what he loved and what he was passionate about, because that's what I want to believe. A lot of people think I'm crazy for jumping out of planes as much as I do. I know it's dangerous, but I accept that risk for what I get from it."

His parents have their own opinions about the war, but do not blame the government or the military for their son's death. Mrs. Belkofer has expressed her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in several letters to the editor submitted to The Blade. "If I could wiggle my nose and get everyone out, I would," Mrs. Belkofer said yesterday. "But it doesn't work that way. You can't desert those people."

Now, she's trying to focus on her son's accomplishments rather than her frustrations about the politics that sent him into harm's way. "You get angry. You want to take it out on somebody, that you never get to see him again," Mrs. Belkofer said. "But there is so much pride as well."

He is survived by his wife, Margo, their two daughters, Alyssa, 15, and Ashley, 11, his parents Sharon and Donald Jr, and his brothers Don and Doug.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer was killed in action 5/18/10.

Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Xavier Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Xavier Jr., 24, of Pembroke Pines, Fla.

LCpl. Xavier was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 18, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, of while supporting combat operations.

Patrick Xavier, 24, was a graduate of Miramar High School, and had only recently left for Afghanistan. In his last message to friends and family on his Facebook account, Xavier writes on Feb. 2 from Afghanistan.

“I just want to get the opportunity to tell everyone that I’m probably not going to be on here for a while because things are about to get hectic if you know what I mean and but I’m going to do the best I can and leave the rest in God’s hands,” writes Xavier. “To all of my family and friends, I love you guys and I’m sorry Amani that I didn’t mention you last time. I love you too, babe! A lot more than you think!”

His friend, Jeff Longchamps, told CBS4's Fiorella Alvarez in a Facebook message, "Patrick was a special person, a family man (meaning he loved being surrounded by his brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.)"

"He had goals, dreams, he was headed far and that's a fact," Longchamps added. "All in all, he (was) someone of character and a great guy which we lost."

Grieving father recalls son with pride:

With a mixture of grief and pride, a Pembroke Pines father Friday recalled his son, killed earlier this week in Afghanistan, as an aspiring doctor who loved sports, books and the military.

Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Xavier Jr., 24, was killed Tuesday in the volatile Helmand Province of Afghanistan. A Marine Corps spokesman from Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Xavier was stationed, said the death resulted from a "hostile incident."

Patrick Xavier-Kemp said a bullet took the life of his son, a rifleman, during a firefight. "They told me he was a fierce fighter, a true warrior," Xavier-Kemp said. "He had no fear."

LCpl. Xavier, a 2003 graduate of Miramar High School, had been in Afghanistan less than four months when he was killed.

Days before his January deployment, he posted one last message on his My Space page: "I'm nervous and excited at the same time, but I'm very confident that I'll be back."

Xavier was born in Queens, N.Y., and moved to Florida at age 9 with his father and mother, Elizabeth Barolette. As a young man on his own, his father said, he dropped Kemp from his last name. He was the oldest of three boys, leaving younger siblings Didi Xavier-Kemp, 21, and Chad Xavier-Kemp, 18, who will travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to accompany his brother's body home.

Xavier-Kemp said his son played basketball and enjoyed watching sports, especially football.

Xavier was always drawn to the infantry and embraced that branch of the service enthusiastically.

"He was the first one on the front line," the father said. "He's not someone who's going to cop out when they ask for volunteers."

But Xavier also had an intellectual bent. "He was an avid reader, he loved philosophy books, he liked to write," his father recalled. "He was very disciplined, his room is spotless."

After the service, Xavier planned to take advantage of military benefits and attend medical school. That dream extinguished, Xavier's father clung to the memory of his son as a "brave young man" battling nobly in the desert of Helmand.

"He gave his life for his country and for his comrades," Xavier-Kemp said. "I'm proud of him."

Lance Cpl. Patrick Xavier Jr. spoke to his mother Tuesday morning before leaving for the day's military assignment, something he often did while serving in Afghanistan.

``He wanted to talk to his family before'' he went, his father, Patrick Xavier-Kemp, said Friday.

Hours later, the 24-year-old Marine was killed in a firefight in the Helmand province in southwest Afghanistan, his father said. His body was flown back to Fort Lauderdale on Friday.

``He went out there to do what he wanted to do, defending this country,'' his father said. ``Even though I feel the loss, I'm proud of how he conducted himself.''

The young man had ``a child's smile, a smile that you can read his heart through,'' his father said. ``He was a true person, honest, very dedicated.''

An avid reader, he devoured books on psychology and philosophy -- trying to gain a better understanding of the world.

A few weeks ago, his father sent him a package with two books: The Art of War and A Soldier's Story.

He was a private person, with many of his close friends also in the military, his father said.

He also loved playing basketball with his younger brothers, Didi and Chad.

He had a dream of going to medical school.

A son of Haitian immigrants, Xavier was born in Queens, N.Y.

His father and mother moved to South Florida more than a decade ago.

He graduated from Miramar High School in 2003 and tried a couple of jobs, looking to find his way.

His drive to ``make a difference'' led him to the Marines, his father said.

He advanced to the rank of lance corporal, his father said.

He was based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, according to the Department of Defense.

Said his father: ``He knew the consequences. He knew what he was dealing with, and he chose to go anyway.''

LCpl. Xavier told his father he saw fellow Marines around him getting hurt, but he continued to work hard training Afghan soldiers.

``He had no fear. He was a fierce fighter, a warrior at heart,'' his father said. ``I'm very proud he gave for the country he loved.''

The defense department release said he died ``while supporting combat operations.''

LCpl. Xavier is survived by his parents Patrick and Elizabeth (Barolette) Xavier-Kemp as well as two younger brothers Didi 21 and Chad 18 all of Pembroke Pines, FL.

A memorial and burial will be planned for South Florida National Cemetery west of Lake Worth.

Xavier was a rifleman assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force Forward, camp Lejeune, N.C. Xavier joined the Marine Corps in January 2009, and was promoted to the rank of lance corporal on March 1, 2010.

He deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2010.

His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Xavier Jr. was killed in action on 5/18/10.

Army Col. John M. McHugh

Remember Our Heroes

Army Col. John M. McHugh, 46, of Newark, New Jersey

Col. McHugh was assigned to the U.S. Army Battle Command Training Program, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; died May 18, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson.

To those who knew him growing up, U.S. Army Col. John McHugh was all things American — "apple pie," "a born leader," "a true gentleman."

"You couldn’t not like him," one of them said yesterday after friends and family learned that McHugh, 46, of West Caldwell, had been killed Tuesday in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. "This is everyone’s loss," said childhood buddy Gerard Giannetti, 46, of Roseland.

McHugh, one of the highest ranking officers to die in Afghanistan since the conflict began in 2001, was one of five U.S. soldiers killed along with a Canadian officer and a dozen Afghan civilians in Tuesday’s attack in Kabul. The suicide bomber targeted a NATO convoy with more than a half-ton of explosives.

A father of five who recently became a grandfather, McHugh, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, had arrived in Afghanistan from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., just days before he was killed.

He is at least the 22nd service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Afghanistan since the war began. Nearly 100 others have died in Iraq since 2003.

"I knew him (McHugh) most of my life — CYO, altar boys, baseball," Giannetti said. "He was a pre-eminent leader, even as a kid. Very calm in a crisis. He married his high school sweetheart and defended his country."

The McHugh family has a long tradition of military service. "There’s always a couple of McHughs in the military. It’s been that way for so many years," said Cathy McHugh of Caldwell, a relative. "This is devastating. I don’t know how to handle it,"

After learning his youngest child had been killed, 84-year-old James McHugh, also of Caldwell, said his thoughts turned to another solider. "Michael, my grandson, is also overseas," he said, noting the young man is serving in Iraq.

Jeff Bradley, a writer at ESPN magazine who grew up playing sports with McHugh in North Jersey, said his friend, a helicopter pilot, was "a leader among leaders in the Army.

"What most of us do in our daily lives, we can’t compare with what he’s been doing for the last almost 30 years," Bradley said. "He’s a patriot and a hero, and I’m proud to say he was my friend."

Retired Chief Warrant Officer William Barker broke down as he spoke of McHugh. "It sounds trite. We say so many nice things about people who have passed, especially in the military, but he really was a fine, fine man. He was a prince," Barker said in an interview from Fort Leavenworth, where McHugh had been stationed. "Everything he did with good humor. I truly never saw him angry . "

James DiOrio, who went to high school and West Point with McHugh, described him as "always an upbeat optimistic guy with a smile on his face no matter what."

McHugh, a 1982 graduate of James Caldwell High School, was a helicopter pilot, husband and father of five children, whose youngest is only 5 years old. A couple of months ago, he also became a grandfather for the first time.

"Truly, next to my husband and father he was the greatest man I ever knew," said Megan Huber, husband of Ret. Maj. Allen Huber, who knew McHugh for 13 years.

Bradley said he and McHugh met when they were 8-year-old bat boys for their older brothers’ American Legion baseball team. Later they were teammates and McHugh wrote about their games in the weekly newspaper, "The Progress."

"So many of us have gotten back in touch recently, and we were looking forward to a get-together," said Bradley , who had re-connected with McHugh via Facebook. "That’s what makes it especially sad."

McHugh had written on Facebook last Saturday that he was leaving for Afghanistan the next day.

Before talking about his soccer team and the World Cup, U.S. coach Bob Bradley wanted to discuss the death of a family friend since childhood and point out what it means to travel representing the country.

Army Col. John McHugh, who had known the three Bradley brothers since their youth in New Jersey, was killed this week by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, the coach said at the start of his news conference Wednesday.

The 46-year-old, a 1986 West Point graduate, was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and wrote on Facebook last Saturday that he was leaving for Afghanistan the following day.

"As we go through this whole lead-in, we keep trying to find ways with our group to not only talk about soccer but talk about how special it is to play for your national team, how special it is to represent your country," Bob Bradley said. "And things like this absolutely bring it to light."

McHugh, a former West Point goalkeeper, played American Legion baseball against Jeff Bradley, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He also played youth sports against Scott Bradley, a former major league catcher and outfielder.

Bob Bradley said McHugh, who is survived by a wife, three sons, two daughters and a grandchild, had recently taken a U.S. Soccer goalkeeper course "to keep himself sharp and active."

"You hear news like that and when you think what it means to represent your country, you think about obviously how important the soccer is, but how it's not even close to what it means to be somewhere else in the world defending everything," Bob Bradley said.

The Associated Press reported from Afghanistan that a suicide bomber struck a U.S. convoy in Kabul, killing 18 people, including five American troops and a Canadian.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Wednesday information on this week's casualties had not yet been released.

"He was a catcher in baseball ... a goalkeeper in soccer. He was a born leader," Jeff Bradley wrote on his website.

He is being escorted back to the United States on May 20 by his son Warrant Officer Michael McHugh.

Army Col. John M. McHugh was killed in action on 5/18/10.

Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz

Remember Our Heroes

Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Waterloo, Wis.

Lt. Col. Bartz was assigned to Headquarters, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.; died May 18, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered in a suicide car bombing. Also killed were Col. John M. McHugh, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, Staff Sgt. Richard J. Tieman and Spc. Joshua A. Tomlinson.

As students graduate from high school, seldom do they realize what great achievements they may accomplish in the future. That was the case of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, son of Robert and Darlene Bartz of Waterloo, who died Tuesday while serving his country in Afghanistan.

“When they say these wars have taken the very best and brightest of our country, Paul's a great example of that,” Richard Jones, former history teacher at Waterloo High School, said. “A lot of kids in school just haven't found their niche and he was an example of that. In school he was just an average student. He really didn't care for school. I am so impressed with what he accomplished in his life.”

Bartz, 43, of Watertown, N.Y., a native of Waterloo, was among five soldiers killed Tuesday when a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device exploded near their convoy in Kabul, according to a press release from the Defense Department.

Bartz was part of a team from the 10th Mountain Division headquarters to conduct key leader training and set the conditions for the 10th Mountain Division headquarters' deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

He served as the assistant chief of staff, G-1 (personnel) with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (light infantry).

Although, Bartz had moved to Fort Drum in Watertown, N.Y., in June he visited his hometown as often as he could and was home for a visit with his parents in Waterloo in December 2009 where he gave a presentation at St. John Lutheran Church.

“He shared his extensive military career, perspective on the war and places he had served. He attended St. John's Lutheran grade school when he was growing up,” the Rev. Tom Wilsmann, of St. John Lutheran Church in Waterloo, said. “He was a very interesting person.”

He made other trips home over the years including a special trip to Waterloo High School in 2006 to speak to the class of his favorite teacher, Richard Jones. Bartz graduated from Waterloo High School in 1985.

“During my last year of teaching he called me up and wanted to speak to my classes. I wish I would have taped it now,” Jones said. “He did a great job talking to them.”

Jones said Bartz talked to his history students about what high school was like for him and said after high school his initial goals were to buy a car, work at Perry's and drink. He told students those plans quickly changed after his father talked him into going on to college and he received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1989. During that time he joined the Army ROTC to help pay for tuition. That was just the beginning of a very successful career in the military. He shared other stories of his career with the students and at times became very emotional.

“He easily could have been in the Pentagon on 9/11. He said he just happened to be out of the office that day and knew a lot of people that had been killed there,” Jones said. “When he was telling the story he had to pause and fight back tears.”

Bartz had traveled around the world through the military and played a big role in some of the decisions made over the years. He talked to the students about his experience of sitting in on a meeting with only President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and one other person before the official decision was made to start the war in Iraq trying to show students what an average person from the small town of Waterloo can be a part of.

“He said his theory on 9/11 was that those 19 guys just got us that day. There wasn't any master plan they just pulled it off,” Jones said.

Others remember Bartz in his recent years as being a very dedicated and determined individual. Elaine Baumann, a close friend of the Bartz family, said Paul was planning to retire in two years but was determined to advance in his rank before retiring.

“He had a wonderful personality and was a very well-liked person,” Baumann said. “He cared so much for this community.”

Bartz was a highly decorated officer, receiving awards such as the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commen-dation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal and the Army Achievement Medal.

He is survived by a wife Michele and a son; his parents; a brother, James; and two sisters, Beth and Debbie; also several nieces and nephews. His parents Robert and Darlene Bartz of Waterloo declined to comment, as did his wife.

Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz was killed in action on 5/18/10.

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark, 19, of Gainesville, Fla.

LCpl Clark was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 18, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Between the disbelief that it could happen and the overwhelming grief that it did happen, Lance Cpl. Philip Clark's family said Friday that they are trying to come to terms with his death.

Clark, 19, a 2008 graduate of Buchholz High School, died in Afghanistan earlier this week in circumstances that remain under investigation by military officials.

Relatives said he was hit in the legs by shrapnel Tuesday while on patrol in Marjah. He was pronounced dead a short time later at a trauma center. "He died doing what he wanted to do - what he believed in," said Clark's father, Mike Clark.

Philip Clark's drive to become a member of the Marine Corps became obvious during his senior year of high school, when he dropped out of football to focus on preparing for boot camp at Parris Island, his parents said Friday. "He would put weights in his backpack and then go out for a run," Mike Clark said. "He trained like that because he did not want to be the one lagging behind during basic training."

Clark's stepbrother, Tyler Nordyke, who is five days older than Philip, said, "He always wanted to be at the front - he wanted to be leading the charge. I couldn't see him being anything but career military."

Stepmother Tammy Clark recalled how eager Philip was to be deployed.

"He couldn't wait to get to Afghanistan and there were several delays for his unit, but once Obama announced the troop surge, he knew he would be going and he wanted to be there," Tammy Clark said.

Clark's widow, Ashton Clark, 19, of San Antonio, Texas, was expecting the man she married in October to be back home by July. The couple were married in a Texas courthouse after a whirlwind courtship and planned to have a big celebration when Philip completed his overseas tour of duty.

"Philip always talked about (his death) as a possibility," she said.

The couple were introduced by a mutual acquaintance and began corresponding over the Internet and by phone on July 4, 2009. They were married Oct. 12. It was a marriage that Mike and Tammy Clark said they were initially concerned about, because the bride and groom were both 19 and had known each other for such a short time.

"When we met her, we got it - she was perfect for him," said Mike Clark.

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark and his wife, Ashton, were making big plans for his return from Afghanistan this summer.

“We had a lot of plans and wanted kids. He wanted to have a baby as soon as he got home, and we were talking about that,” she said. “He wanted a girl, and we were going to name her Olivia Marie.”

The Clarks were a very young couple, married in a simple courthouse ceremony with a pair of Marine buddies at their side but sure of where they were headed and so close to each other they could finish each other's sentences.

But their future ended Tuesday when Clark, 19, of Gainesville, Fla., was killed by a mine while on patrol in Marjah.

Ashton Clark, 19, of San Antonio said late Wednesday that his death still was difficult to fathom even after she watched six Marines carry her husband's flag-draped transfer case off a jet at Dover AFB, Del., earlier in the afternoon.

“I can't really still believe it, kind of still in denial,” conceded Clark, a San Antonio native and 2009 graduate of Clark High School. “I just couldn't believe he was inside there.”

The Clarks are waiting for Ashton to arrive in Gainesville over the weekend to finalize military funeral plans. Williams-Thomas Funeral Homes will be handling the arrangements, which are expected to include a Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church followed by internment at a national cemetery in about a week.

Clark's decision to enlist in the military continued a family tradition. His paternal grandfather is retired Air Force Col. Lawrence Clark Sr. of Gainesville, and Philip Clark had two paternal uncles who served in the Air Force.

In addition to his family ties to the Air Force, Philip Clark was active in the Air Force JROTC at Buchholz and easily could have been expected to enlist in the Air Force, but chose the Marines.

"He never backed down - he'd be the smallest guy on the football field and would never back down and that's why he chose the Marines," Mike Clark said. "They are the first ones into the fight. They lead the way and go right up the middle and that is what he wanted ... to be the best and the first."

While in basic training, Philip Clark qualified as a sharpshooter, relying on weaponry skills learned as a Boy Scout and honed while visiting his maternal grandfather.

Clark spent many school breaks and summer vacations with his Morris "Paw Paw" Horn in Mississippi and learned to love hunting with him, Mike Clark said.

While the Clark family in Gainesville waits for Ashton to arrive, they have also been remembering the young man who they say always tried to make everyone smile or laugh.

"He had the ability to make people laugh in tense situations," Tammy Clark said. "He would just know the right things to say to get everyone to loosen up."

While attending middle and high school together, Clark and Tyler often had classes together.

"The teachers would hate him and love him at the same time because he was always respectful but he also joked around," Tyler said. "Sometimes it would be real quiet in class and then Philip would make a bird sound. It would make everyone laugh."

There was one topic that never inspired humor in Philip Clark.

"He was extremely patriotic," Tammy Clark said.

"If he saw someone protesting the military on television, he would get so upset that - even if it was 100 degrees outside - he would put on his running shoes and go out for a run to blow of steam," Mike Clark said. "He loved being an American, and he loved being a Marine."

His services are scheduled for Friday in Gainesville, and his body is being transported to Jacksonville on Thursday. He will be buried with full military honors at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

The Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, will fly overhead when Clark’s body arrives in Jacksonville in the “Missing Man Formation,” Horn said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark was killed in action on 5/18/10.