Friday, April 29, 2011

Spc. Robert M. Friese

Remember Our Heroes

Spc. Robert M. Friese, 21, of Chesterfield, Mich.

Spc Friese was assigned to 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas; died April 29, 2011 in Kut, Iraq, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Community turns out for funeral of slain soldier
The Associated Press

HARRISON, Mich. — To residents in the small mid-Michigan community of Harrison, Army Pfc. Robert Friese was a hero twice over.

Friese and a friend pulled a neighbor from a burning house as a teen in 2008, a year before he enlisted in the military.

"They weren't able to carry me so they dragged me out then carried me down a snowy icy hill and gave me their jackets as the ambulance and fire department came," Ethel Hunt told the Morning Sun of Mount Pleasant Saturday. "(Friese) was a very nice young man. There aren't many people like him anymore. A lot of people would have seen a fire and kept going. I felt very bad when he died."

Hundreds of people in the town, about 60 miles northwest of Saginaw, gathered Saturday along the funeral procession route for the 21-year-old Friese. He died April 29 after his unit was attacked by insurgents with a rocket-propelled grenade in Al Qadisiyah province in Iraq.

Trees along the route were adorned in yellow ribbons. Yellow balloons were released into the sky as the procession passed.

"There is nothing bad you can say about Robert. He was a brother, a father, an uncle and a best buddy," longtime friend Ron Frazier told the newspaper. "He was put here to care, protect and keep us together. That's what he really did. He helped us get through hard times."

Friese, a 2007 graduate of Harrison High School, was named Hero of The Year for 2008 for rescuing Hunt and joined the military the following year as an M1 armor crewman.

He was assigned to Troop I, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, and deployed in 2010 to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.

"He was a hometown kid and everybody was proud of him," Harrison resident Dan Wilhelm said. "He meant a lot fighting for freedom and things that make America what it is. He paid the ultimate price."

The Pentagon said Friese was a recipient of the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Overseas Service Ribbon.

Spc. Robert M. Friese was killed in action on 4/29/11.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Hermanson

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Hermanson, 22, of Appleton, Wis.

SSgt Hermanson was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk, La.; died April 28, 2011 at FOB Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Killed just days before 1st wedding anniversary
By Michael Louis Vinson
The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent

Army Sgt. Matthew D. Hermanson was just over a week away from celebrating his first wedding anniversary when he was killed while serving in Afghanistan.

The 22-year-old Appleton, Wis., man died from wounds he suffered April 28 when his unit — 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Polk, La. — took on small arms fire in Wardak province in the east-central portion of the country, the Defense Department said.

Hermanson and his wife, Rachel, a former teacher in Elkhorn, were to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on May 8. Hermanson would have turned 23 on May 27.

“He was a good guy. He cared a lot about other people. He cared a lot about my sister,” Rachel’s sister, Daisy Younger, 22, said.

“He would always make sure she was OK and he would send her flowers to just tell her how much he loved her. He would send her gifts. He was just a really caring guy. He would ask even her family how we were doing.”

Daisy said Matthew and Rachel met through Facebook.

“They didn’t have any [mutual] friends. He just started talking with her. They hung out a few times and she told me that he was the one for her. They started dating and he felt that she was the one for him and he asked her to marry him.”

The couple dated for two years and got engaged in the fall of 2009, Daisy said.

Daisy said Rachel and their mother, Gladys Younger, traveled to Delaware, where Matthew’s body was returned.

Rev. Donald Younger, the soldier’s father-in-law, said Hermanson spent a lot of time hunting and fishing. Hermanson had recently been notified that he was being promoted to staff sergeant, Younger said, and he was expected to come home for a two-week visit on May 20.

“He was very respected by the men of his company,” Younger told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Even now, we’re getting flowers; we’re getting cards from the men in his company who are still in Iraq.”

Chad Pheasant, 24, who is stationed at Fort Polk, La., said that he and Hermanson were close.

“We went through basic training together and then we were in the same company for about three years,” he said.

Pheasant said he will remember “all the good times we’ve had. We pretty much grew up in the Army together. After basic training we stayed really close being stationed together. I’m thinking about his family.

“We did a lot of fishing together — renting boats and going out on Toledo Bend. We had a lot of good times out there. We also spent a good bit of time camping up on the lake as well as hanging out, sitting around the campfire talking. We also watched some football together.

“I need to talk with my chain of command, but I definitely plan on making it up there for his [funeral] services,” Pheasant said.

Hermanson, who was deployed to Afghanistan in October, previously served 14 months in Iraq, his father-in-law said.

His parents are Jeffrey and Sandy Hermanson of Appleton; his brothers are Nathan and Joshua. He graduated in 2006 from Appleton North High School.

Appleton North Principal James Huggins said Saturday that while he didn’t personally know Hermanson, because Huggins came to North in 2008, he felt a sense of loss. Huggins served in the Marine Corps.

“Any time you lose a service member, a local boy, one of our own, it’s tragically sad,” he said. “My thoughts go out to the family.”

Huggins said he notified school staff of Hermanson’s death Saturday morning.

Barry O’Connor, who retired as North’s principal in 2008, said he remembered Hermanson as “quiet, a really nice kid.”

Tyler Rawlings of Appleton, who graduated with Hermanson, said he knew Hermanson had joined the Army, but hadn’t heard he was killed in combat.

“He was a good kid,” Rawlings said.

In a statement released April 30, Gov. Scott Walker said: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Sergeant Hermanson, especially to his wife and parents. We’re enormously grateful for his service. His family is in our prayers during this time of grief.”

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., also extended his sympathies.

“My wife Deana and I extend our deepest condolences to the Hermanson family during this incredibly difficult time. Sergeant Hermanson is a hero. His sacrifice in service to our country will not soon be forgotten,” Ribble said.

Hermanson joined the Army in March 2007, completed training at Fort Benning, Ga., and was subsequently stationed at Fort Polk in December 2007. He deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from November 2007 to January 2009.

Hermanson’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, two Overseas Service Ribbons, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Air Assault Badge. He completed the Warrior Leadership and the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade courses.

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Hermanson was killed in action on 4/28/11.

Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald D. Freeman

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald D. Freeman, 25, of Plant City, Fla.

LCpl Freeman was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died April 28, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Bay area family mourns fallen Marine
Josh Cascio
FOX 13 News

PLANT CITY - Lance Corporal Ronald Freeman was on his first deployment in Afghanistan when he was killed by an explosive device on April 28th.

That date marked his daughter’s first birthday and was less than two weeks after the birth of his son. Sadly, now both will have to grow up without getting to know their daddy.

The 25-year-old Plant City native – who friends called ‘Dougie’ – always strived to be the best at everything he did whether he was playing the role of husband, father or Marine.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” said Freeman’s father Brian. “Not just me but my whole family and everyone that ever knew him.”

‘Dougie’ had only been in Afghanistan for three weeks when tragedy struck. He leaves behind a wife and the two kids.

“He loved his kids so much,” Brian Freeman added. “His only thoughts and prayers were for his children, the little son he never got to hold.”

The Marines family is still coming to terms with the loss. Freeman was a good father, a hard worker and a proud member of the United State Military. When he first thought about joining the armed services a few years ago, Freeman wasn’t in the best of shape.

He dropped 100 pounds before being accepted. That’s the kind of determination ‘Dougie,’ possessed says his Uncle Bobby.

“Very well mannered kid, very determined to do what he needed to do to get it done,” he said. “It [losing him] is an emotional rollercoaster, up and down, it’s rough.”

It’s been especially tough on Brian.

“This war is no good. We need to get out,” Brian Freeman said of the military effort overseas. “See what it’s hurting? See what we are losing…..see what I lost?’

Freeman lost a son, a friend and a big pair of arms to hold and protect his grandkids.

“He’s my hero, he’s everyone’s hero,” said Freeman. “He’s going to be missed, that is for sure. He’s going to be missed.”

Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald D. Freeman was killed in action on 4/28/11.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marine Cpl. Adam D. Jones

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Adam D. Jones, 29, of Germantown, Ohio

Cpl Jones was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died April 27, 2011 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Dayton Daily News

GERMANTOWN — Marine Cpl. Adam Jones was 29 when he was killed in combat Tuesday in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

People here remember him as a quiet neighborhood kid who was willing to stand with his friends.

Ralph Tidd recalled Jones as one of the many kids who ran through the neighborhood. “Just like any other boy, he didn’t have a halo. There are always scraps between boys,” he said, remembering Jones was one of the kids his wife carried to school on the bus.

A 2000 graduate of Valley View High School, Jones was a quiet young man. “He was a couple years younger than me, but every time I talked with him, he was a great kid always willing to help out,” said Bobby Johnson.

Now a Germantown police officer, Johnson said the last time he saw Jones he talked about enlisting in the Marine Corps.

“He was just a stand-up kid, quiet and respectful,” Johnson said.

Germantown is a small village of just over 5,000, soon to be a city. Everyone knows everyone or knows somebody who knows everyone. At the Municipal Building, mention Jones’ name and people shake their head in sadness. “It’s a tragedy for the family,” Johnson said, speaking for many.

On his Facebook page, Jones said he was the squad leader for 60mm mortar squad with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Details of his death were not immediately available from the Marine Corps.

Jones enlisted in Corps in November 2006 and had two deployments to Iraq, two to Afghanistan and a relief deployment to Haiti.

His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

He was preceded in death by his father, Joe R. Jones. He is survived by his wife, Sarah, mother, Carolyn Jones Hibberd; sister, Kelly Jones-Collins; brothers, Mark & Travis Jones; numerous other relatives & many friends.

Marine Cpl. Adam D. Jones was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Army Pfc. Jonathan M. Villanueva

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Jonathan M. Villanueva, 19, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Pfc Villanueva was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk, La.; died April 27, 2011 at COP Carwile, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The family of a young Southside soldier killed in Afghanistan last week said Osama bin Laden's death means their loved one's death was not in vain.

The Department of Defense announced the death of Pfc. Jonathan M. Villanueva, 19, of Jacksonville over the weekend.

The DoD released a statement Saturday saying he died on April 27th in the Wardak province of Afghanistan. The DoD said Pfc. Villanueva died of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk, La.

On Monday, the Villanueva family released a statement saying:

"This is a very sad time for us. We are very appreciative of all the support we have received from the Army, family and friends. Jonathan died young, but he lived a great life. He touched so many people with his kindness, humor and generosity. Becoming a soldier was a dream of his when he was younger. Jonathan left this world doing what he loved. His death, along with the other servicemen and women who have lost their lives since the September 11th tragedy, were not in vain. Their efforts combined helped put an end to the evil of Bin Laden. We were always very proud of Jonathan for his accomplishments and we will continue to be very proud. Jonathan loved his job, uniform, and country. He loved his family and friends. He lives within our hearts and we will never forget the joy he has brought us. He will always be remembered as a true friend, a great son, a loyal brother and a hero to all."

Diego Villanueva, Jonathan Villanueva's father, said his son attended Alfred I Du
Pont Middle School and then Wolfson High School, but graduated from Englewood High School. His father said Jonathan first enrolled in JROTC at Englewood.

Diego Villanueva said funeral arrangements for his son are pending, however he expects his son's body to arrive at NAS JAX once plans are finalized. Villanueva plans to bury his son in Jacksonville. A spokesperson with NAS JAX said there is no information yet on funeral arrangements.

While the family is not giving on camera interviews at this point, it wanted to express gratitude to the U.S. Army. Villanueva said military members helping the family through the tragedy have been an important source of support.

Villanueva adds that Jonathan's brother is also in the military and recently returned from a deployment in the Middle East. He said the family was looking forward to spending more time together once Jonathan returned from his deployment.

Army Pfc. Jonathan M. Villanueva was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, of Gadsden, Ala.

Major Ausbor was assigned to 99th Flying Training Squadron, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, of Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Ausborn was assigned to the 99th Flying Training Squadron and was the subject of a May 2008 article in Airman magazine. The C-130 pilot then worked in the air component coordination element of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti, and the article talked about his emotional response to handing out food and water to local poor people.

“What we’re doing here is a very good thing,” he said. “It’s about helping Africa as a whole. I think this is a very good mission.”

Suzanna Ausborn first met her husband during a deployment in Kuwait, where their work and friendship in the same Air Force unit would later blossom into a budding romance. She soon fell in love with Jeff, an only child, And despite the 19-year veteran's regular deployments halfway around the world, she said they had remained inseparable.

"Jeff is one of the types of people when you meet, you want to be around him all the time," she said. "You never want to be away from him."

When Suzanna didn't receive a call from her husband earlier this week, she began to worry. "We talked nearly every day -- that's how I knew something was wrong, I didn't hear from him."

Suzanna said at first she didn't want to believe that her husband had been killed. "I wanted to come to Dover (Air Force Base) last night to see my husband or feel his presence one last time. I wanted to salute him one last time," she said. "But what I really wanted is for it to be a mistake and for them to say 'No, that's not your husband there, sorry, let's undo this.' But that didn't happen."

Her husband's casket, draped in an American flag, returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware early Saturday morning.

"And so as we got closer to his casket coming off the airplane, reality set in, that really, it's him," she said. "He's never coming back."

According to his wife, Suzanna, he volunteered last year to go to Afghanistan to teach new Afghan pilots how to fly the C-27 aircraft. She had been heartened by his assignment in Kabul as a flight instructor, supposedly one that would draw less risk of combat.

"He was the most compassionate, kind, patient and understanding husband, father, pilot and supervisor," she said. "He was a great communicator, we talked nearly every day - that's how I knew something was wrong, I didn't hear from him. I miss him so much."

"The loss of Jeff is devastating not only to the squadron but the wing as well. He has served our wing and his nation honorably," said Col. Richard Murphy, 12th FTW commander. "Our hearts and prayers go out to Jeff's family and to the families of those affected by this terrible act."

Major Ausborn is survived by his wife, Suzanna, and five children, Emily, 15, Eric, 12, Shelby, 10, Mitchell Maloy, 21 and Summer Maloy, 17.

Air Force Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40, of New Haven, Conn.

Maj Estelle was assigned to Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Major Estelle bade farewell to his family on Easter and arrived in Afghanistan the day before he was killed. He was a 20-year veteran of the service looking forward to his upcoming retirement.

Estelle started his career at MacDill as a communications officer with the 6th Communications Squadron, where he was stationed from February 1999 to January 2001. Major Estelle worked as a cyberspace operations officer assigned to Air Combat Command headquarters, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. He was assigned to Air Combat Command headquarters.

Estelle and his wife, N'Kebia, also an Air Force Major, were planning to transfer to MacDill where they married 10 years ago. May 12 was to be their 10th wedding anniversary.

"He was a hero," his mother, Regina said. "He loved the military. "He loved what he was doing. He went in as an enlisted man and decided to become an officer."

"His wish was to be buried in Bushnell cemetery," she said. "He loved Florida."

In his home state of Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered that flags be flown at half staff in Major Estelle's memory, and released this statement:
"Connecticut has lost another brave and honorable service member, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Major Estelle," the governor said in a statement. "We are also thinking of those in Major Estelle's unit, and all of our men and women in uniform serving this country at this difficult time. We wish them all a safe and speedy return home to their families."

From friends:

Big Ray, My brother, My friend: I will forever miss you, but know I will see you again. You were a leader among leaders. The hole in my heart will never heal. You were always there, with words and scripture. You taught me to fly and earn my wings. The four Amigo's, you, me, Cliff and John. Fly high my friend..I will see you again. Till then watch over us, guide us and help us as you did when you were here. ~Rob (Diesel) Carreiro

Raymond I will truly miss you, our little crew had many a good times. I will mostly miss our long talks about our futures and our goals and the encouragement you always gave. I will always carry you in my heart, and my deepest sympathy goes out to your family. May fond memories of you and your wonderful smile bring them great joy through their sadness and help ease the pain enough to make it to the next day. That's what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna remember your smile and the goodtimes. Love Always, Ant.~ Antoinette Walker

Major Estelle is survived by his wife, N'Kebia, 9 yr old daughter and son; parents Regina and Ray.

Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown, 33, of Deltona, Fla.

MSgt Brown was assigned to Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Joint Base Andrews, Md.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Brown and three siblings grew up on Long Island before moving to Deltona in the mid-1990s. They were raised by their father, Jim Jacobs, who later remarried and had another son. She sang in the church choir and aspired to become a pediatric nurse, but three weeks before graduation from Deltona High School in 1995, Brown told her father she was going into the Air Force.

Jim Jacobs' dining room table has become a shrine to his fallen daughter. Dozens of photographs depict the personal moments in the life of U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Tara Brown: a well-worn photo of a little girl and her brother sitting in Santa Claus' lap; a church choir performance in New York; Polaroid photos of her first trip to Walt Disney World; basic training in Texas. And most recently a party at her Maryland home to celebrate her wedding and latest deployment to Afghanistan. Brown's tour, scheduled to end in January, was to be her last.

Her latest deployment was on what her father called a "history-making mission."

Late last year, Brown and her longtime friend, Army Sgt. Ernest Brown, married at a New England courthouse. They celebrated with a party at their Maryland home. The couple did not have children.

Jacobs made the trip north to celebrate with his daughter and new son-in-law. While Jacobs was visiting, Brown made sure to have one-on-one time with her dad — they went shopping together.

On Monday, Jacobs wore the black-striped dress shirt Brown bought him the last time they were together.

"She was never afraid," Jacobs said. "She was very happy in what she was doing. She was trying to liberate somebody."

Msgt Brown's body will be returned to the U.S. soon. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Msgt Brown is survived by her father, Jim Jacobs; husband, Ernest Brown; her mother, Gladys Vereen; brothers Jim, Dominic, Michael ; and sister, Laguanda.

Fallen airmen’s bodies arrive at Dover
By Jill Laster
Staff writer

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — The bodies of eight airmen killed in Afghanistan returned to the U.S. early April 30, with the Air Force’s top leader in attendance.

The airmen and a U.S. contractor died April 27 when an Afghan pilot opened fire at Kabul International Airport, reportedly after an argument.

Top Air Force and military leaders — including Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy — were in attendance for the dignified transfer.

The Defense Department on April 29 released the names of the eight airmen killed in the attack. They include:

* Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

* Maj. Philip D. Ambard, 44, of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.

* Maj. Jeffrey O. Ausborn, 41, of Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

* Maj. David L. Brodeur, 34, of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

* Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown, 33, of Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington, Md.

* Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II, 40, of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.

* Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, 35, of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

* Maj. Charles A. Ransom, 31, of Langley-Eustis.

Also on April 29, the International Security Assistance Force released details of its initial investigation into the shooting, “in light of inaccuracy in media reports to date on this incident,” according to an ISAF release.

ISAF concluded that the gunman, who was carrying two weapons, left the room where the shooting occurred severely wounded, dying in a different location within the building. He appeared to be acting alone and had no connection with the Taliban, according to ISAF.

Air Force Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Maj. Charles A. Ransom

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Maj. Charles A. Ransom, 31, of Midlothian, Va.

Major Ransom was assigned to 83rd Network Operations Squadron, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Major Ransom was an avid Dallas Cowboys fan who enjoyed working on his truck and tackling home improvement projects, and he was described as "truly an American airman" by Lt. Col. Eric Delange, commander of the 83rd Network Operations Squadron.

Col. Kevin Wooten, commander of the 67th Network Warfare Wing, said Ransom "had been a critical part of this wing's operations for several years and was a leader within the 83rd Network Operations Squadron."

Ransom graduated from Midlothian High School in 1997 where he played football and baseball.

He was also a 2001 graduate of Virginia Military Institute. A computer science major, he served as class vice president and was also a cadet corporal, platoon sergeant and Rat Challenge corporal, according to the college.

Ransom's program at VMI was a tough one, said George Piegari, professor emeritus, who taught him two upper-level classes. "He entered it, he stuck with it and he graduated. He was a very good student. You knew he was the guy who would get his assignments done."

Ransom's classmates, who called him Charlie, liked and respected him, the professor said. "When they elect him as their vice president, that tells you the admiration of his classmates."

Piegari remembers how they'd tease Ransom about his height. "Even when he was teased by his shortness of stature he would go right along," he said.
The college released this statement:

"During a speech to the class after Breakout in 1998, Charles promised he would be a fighter for all of us. That he was. Charles continued that fight for his country as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and died serving in harm's way on our behalf."

His commanders at Langley described Major Ransom as "truly an American airman" and "a critical part of this wing's operations for several years who was a leader within the 83rd Network Operations Squadron."

On graduation, Ransom was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, and later promoted to captain.

VMI's Class of 2001 issued the following statement regarding Ransom’s death:
“The class of 2001 mourns the loss of our Brother Rat and Vice President, Charles Ransom. Charles will be remembered for his loyal support to his Brother Rats as well as his reliable friendship. During a speech to the class after Breakout in 1998, Charles promised he would be a fighter for all of us. That he was. Charles continued that fight for his country as an officer in the US Air Force and died serving in harm’s way on our behalf. The great love of our class swells for Charles and his family. You will be so greatly missed, Brother Rat.”

Major Ransom leaves behind his parents, Mary Sue and William.

Air Force Maj. Charles A. Ransom was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Capt. Nathan J. Nylander

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, 35, of Hockley, Texas

Captain Nylander was assigned to 25th Operational Weather Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

D-M honors weatherman shot, killed in Afghanistan
Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star

Miriam Nylander let her heart speak, painting a picture of her late husband - Capt. Nathan J. Nylander - that touched some 600 hearts Friday morning at his memorial service at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

"Nathan was a true airman. At 18, he joined the Air Force," said the widow, dressed in black, speaking in a proud, strong voice that filled the hangar where officers, enlisted personnel, family and friends came to pay their respects.

Nylander came from a military family with relatives on his father's and mother's side both serving their country and some paying the ultimate sacrifice, she said.

At age 35, her husband was one of nine Americans killed by an Afghan military pilot who opened fire during a meeting at Kabul International Airport on April 27. The shooter was said to be distraught over his personal finances.

In Tucson, Nylander was a meteorologist with D-M's 25th Operational Weather Squadron. In Afghanistan, he was an adviser to NATO Air Training Command and was helping to train the Afghan air force when he died.

"When 9/11 happened, I was pregnant and we were on our way to (South) Korea," recalled Miriam Nylander, explaining that her husband had thoughts about leaving the Air Force, but all that changed because Nylander felt his job was to stay and help defend his country.

While she spoke from a podium, a wreath of red and white flowers stood near enlarged photos of Nylander. Some of his awards and decorations were displayed before the audience, along with a Fallen Soldier Battle Cross, represented by a helmet, rifle and a pair of empty combat boots that symbolize the final march of the last battle.

"Nathan was a committed airman, and he was committed to his airmen," said Miriam Nylander, who met her husband when they both were stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida in the 1990s. She remembered her husband spending many nights at a hospital bed to be by an airman's side, or how both of them would care for an airman's children when they needed a baby sitter, or the countless mornings when she'd wake up at 4 and Nathan had already left for work.

She also spoke about Nathan's love for his children - Tyler, 12, Elisabeth, 9, and Andru, 7 - and how this year he did not get a chance to coach Elisabeth's baseball team.

She described her husband as a "geek" who enjoyed teaching her children's classmates about the weather whenever a speaker was needed at their school.

And, she mentioned Nathan's work in Afghanistan, and how he liked to share American mementos with his students. "I know God put him there for a reason. … "He was a great husband, an amazing father, a proud airman and an American hero," she said through tears.

Airmen, one by one, walked up and placed four medals - including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star - that Nylander earned posthumously alongside other military decorations he had earned.

Airman 1st Class Saphfire Cook sang "Amazing Grace" and then a wall of the hangar was opened and the mourners viewed pilots flying A-10s in a missing-man formation.

In the afternoon, Nylander's remains arrived at the base and then were taken to a funeral home for a private service. He is the 52nd service member with ties to Tucson and Southern Arizona to be claimed by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the third loss D-M has suffered in Afghanistan.

Air Force Capt. Nathan J. Nylander was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, of Knoxville, Tenn.

Lt Col. Bryant was assigned to 56th Operations Group, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Frank Bryant Jr. never believed in giving up.

"He knew what he had to do, and he did it," said Dan Dugger, who coached him for four years at Karns High School. "The first time I ever met him, he told me, 'I want to be a wrestler, and I want to be a fighter pilot.' Once he decided to do something, he worked all out for it."

That determination earned Bryant a state wrestling championship, his Air Force wings and the nickname "Bruiser."

He died Wednesday when an angry Afghan pilot opened fire in an airport operations room in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Seven other U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor, serving as military advisers to the country's air force, died in the shooting, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Air Force didn't announce or confirm Bryant's death Thursday, and family members were traveling and couldn't be reached. Dugger said the family told him of Bryant's death Wednesday night.

Bryant graduated from Karns High in 1991, the same year he brought home the state trophy at 119 pounds. The win led to a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, where he was captain of the wrestling team and most-valuable player. He received his silver wings in 1997.

"I've never seen another one like him," Dugger said. "He came in as a freshman weighing 90 pounds. When he won state champion, there was no jumping around and hollering. He took his headgear off, folded it, and just shook hands with his opponent and me."

Bryant had served in Iraq, where he piloted an F-16 on more than a dozen bombing missions in Baghdad and helped support a surprise raid aimed at Saddam Hussein and his sons.

"It compared somewhat to being in a big match," he said when he returned. "The curiosity of the unknown makes it exciting."

Friends said Bryant didn't like to brag. So his commanders bragged for him.

"Bruiser is an absolute super star on my team of fighter pilots," Lt. Col. Jon Norman, who commanded Bryant's squadron during the Baghdad missions, wrote in a 2003 letter to Bryant's parents, Frank and Pat. "I am very honored to lead such a fine young man."

Friends said Bryant left behind a wife and a son

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr. was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Maj. David L. Brodeur

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Maj. David L. Brodeur, 34, of Auburn, Mass.

Major Brodeur was assigned to 11th Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.


Maj. David Brodeur, an Air Force Academy graduate and spouse of a Colorado Springs native, was one of nine Americans killed Wednesday when a gunman opened fire in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Alaska-based fighter pilot and father of two married his wife Susan in the academy’s chapel in 2000, a year after he graduated, said his father-in-law, Frank Williams of Colorado Springs.

“He was the perfect son-in-law, if there is such a thing,” Williams said. “I couldn’t wait for him to come home so he could take me fishing.”

A Massachusetts-native, Brodeur deployed in February to train Afghan air force pilots.

The Iraq veteran had worked as an executive officer to the commander of the Alaska-based 11th Air Force at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“He just liked the Air Force and he loved to fly,” Williams said. “He’s so good at it.”

Williams said the major was as good at being a father as he was at handling high-speed planes.

“David had a four-year-old son who couldn’t wait for him to come home so he could teach him how to play baseball and a seven-year-old girl who is a straight A student,” Williams said.

Brodeur had looked forward to his work in Afghanistan.

His motivations were simple, Williams said.

“He’s a very patriotic person,” Williams said. “He loves this country.”

The family is finalizing plans to bury Brodeur at the Air Force Academy.

AUBURN, Mass. - With over 400 participants, the First Annual Major David L. Brodeur Memorial Foundation 5K Walk Run on 10/16/11, exceeded their fundraising goal last weekend.

Although the entry fees accumulated more than $8,000 in donations corporate sponsors including Unibank, Webster Five, Materman’s and Best Buy among many others, grew the fund to over $10,000.

Air Force Major David L. Brodeur, a graduate of Auburn High School, was recently killed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 34-year-old U.S. fighter pilot was serving as a NATO trainer in Afghanistan when he and eight other Americans were shot and killed by an Afghan Air Force cadet at the Kabul International Airport on April 27, 2011.

The First Annual Major David L. Brodeur 5K Walk / Run was held at the North American Martyrs Church located at 8 Wyoma Drive in Auburn on Sunday.

"A group of his classmates got together and we decided that we wanted to do something positive," former classmate and Board of Directors Member Jake Kusy said.
"We decided to make it a 5k run and walk because he was an amazing track and field athlete," he said.

Kusy, who graduated with Brodeur from Auburn High School in 1994, designed the 5K route along the same roads he used to run every day after school with his former teammate.

Funding raised from the event will go to The Major David Brodeur Memorial Foundation, a newly formed non-profit organization.

According to President of the Board of Directors for the Foundation Tim Morse, the mission of the Foundation is to honor the life of Major David Brodeur by working collaboratively with Auburn High School students to provide grants in the areas of academics, athletics, and extra-curricular activities.

According to former classmates, Brodeur was someone that everyone could get along with. In addition to track, he played several other sports in high school including soccer and baseball. He was also an honor student and served as president of the student council.

Brodeur leaves his wife, Susan, two children, Elizabeth and David, his parents Lawrence and Joyce of Sutton and siblings Todd and Amanda.

Air Force Maj. David L. Brodeur was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Air Force Maj. Philip D. Ambard

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Maj. Philip D. Ambard, 44, of Edmonds, Wash.

Major Ambard was assigned to 460th Space Communications Squadron, Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Maj. Philip D. Ambard, an Air Force man who grew up in Edmonds and lived in Colorado Springs, CO, has been identified as one of eight U.S. airmen killed Wednesday in Afghanistan.

A financially distressed 50-year-old Afghani Air Corps pilot reportedly opened fire at Kabul International Airport after an argument, killing seven other U.S. military personnel and an American civilian contractor. The shooter, identified as Ahmad Gul, was killed.

Mr. Ambard, 44, was born in Venezuela and moved to Edmonds at age 12. According to DJ Jakala, spokeswoman for the Edmonds School District, no records have been found that he attended school in the district. He joined the Air Force after high school, and served in the Air Force for 25 years. He was assigned to the 460th Space Communications Squadron, Buckley Air Force Base, CO. Ambard, a foreign-language professor, and the others killed were trainers and advisers for the Afghan air force.

“The U.S. Air Force Academy family is deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own, Maj. Phil Ambard, and our heart-felt condolences go out to his family and friends,” Lt. Gen. Mike Gould told the Denver Post.

Mr. Ambard's wife, Linda, an elementary school P.E. teacher in Colorado Springs, and a noted runner, posted the following on her Facebook page yesterday: “I won't be posting mileage for awhile. My husband lost his life in Afghanistan yesterday. I am getting ready to fly to Dover, DE, to bring my Phil home.”

The previous day, Mrs. Ambard posted: “My heart is broken. I lost my best friend and husband of over 23 years today. He paid the ultimate cost so that all might live free.”

According to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Mr. Ambard's sustained excellence was recognized in 2006 when he earned the distinction of Company Grade Officer of the Year for the Dean of Faculty and the entire Academy. In 2007, he was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Languages for a Ph.D. program at Denver University, which he completed in 2010.

Mr. Ambard was scheduled to return to the Department of Foreign Languages in Colorado Springs in January 2012 after his year-long deployment to Afghanistan.

Mr. Ambard was a father of two children and the stepfather to three of his wife's from an earlier marriage.

Air Force Maj. Philip D. Ambard was killed in action on 4/27/11.

Army Spc. Andrew E. Lara

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Andrew E. Lara, 25, of Albany, Ore.

Spc Lara was assigned to F Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, Oregon National Guard, based in Baker City, Ore.; died April 27, 2011 in Almahawil, Iraq, of wounds received in a noncombat incident.

A 2004 South Albany High School graduate died Wednesday in Iraq in a “noncombat related incident,” according to the Oregon National Guard.

Spc. Andrew E. Lara, 25, of Albany was serving in Babil province with F Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, attached to the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment.

Guard Spokesman Capt. Stephen Bomar said Lara was a driver for one of the convoy escort teams, driving an MRAP, a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle meant to ensure transported supplies arrive safely at their destination.

Bomar said Lara died on base, not during a convoy escort. He did not have information about the circumstances, except that it did not involve combat. An investigation is under way.

Lara’s parents, Ramiro and Lynn Lara, are on their way to Dover, Md., to participate in his transfer home, Bomar said. The body is expected to arrive in the United States in the next few days.

The Oregon National Guard said the family expressed appreciation for the initial support provided, but has asked for the community to honor their privacy as they grieve. No services have been scheduled.

Born Dec, 7, 1985, in Albany, Lara was a 2004 South Albany High School graduate and was known for his love of baseball, football and wrestling.

He played all three sports, mostly at the junior varsity level, his freshman and sophomore years. Principal Brent Belveal, who was among Lara’s coaches in those days, remembers him as “a kid who worked very hard and really put his mind to being successful at that level. There’s some pretty good maturity involved in that, a 14-year-old boy.”

Lara’s father, Ramiro, also coached JV football and baseball. His mother is a teacher’s assistant at Periwinkle Elementary School.

Chris Equinoa, South’s principal in 2004, said he could picture Lara well: a quiet, dark-haired boy with pencil-thin sideburns, a boy with an unassuming nature who did his work well and was everybody’s friend.

“Kind of a breath of fresh air,” Equinoa said. “I am just so sorry that something like that would happen.”

Lara built log homes after graduation. He loved music and outdoor activities.

Lara enlisted in the Oregon National Guard in June 2009. He drilled out of Woodburn and was deployed last September. His company is expected to return to the United States this September.

Lara was to come home on leave in early May.

He is survived by his daughter, Kay Lynn, 18 months; his parents and a brother, Joshua, 23, whom Bomar said is also in military service.

Army Spc. Andrew E. Lara was killed in non-combat related incident on 4/27/11.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Hughes

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Hughes, 41, of Newark, Ohio

SFC Hughes was assigned to 528th Sustainment Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died April 24, 2011 at Camp Brown, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained in a noncombat incident.

Hughes was an armament-maintenance sergeant who previously served in Germany several times and Korea. He had been deployed to Iraq twice. This was his first deployment to Afghanistan, having deployed in December.

A graduate of Newark High School, SFC Hughes first enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1989 and enlisted in the Army in February 1994.

Jennifer Kinney was 6 when she met Hughes, who lived near her family in Newark. They played together almost every day and her family started calling him Red because of his red hair. “He was literally like a brother to me,” she said. “He was part of the family.”

Even as a young teen, Hughes talked about joining the military and serving his country, Kinney said. “He knew pretty early on that was the path he was going to take".

After Hughes joined the Marines, he and Kinney stayed in touch and she would always spend time with him when he came home for a visit.

Hughes married his wife, Leslie, in 2008 and was devoted to her and her two sons, Kinney said. “From day one, he was very involved,” she said. “He took them under his wing immediately. That was the kind of guy he was.”

Family friend Kim Bell said Hughes always was at the baseball field when he was home, watching his stepsons play. “He was the sweetest man,” Bell said.

Although he loved serving his country, Hughes had planned to retire from the Army in December to spend more time with his family, Kinney said. “He was really looking forward to his last deployment so he could start the next phase of his life,” she said. “He and Leslie had a big vacation planned.”

Kinney said she will never forget Hughes’ love for his family, the outdoors and the Ohio State Buckeyes, but most of all, she’ll remember his positive attitude.

“Regardless of the situation he would always find the silver lining,” she said. “He would always see the good in every situation.”

SFC Hughes is survived by his wife, Leslie; mother, Carol, Father, Larry Hughes of Granville and stepsons Jordan and Chandler

Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Hughes was killed in a non-combat related incident on 4/24/11.

Marine Lance Cpl. Joe M. Jackson

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Joe M. Jackson, 22, of White Swan, Wash.

LCpl Jackson was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died April 24, 2011 in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

White Swan Marine killed in Afghanistan bomb blast
by Phil Ferolito
Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Joe Jackson was everything a Marine stood for, his foster father, Shawn Marceau said Monday, a day after Jackson was killed in Afghanistan.

Jackson, 22, was on foot patrol early Sunday in south-central Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device detonated next to him.

He was pronounced dead about an hour later at a hospital.

On Monday, Marceau sat between two Marines at the Marine Corps Reserve office on Tahoma Avenue in Yakima. Head cast down, fists clenching at times, eyes watering, he recalled the young man he raised from the age of 12.

"(He) was my road dog," he said. "That was my best friend. I lost my best friend."

A Gila River tribal member who was mostly raised in the Yakama reservation community of White Swan, Jackson was a strong kid who would help anyone, Marceau said.

"He was a stellar Marine son," Marceau said. "He had a Midas touch -- everything he touched turned to gold."

A lance corporal with the Alpha Company 15 out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., he was among the elite, with swimming, rifle and educational scores that landed him among the top 10 percent, said 1st Sgt. Michael Lillie.

Those scores opened opportunities for him far removed from the clashes on the ground, but he chose to tote a rifle as an infantryman, Lillie said.

"He wanted to be a grunt," Marceau said.

He often volunteered to be one of the lead men on foot patrols, where there was the possibility of being struck by IEDs.

His job was to mark the trail for his fellow Marines.

Military officials said that on Sunday he was following another Marine who was carrying a mine detector on a steep slope when his foot slipped outside the detected area and a bomb exploded. He was the only one struck.

Marceau, a Blackfeet tribal member, was at his White Swan home when two Marines arrived at his door about 8:45 a.m. Sunday.

"They showed up and it was scary," he said. "If I got the word from anyone, I'd rather get it from a Marine."

Marceau, his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the Marines.

At age 13 -- one year after he came to live with Marceau -- Jackson began dressing up as a Marine, Marceau recalled.

"He accepted me as his father and that's the way it came down," he said.

"He was pretty rough, really rough around the edges," he said. "I just wanted him to succeed and he did."

Marceau recalled how Jackson would always come home right after school and do chores. If something needed fixing, he fixed it.

"He just wanted to be with us," he said. "He just wanted to be home."

Jackson preferred hands-on work rather than the confines of a classroom, said his high school resource teacher, Shelly Craig.

Although he fell behind on credits, he was smarter than most realized and surprised teachers when he passed the WASL in 10th grade, she said.

Once he realized that a high school diploma was important to his service in the Marines, he focused on graduating, she said.

"If the military (hadn't been) the carrot out there for him, I don't think he would have graduated.

"He's always been very much driven to join the Marines -- that was his ultimate goal."

On graduation night, he helped a wheelchair-bound student, RJ Jim, through the walk.

"He took care of him and made sure he made it up on the stage and everything," Craig said. "He had a very compassionate heart."

Following his foster father's footsteps, Jackson joined the Marines after graduating from White Swan High School in 2009. He was deployed to Afghanistan about a month ago.

Jackson leaves behind a younger brother and sister, both foster siblings, said Marceau, who declined to identify them. Services are not expected for about two weeks.

Jackson will be greatly missed, Marceau said.

"What he did, it was a calling -- America cashed a check on my boy," he said. "Don't forget him."

Marine Lance Cpl. Joe M. Jackson was killed in action on 4/24/11.

Marine Sgt. David P. Day

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. David P. Day, 26, of Gaylord, Mich.

Sgt. Day was assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Special Operations Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died April 24, 2011 in Badghis province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Sgt Day was killed when he was attempting to diffuse an improvised explosive device (IED) in Badghis Province.

Sgt Day, a 2003 Gaylord High School graduate, joined the Marines after graduating high school.

Sgt Day had been selected as Team Leader of the year for the 3rd Recon Battalion and had completed Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) training in early 2009 in Florida.

Sgt Day deployed to Afghanistan in November 2010. This was his third deployment, Day had previously been deployed to Iraq twice.

From friends:
April 27, 2011
To those who've never met Dave, he is one of the most skilled young men I've ever had the joy of working with. He was one of the kindest friends I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. We had a lot of deep conversations over Chu-Hi's and taco rice, we had even more interesting times in our days together. Dave I'm going to miss your goofy smile and ripping on you for being from Gaylord. First Slope now you, we'll be drinking Chu-Hi's together again! Keep the rest of us safe! I love you buddy.~Naked Doc

April 27, 2011
David we will miss you greatly. Thank you for being a part of our life and such a great friend and brother to our son late Sgt. Michael Ferschke. Mikey will know of his Uncle David. We will never forget you. Our prayers are with your wife and family. Forever in our hearts.~Robin Ferschke

Sgt Day leaves behind wife, Nicole, and father, Don Day.

Marine Sgt. David P. Day was killed in action on 4/24/11.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Marine Sgt. Sean T. Callahan

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Sean T. Callahan, 23, of Warrenton, Va.

Sgt Callahan was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died April 23, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations. Also killed was Lance Cpl. Dominic J. Ciaramitaro.

He was my Hero’
By Donald Del Rosso
Times Democrat Staff Writer

Especially in time of war, Sean T. Callahan decided to join the Marines worried his family. His family, brother and two sisters feared for his well- being feared the worst but it soon became clear to the Callahan’s, who moved to Warrenton about six years ago, that Sean considered the Corps a calling.

“I can’t for the life of me imagine him doing anything else” said his sister, Heather, a 34 years old operations analyst and administrator for a software development company.

“It’s absolutely what he wanted to do”, said his brother, Daniel, a 26 year old Marine corporal. “He had a very strong sense of duty to his country and his family and friends. There absolutely isn’t another place he wanted to be.”

Daniel added, “He was willing to make the absolute sacrifice. He was 100% willing.” For Sean, a 23 year old sergeant, that moment came during a combat mission in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

“It was an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] blast” that killed Sean and another Marine, said Daniel, his voice trembling. “We don’t know anything else.” Sean was an antitank missleman assigned to the Second Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

In telephone interviews, Heather & Daniel spoke on behalf of the family. Immediate survivors also included Sean’s parents Patrick Callahan, a 58 year old software developer and Janet Callahan, a 56 year old motorcycle mechanic, and a sister Melodie, 29.

The family moved to Fauquier from Prince William County after Sean graduated from Brentsville District High School in 2005, Heather said. Neither of his parents served in the military, although grandfathers on both sides were in the Army, she said.

But a good friend of Sean’s talked enthusiastically with him about this experience. Heather said.

“He was very gung-ho and Sean was like “I need to do this” she recalled. “It matched his personality. We were concerned, but we agreed it was his decision to join, and we were being supportive as a family.” Sean enlisted in March 2008 and was promoted to sergeant in March 2011, according to the Corps.

In August 2009 he deployed to Iraq, where he served for three months, and then to Afghanistan in December 2010. Sean intended to re-enlist in 2012 because he planned on making the Marines his career, his brother said.

He wanted more training and experience and to return to the battlefield, Daniel said. His brother eventually hoped to join the Corps’ Special Forces unit. “He wanted to do it all”, Daniel said. In the past week, people have told me that Sean’s an American Hero”, he said “more than, he was my hero. He was absolutely the best brother. He was my best friend.

“I absolutely could not put my family through this again," Daniel said of the pain that his family has endured as a result of Sean’s death. “It’s bad enough losing one son. To lose two sons would be absolutely terrible for them.”

Daniel also a missleman served seven months in the Helmand province. Sean received the Good Conduct Medal, National Service Defense Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Marine Sgt. Sean T. Callahan was killed in action on 4/23/11.

Marine Lance Cpl. Dominic J. Ciaramitaro

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Dominic J. Ciaramitaro, 19, of South Lyon, Mich.

LCpl Ciaramitaro was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died April 23, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations. Also killed was Sgt. Sean T. Callahan.

Lcpl Ciaramitaro was from South Lyon, Michigan. He graduated from South Lyon High School in 2009. He played football, and was a coaches' favorite because he'd "rally everybody to victory."

Ciaramitaro joined the Marine Corps right after graduation and deployed to Afghanistan in December of 2010, six months after boot camp. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on January 1, 2011.

Lcpl Ciaramitaro's father, John, himself the son of an Air Force veteran, stated his son left for Afghanistan in December. He called home on satellite phones that were patchy. Things were slow, he'd tell his father. It's winter.

Lcpl Ciaramitaro's grandmother says the 19-year-old Marine from Michigan loved adventure, and she told him his service in Afghanistan was the "greatest mission" of his life.

He died young -- but he died honorably, said associate pastor Thomas Griffin, a former Navy chaplain who also ministered to Marines.

"You could see it in his eyes -- he was a Marine, he had chosen his path," said his aunt Mary Sullivan. "Honor and duty became the driving force behind all that he did."

Lance Corporal Ciaramitaro's awards include the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Lcpl Ciaramitaro is survived by his mother Debbie Beaupre, his father John and step-mother Lynn, his siblings: Salvatore, Holly Anne, Lucy, Elizabeth, Grace; his grandparents Sam & Marie Ciaramitaro and Susan Boston.

Marine Lance Cpl. Dominic J. Ciaramitaro was killed in action on 4/23/11.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II

Remember Our Heroes

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II, 29, of Hendersonville, N.C.

CWO2 Varnadore was assigned to 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.; died April 23, 2011 in Alah Say Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his helicopter went down due to an undetermined cause.

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Soldiers and friends of Task Force Falcon, 10th Mountain Division, mourned the loss of one of their own during a memorial at Enduring Faith Chapel, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, April 26.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II, an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter pilot in command assigned to Company C “Blue Max,” TF Phoenix, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mtn. Div., was killed April 23 when his aircraft went down during a night mission in Kapisa Province.

“As we sit in this chapel on this unforgettable evening reflecting upon the life of Terry Varnadore, we realize that we have lost a great American hero,”
said U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Robert Hearon, of Greenville, S.C.

As the memorial began, there was a mixture of somber faces and soft smiles as Soldiers close to him told stories.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dennis McKernan, TF Phoenix commander, spoke highly of the young pilot as Blue Max Soldiers looked upon the stand holding his rifle, flight helmet, boots and dog tags.

“Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry Varnadore was a selfless, positive warrior and honorable man,” said McKernan, of Haddon Township, N.J. “He was extremely competent, smart and very serious about preparing his company for combat and keeping them trained as Blue Max took the fight to the enemy.”

As McKernan stood before a room full of solemn faces, he noted that while mourning is the start of the healing process, aviation Soldiers must stay focused on the mission.

“We are Soldiers, we are still in the fight and we know that we don’t have the luxury to grieve very long. We must move on, because that’s what we do,” said McKernan, “That’s our mission and that’s what our country, our families, and our loved ones need us to do.”

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Steven Badgley, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., considered Varnadore one of his closest friends. The two pilots arrived at Fort Drum in 2007 where their journey together began. They deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom together in 2008; even though they were stationed at two separate locations, Badgley looked forward to flying with Varnadore.

Upon their return, their wives and children became inseparable which made their friendship grow even more.

“Our families were one in the same,” said Badgley. “We made sure we never missed our weekly get-togethers where we chased the kids, played darts and watched plenty of Wipeout.”

Varnadore’s positive personality and helpful nature changed Badgley. He spoke with tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to a friend and colleague.

“He helped me as a pilot and friend,” said Badgley. “Watching him with Casey made you want to be a better husband; watching him with Eva made you want to be a better father. I will always remember Terry with the giant smile that he always wore from cheek to cheek - even in the worst of times.”

Chaplain Hearon acknowledged the difficulty of accepting the loss of a comrade and reminded the Soldiers of the great service Varnadore performed as a pilot.

“We don’t always understand why life happens the way it does. Many times we don’t have answers to life’s difficult questions. One thing we can be certain of is that because of men like Terry, millions back home can sleep safely every night.”

Close friend, flight school classmate and fellow pilot, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sean Hennessy could not make it to Varnadore’s memorial, but shared with other Soldiers Varnadore’s passion in life.

“Terry loved flying,” said Hennessy, of Bakersfield, Calif. “But it was obvious that his family was his life. On the weekends, or when he had time off from work, it wasn’t unusual for Terry to take his family on an outdoor adventure or road trip.”

Blue Max commander, U.S. Army Capt. Sean Reeves of Shalimar, Fla., emphasized Varnadore’s love of his Family.

“Terry deployed to Afghanistan with his wife pregnant with their second child,” said Reeves, “He would show everyone the pictures of the ultrasounds and would talk at great lengths about his daughter’s upcoming birthday. His family was his life and his motivation.”

Varnadore, 29, a native of Hendersonville, N.C., deployed with his unit in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2010.

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, NATO Medal, and Combat Action Badge.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II was killed in action on 4/23/11.

Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, 32, of Grimes, Iowa

SSgt Justice was assigned to 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Le Mars, Iowa; died April 23, 2011 in Sadigan Village, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Childhood friend recalls fallen guardsman
By Tony Leys
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register

MANNING, Ia. — James Justice’s best friend ended his eulogy on May 4 by asking the audience to send a message to the 2,800 other Iowa guardsmen serving in the area of Afghanistan where Justice was killed.

“Tell them we are thinking about them. Tell them to come home safe. Tell them to do their job and do it with honor, and to just finish their job over there,” Jason Erb said. “Don’t let James’ death go in vain. Don’t let any of their deaths go in vain.”

Justice, 32, of Grimes, was a staff sergeant in the Guard’s 1-113th Cavalry Squadron. He was killed in a firefight with insurgents April 23 while his unit tried to rescue crew members of an Army helicopter that had crash-landed. It was the third Iowa National Guard death in Afghanistan in less than a month.

Erb, an Air Force major, grew up with Justice in the small town of Manilla. He recalled his friend as a fun-loving, prank-pulling kid. Justice was a die-hard Hawkeye fan who gave Erb endless grief for joining Iowa State University’s football team. Erb recalled giving home-game tickets to his friend, who would promptly buy a T-shirt for whichever team was playing the Cyclones that day. “Not only would he not root for Iowa State. He would root for the opposing team, while sitting in the parents’ section,” Erb recalled to the knowing laughter from more than 1,000 people who packed the funeral in the IKM-Manning High School gym.

Justice joined the Guard in 1998, and was deployed to Kuwait, Egypt and Iraq. He was held back last summer from the current deployment to Afghanistan because of back trouble, but he volunteered to rejoin his comrades this spring when his cavalry troop ran short of sergeants. He had been in Afghanistan for just a few weeks before his death.

Hundreds of people waited in line for a half-hour or more to get into the gym. Near the school doors, they passed members of Justice’s cavalry unit who were holding a horse, with a rifle in a saddle scabbard and a pair of boots placed backward in the stirrups.

Inside the school before the funeral, the soldier lay in an open casket, complete with a picture of the boy he used to be. The mourners included scores of soldiers and veterans in uniform, plus Gov. Terry Branstad.

Survivors include Justice’s wife, Amanda, and their 3-year-old daughter, Caydence.

Jessica Fine, a friend of the couple, said James and Amanda were both stubborn, passionate people who had dramatic arguments, then would send tear-inducing love notes to each other on Facebook.

He also loved to spend time with his daughter, Fine said.

“Most guys would not be successful at spending all day playing with a little girl interested in makeup, sparkles or anything Barbie,” she said. “James, on the other hand, let go of his soldier instincts to just say no to everything pink and embraced his girly side.”

Fine said Justice was proud of his service but preferred to be known as a regular guy.

“He died serving the country that he loved,” Fine said. “And I can’t wait until the day when I can tell Caydence about what a hero and honorable man her daddy really was.”

Friend Jeremy Vennink recalled James as a magnetic, outgoing person. The two of them could walk into a bar where they didn’t know anyone, “and when we left, he’d have 10 new friends — or four new enemies,” Vennink joked. “It was one way or the other, every time.”

Maj. Gary Selof, a Guard chaplain, told the mourners that there is no explaining the sudden death of a young person like Justice.

“Everything inside of us wants to scream, ‘No, it’s not supposed to be this way! He’s supposed to live to be 90 and have great-grandchildren bouncing on his knee, and then die at a ripe old age,’ ” Selof said. “But that wasn’t meant to be. ... I wish I could stand here today and tell you that if James didn’t go to Afghanistan, he would be alive today. But I don’t know that.”

At the end of the service, military members came forward in pairs to solemnly salute the casket. Then five Guard soldiers and Erb, the Air Force major, wheeled their friend out to a waiting hearse.

James’ family issued the following statement through the National Guard:

“James Alan Justice meant many things to every person he encountered. He was the funny best friend named “Juice” that could be counted on when needing to be cheered up; the uncle who always knew just what to say and when to hand out hugs; the son who was his parents’ pride and joy; the father who loved his little girl more than anything in the world and couldn’t wait to have more children; and the husband who loved to put a smile on his wife’s face. One thing James was to everyone was the ultimate soldier. He loved the military and he looked forward to every deployment. While we were stunned and extremely saddened to learn of his tragic death, we all take solace knowing that James died doing what he loved best: serving his country beside the men and women he revered and trusted.

“Through his four tours of duty, James had many accomplishments but above all, he made lifelong friendships. The outpouring of support and prayers during this time from friends, fellow Soldiers and strangers alike has been astonishing, but proved what we all knew: that James was a one-of-a-kind guy and deeply loved by all who had the opportunity to know him and serve with him. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Iowa National Guard for the opportunities they have provided to James over the past 13 years. Additionally, we would like to acknowledge all of his fellow Iowa National Guard soldiers both at home and serving overseas. May God be with you always.

“We are sure that you can understand and will honor our request for family privacy at this time, as we are focused on working with military officials to return James’ body home for military service and burial. We thank you for your thoughts, prayers and kindness at this extremely difficult time. We are deeply saddened by our loss, but extremely proud of the honorable way he served America as a leader in the U.S. Army. We will remember him, his strength, his infectious sense of humor, his faith in God, and his love for his family, friends and country with great pride.”

Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice was killed in action on 4/23/11.

Army Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner

Remember Our Heroes

Army Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner, 37, of Greencastle, Pa.

MSgt Bitner was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died April 23, 2011 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.

Bitner, who was posthumously promoted from Sergeant 1st Class to Master Sergeant, was part of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Msgt Bitner was born July 4, 1973, in Hagerstown. He graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High School in 1991, enlisting in the Army that same year. His service included tours in Afghanistan, Africa, Kosovo, Kuwait and Iraq. He was serving his sixth tour of duty overseas when he was killed.

Bitner was a member of Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 in Greencastle, Fire Chief Kevin Barnes said. Honoring their own has been a long-standing tradition at the Rescue Hose Co. The memorial plaque at the fire station now bears the name of Benjamin F. Bitner.

“It’s something that we have done for as long as I’ve been involved,” said Brian Barkdoll, company administrator, who joined the fire department in 1975.

The memorial plaque is a place to honor and reflect on their contributions.

“As has been widely reported this week, one of our family made the ultimate sacrifice on April 23 while serving our country in Afghanistan,” says a statement on the company’s website. “To SFC Benjamin Bitner and those fighting to protect our freedom — THANK YOU for your service. To the families and loved ones, we offer our appreciation. To the Bitners and those left behind, we give our support and prayers — and a promise to never forget.”

Greg Hoover, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District, said he has known Bitner’s family for many years. He was an assistant principal at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School when Bitner was a student there.

Hoover said he was in charge of student discipline while working as an assistant principal, and he recalled having Bitner in his office. Hoover said he and Bitner were always able to work out issues. He described Bitner as “just a good kid. I’d describe him as happy-go-lucky.”

Hoover, who also is a member of the fire department, said Bitner’s father was the department’s fire chief many years ago.

From friends:

You were the definition of a true soldier. You knew when to joke and when to turn it on. You would always laugh with me, but at the same time keep me in line. I am deeply honored to have fought by your side. I look up to you and hope I can do as much great as you have done. Thank you for all the encouragement along the way(even the push ups). I will see you again someday. ~Matthew P.

My first memory of ben was in minor league baseball when we were team mates. Back then the parents pitched to us kids and during the first game ben was up to bat and the first pitch (instead of letting the catcher catch the pitch) ben caught it with his bare hand and threw it back to the pitcher and said “how bout a better pitch this time” And the memories only got better the longer i knew him…. Im proud of you Ben! (aka JELLO B.)

I graduated with Ben. No matter how bad of a day I was having, he always seemed to put a smile on my face. He was one of those guys who was never lost for words and always made a lasting impression! I thank you for every smile you gave me, every time we irritated each other, and every time we had. ~ RIP Ben (we will meet again soon!)~Sherri H.

He leaves behind his wife, April, and two sons, in addition to his parents Roger and Beverly Bitner.

Army Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner was killed in action on 4/23/11.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Army Pfc. Antonio G. Stiggins

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Antonio G. Stiggins, 25, of Rio Rancho, N.M.

Pfc Stiggins was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas; died in Kut, Iraq, of wounds sustained April 22, 2011 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was 1st Lt. Omar J. Vazquez.

Stiggins joined the military in January 2010 as a cavalry scout was assigned to Troop F, 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He arrived at Fort Hood May 2010.

Stiggins deployed in support of Operation New Dawn in September 2010.

Stiggins' awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbons and Combat Action Badge.

Private First Class Antonio Stiggins was killed while supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq. Now, though no longer fighting beside them, his platoon believes their fellow soldier is watching over them. One image obtained by KOB Eyewitness News 4 shows Private First Class Antonio Stiggins behind the wheel in Iraq, smiling. A second photo shows him smiling again.

“He always had a smile on his face and he was always laughing,” said Army Specialist David Hughes.

Specialist David Hughes was Stiggins’ medic in Iraq. He describes Stiggins as the kind of guy everyone wanted to be around.

An inside joke born in a chow hall at their Iraq base still stays on Hughes’ mind and he can still hear his friend laugh. "It don’t matter where we was at or what we was doing, whether we was on a mission or whatever.... it would get him laughing and it would get him laughing so much that he literally would laugh for 10, 15 minutes at a time,” Hughes said.

“He’ll never be forgotten at all. He’s just one of those guys that that you’ll never forget,” said Specialist Hughes. Stiggins’ platoon is described as a close knit group of soldiers, more like a family. The family is now missing their brother.

“If we had to pick two people to watch down on us, he would definitely be one of the ones. I just want to thank him for who he was and what he brought to the rest of the platoon,” said Specialist Hughes.

A thank you shared by the nation for the ultimate sacrifice paid. Specialist Hughes tells KOB there will be a service for Stiggins on Thursday in Iraq, where his boots, rifle and dog tags will be there, in his absence. The service will include a 21 gun salute.

Army Pfc. Antonio G. Stiggins was killed in action on 4/22/11.

Army 1st Lt. Omar J. Vazquez

Remember Our Heroes

Army 1st Lt. Omar J. Vazquez, 25, of Hamilton, N.J.

1st Lt Vazquez was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas; died in Kut, Iraq, of wounds sustained April 22, 2011 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Pfc. Antonio G. Stiggins.

HAMILTON — More than 100 friends, relatives and members of the military bade farewell to 1st Lt. Omar J. Vazquez, 25, yesterday at a funeral Mass at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church. Vazquez was killed last month during a mission in Iraq.

Vazquez grew up in Trenton and moved to Hamilton a few years ago. He was killed in southern Iraq on April 22. Vazquez served in Operation New Dawn with Fox Troop, 2nd Squadron in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Ford Hood, Texas.

Vazquez’s father, Pablo Vazquez of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, said his son was born with a love for democracy. “Ever since he was a child, all his toys had to be Army-related, nothing else,” he said in Spanish. “He went to fight in the war for the peace in his country.”

Family and friends said Vazquez had a passion for books on United States and world history, but that dedication to service was his top priority. In 2009, he served at a leader’s training course at Fort Knox, Ky., to assist new ROTC cadets before being stationed at Fort Hood as a field artillery officer.

Hamilton soldier is killed by explosive device in Iraq

Vazquez graduated from McCorristin Catholic High School, now Trenton Catholic Academy, in 2003. He earned an associate’s degree from Mercer County Community College, a bachelor’s degree in history from Rider University, and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Rutgers University at Camden.

“He was so well-read and so intelligent,” Laura Klockner said through tears yesterday. Klockner, 25, a McCorristin classmate who dated Vazquez between 2001 and 2006, said she misses Friday night dinners with him and watching Star Trek together.

“Our deep sorrow is also mingled with gratitude for Omar’s gift of grace,” Monsignor Thomas N. Gervasio said during the homily of the funeral mass. “Even as a little boy, he was known to be very patriotic and expressed his desire to serve his country.”

Bishop David M. O’Connell, who attended the Mass, offered prayers for Vazquez and his family.

Vazquez was awarded posthumously with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Brig. Gen. Jonathan A. Maddux, commander of New Jersey’s Picatinny Arsenal, spoke at the Greenwood Cemetery Veterans Field of Honor Mausoleum in Hamilton, where Vazquez was honored with a gun salute and the playing of “Taps” before his body was interred.

“He lost 100 pounds just to get into the New Jersey National Guard,” Maddux said, calling Vazquez a “dedicated” and “highly respected soldier.”

Before Vazquez was deployed to Iraq last August, he and his childhood friend, George Hrico, spoke on the phone every week. Hrico said he last talked to Vazquez the Monday before he died. “He was in good spirits,” said Hrico, who now lives in Los Angeles.

There were times when Hrico expressed concern for Vazquez’s safety, but he said Vazquez would always tell him: “If I had to go, there’s no better way to go than serving my country.” Hrico said Vazquez would add, “But you don’t need to worry about me.”

The men were neighbors for 17 years. As teenagers, they would sit on their combined roofs most nights to talk about their futures. Hrico, 25, said his friend often talked about joining the military.

At the funeral and burial, members of the Patriot Guard Riders saluted Vazquez’s flag-draped casket and carried American flags.

Flags at Hamilton government buildings were flown at half-staff yesterday in honor of both Vazquez and U.S. Army Sgt. Keith Buzinski, 26, a Hamilton native who was killed April 7 by insurgents in Afghanistan while fighting as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I’m proud of him, proud of his service,” Vazquez’s sister, Marisel Vazquez, said of her brother yesterday.

His mother, Maria Vazquez of Hamilton, said she misses her son’s smile. “He was always smiling. He was very happy,” she said. Intelligence and peacemaking were her son’s best characteristics, and he made friends easily, she said. “Everyone who knew him loved him.”

By Martin Griff / The Times The Times
Lt. Omar Vazquez of Hamilton, killed in southern Iraq April 22, 2011, when his convoy came into contact with an IED. Here he stands with his mother, Maria Vazquez of Hamilton, at commissioning ceremony May 15, 2009, at The College of New Jersey.

Army 1st Lt. Omar J. Vazquez was killed in action on 4/22/11.

Army Sgt. John P. Castro

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. John P. Castro, 25, of Andrews, Texas

Sgt Castro was assigned to 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.; died April 22, 2011 in FOB Sharana, Afghanistan of wounds sustained when his unit was attacked by small-arms fire.

Family, friends remember fallen soldier

Sgt. John Paul Castro was the youngest of three children, but it never stopped him from taking on big challenges.

“Being the baby, we tried to protect him,” sister Blanca Castro, 31, said about a family vacation one year to South Padre Island when they were children. “We got to the beach and he ran straight into the ocean. He didn’t want to be left with the ‘what-ifs.’ ”

Sgt. John Paul Castro, 25, was killed Friday at Paktika province, Afghanistan when his unit was attacked by small arms fire, a Department of Defense news release stated. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky. He was on his third tour of duty.

Blanca Castro said she received a call Friday from her father, David Castro Sr., who said he heard rumors that something might have happened to her brother.

“(Andrews) is small. When you’ve got an Army chaplain and an officer driving around, word spreads quickly,” Blanca Castro said.

The support since the news of her brother’s death from the community has been tremendous, Blanca Castro said. She said everyone from the county judge to high school band mates have come out to “show gratitude for his sacrifice.”

During his tenure with the Army, he received several awards, including the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal with Valor device; Army Achievement Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; North Atlantic Treaty Organization medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and two Purple Hearts.

“His first one came while he was in Iraq and the vehicle he was in drove over an IED (Improvised Explosive Device),” Blanca Castro said. “Four died and several were wounded. He was treated in Germany and then flown home for physical therapy.”

Blanca Castro said his second Purple Heart came from injuries received from shrapnel while in Iraq, but were not severe enough to send him stateside for treatment.

John Paul Castro joined the Army after he graduated from Andrews High School in 2004. His sister said he signed up with a friend after graduation. While Army life was not his first choice in life, she said when it was time to re-enlist, John Paul Castro immediately signed back up.

“It’s what he wanted to do,” Blanca Castro said.

John Paul Castro played tuba in high school for the Andrews Mustangs band, but his real passion was baseball.

Raymond Oliver and his wife Michelle Oliver coached John Paul Castro from the ages of 10 to 16 years old. Raymond called John Paul Castro the most competitive young man he’s ever seen in his life.

Recalling a game John Paul Castro played in when he was a teenager, the younger pitcher gave up back-to-back home runs when Raymond Oliver, whom John Paul called ‘Coach” even into his adult years, came out to talk to him.

“I came out and told him, ‘J.P., eye of the tiger. I don’t want to see you give up another home run.’ ”

“Yes sir,” the young John Paul Castro replied.

Raymond Oliver said his team won that game 13-2.

When the Olivers heard the news of John Paul Castro’s death, they first though it was only rumors about the young man who was once offered a contract to play with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We were in denial,” Michelle Castro said.

Once they knew the rumors were facts, the Olivers went to visit the family of the man they said they loved like their own son.

“He’s an all around good person that Andrews is going to miss,” Raymond Oliver said.

A memorial service for John Paul Castro is scheduled in Andrews before his body is flown to Tennessee for burial. Castro is survived by his wife, Delia Castro of Clarksville, Tenn.; daughter, Natalia Castro of Fort Benning, Ga., and stepson, Kamren Buchholz of Clarksville, Tenn; mother Carmen Castro of Andrews; father, David Castro Sr. of Odessa; sister Blanca Castro of Irving; and brother David Castro Jr. of Irving.

Army Sgt. John P. Castro was killed in action on 4/22/11.