Kevin Kryst

Kevin Kryst –December 2010 Shipment Honoree

19 December 2006:

Kevin and his Super Cobra
Kevin and his Super Cobra

West Bend, Wisconsin – The children of Elizabeth and Glenn Kryst gathered unexpectedly at the family home here, the week before Christmas, to grieve with their parents the death of their eldest brother in Iraq.

Captain Kevin M. Kryst, 27, a Marine helicopter pilot with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., had returned to Iraq for a second time at the beginning of the month, his mother said.

He was killed Monday at the Marine Corps’ Camp Korean Village, in the desert of Anbar province west of Baghdad, she said.

A Sunni-led insurgency has made Anbar, on the border of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, one of the deadliest battlefronts in the Iraq war. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has its headquarters at the camp in Anbar, and its mission is to secure major highways in the province.

“We were only told he sustained abdominal injuries from shrapnel in a mortar attack while he was on the base,” his mother said. “He was not in a helicopter.”

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Elizabeth Kryst said that she and her husband and their five other children were proud of Kevin’s service to his country.

“He was committed to the effort in Iraq, and so were we,” she said. Two symbols of their commitment flutter in the breeze outside her home: a Marine Corps flag hangs over the front porch while an American flag is displayed nearby.

“He loved his country. His job in Iraq was to fly his helicopter and protect his Marines on the ground.”

“The Marines have lost a highly-skilled pilot,” she said.

“We’re numb,” his mother added.

Kevin Kryst’s younger brother, Dan, 23, a member of the Marine Reserves, has also served a tour of duty in Iraq, having been deployed there in 2004.

Kevin Kryst spent a few days at home in August while on leave prior to a six-month deployment, she said.

The home visit was long enough for him to become engaged to his West Bend sweetheart. Elizabeth Kryst identified his fiancée as Sara but declined to provide her last name, saying she wanted to protect the young woman’s privacy.


 Family Memorial

Kevin Kryst
Capt. Kevin M. Kryst

A memorial to Kevin Kryst was created Tuesday on a tree in the family’s lawn. Red, blue and yellow ribbons wrap the trunk. A balloon with the phrase Proud to be American was tied to the tree and floated in a light breeze. A bouquet of flowers leaned against the base of the tree.

‘An excellent student’

Kevin Kryst graduated from West Bend West High School in 1997. He played French horn in a school ensemble and was a member of the Spartans’ swim team, said Principal Pat Gardon.

“He was an excellent student” and graduated with a grade point average in excess of 3.9, Gardon said. “Kevin was a sincere, dedicated young man.”

Students at the school learned of Kryst’s death in an announcement near the end of the day Tuesday.

He is the second West Bend West graduate to die in Iraq.

Marine Lance Cpl. Travis Wichlacz was killed in February 2005 while on patrol in Babil province. Wichlacz graduated in 2002. He had joined the Marine Reserves in April of that year.

Kevin Kryst enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after his graduation.

His younger brother Brad doesn’t remember Kevin talking about a military career while in high school.

But the Marine Corps attracted his attention while he was at Madison, and Kevin Kryst attended Marine Officer Candidates School during summers at college, his brother said. Kevin Kryst was commissioned an officer when he graduated from UW-Madison in 2001.

“He wanted to fly, and he thought his experience would be an adventure,” said Brad Kryst, 25, a Tempe, Ariz. resident.

“He flew Cobra helicopters in Iraq.”

At Camp Pendleton, Kryst was assigned to Marine Light-Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39 of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Brad Kryst said he had discussed with Kevin the danger of serving in Iraq, and even the possible loss of his brother’s life.

“It’s always on your mind,” he said.

Kevin Kryst is the 65th service member from Wisconsin to die in Iraq.

In addition to his parents and his brothers Brad and Dan, a student at UW-Stevens Point, Kevin Kryst is survived by a sister, Jenny, 21, a student at UW-Oshkosh, and two other brothers, Justin, 21, a UW-Stevens Point student; and Tim, 18, a student at UW-La Crosse.


Kryst, Captain Kevin Michael

Captain Kevin Michael Kryst, age 27, of West Bend, Wisconsin, died Monday, December 18, 2006, in the Al Anbar province in Iraq, while serving his country as a United States Marine.

He was born September 17, 1979, in Maywood, Illinois, to Glenn and Elizabeth (nee Dziak) Kryst.

Kevin was a pilot of a Cobra helicopter in the Marine Light-Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

He is survived by his parents, Glenn and Elizabeth of West Bend; his fiancee, Sara of West Bend; and five siblings, Bradley of Mesa, Arizona, Daniel of Stevens Point and Jennifer, Justin and Timothy, all of West Bend. He is further survived by his maternal grandparents, Sy and Betty Dziak of Illinois; his paternal grandparents, Clifford and Rita Kryst of Michigan; and other relatives and friends.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held Friday, December 29, 2006, at 6 p.m. at ST. FRANCES CABRINI CATHOLIC CHURCH in West Bend, with the Rev. Jeffrey Haines presiding. Inurnment will take place in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Visitation will be Friday, at the church only from 3 p.m. until 5:45 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Fisher House, which provides housing for the families of wounded military personnel are appreciated.


A 27-year-old Marine helicopter pilot from West Bend was killed in Iraq, only weeks after beginning his second deployment there, his mother said Tuesday.

Captain Kevin M. Kryst died Monday from injuries sustained in fighting in al-Anbar province, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

“He died from injuries due to being hit by a fragment of a mortar,” said his mother, Elizabeth Kryst.

“We’re proud of him,” she said. “But we’re at a loss without him.”

Kryst was the oldest of six children. He had four younger brothers and a younger sister.

He graduated from West Bend West High School in 1997 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001. He enlisted upon graduation.

Kryst’s great-grandfather had been a Marine.

“It was something he always wanted to do,” Elizabeth Kryst said.

Kryst was first deployed in Iraq during 2004.

“He was always very active, very busy. He had a need for speed, and that’s what he got flying helicopters,” Elizabeth Kryst said.

Her son was part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, she said.

Patrick Gardon, West Bend West principal, issued a statement Tuesday saying that Kryst had been on the school’s swimming team and part of its wind ensemble.

“He was very proud to serve his country and was a quality individual of high character, dedication and commitment, as well as an excellent student,” Gardon said.

As of Tuesday, 64 military personnel from Wisconsin have died in the war in Iraq.

NOTE: Captain Kryst was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 5 July 2007.


Kevin M. Kryst liked everything fast – and the sky seemed the limit. “He was always very active, very busy. He had a need for speed, and that’s why he got flying helicopters,” said his mother, Elizabeth. Kryst, 27, of West Bend, Wis., died Dec. 18 during a mortar attack in Anbar province. He was assigned to Camp Pendleton and was on his second tour. Kryst graduated from high school in 1997. He played French horn in a school ensemble and was a member of the swim team, said Principal Pat Gardon. “He was an excellent student” and graduated with a grade point average in excess of 3.9, Gardon said. “Kevin was a sincere, dedicated young man.” Kryst was commissioned an officer when he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001. Kryst’s great-grandfather had been a Marine. “He wanted to fly, and he thought his experience would be an adventure,” said his brother, Brad. “He flew Cobra helicopters in Iraq.” When Kryst was last home in August, he got engaged to his school sweetheart, Sara. He also is survived by his father, Glenn. “We’re proud of him,” his mother said. “But


Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Camp Pendleton Marine: Capt. Kevin M. Kryst

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Capt. Kevin M. Kryst of West Bend, WI:

Kryst gravesite
Kevin M. Kryst gravesite

 “Capt. Kryst’s bravery is a shining example of the determination and courage that makes our nation’s armed forces strong. Kevin’s loved ones have lost a devoted family member and our country has lost a courageous Marine. Maria and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends and fellow Marines who mourn his loss.”

Kryst, 27, died Dec. 18 as a result of wounds received while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Light-Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, CA.

In honor of Capt. Kryst, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Nicholas Cook

Nicholas S. Cook –November 2010 Shipment Honoree

Montana soldier killed in Afghanistan

The Associated Press

Nicholas Cook funeral
Nicholas Cook funeral

HUNGRY HORSE, Mont. — The Department of Defense said March 10 a Montana soldier was killed in Afghanistan over the weekend when insurgents opened fire on his unit.

Defense officials said 19-year-old Pvt. Nicholas S. Cook of Hungry Horse was killed in Konar province on Sunday. His body arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on March 9.

Kathy Taylor said her grandson joined the Army in April and had been in Afghanistan for just over two months when he was killed. He was set to come home on leave in about two weeks.

She said the Army had not given her any more details about her grandson’s death, including whether any of Cook’s fellow soldiers were killed or injured in the attack.

“All I know is they were out on patrol,” said Taylor, who with her husband raised Cook since he was just 3 years old. “They had finished whatever they were doing and were coming back out of the area when they were ambushed.”

Cook, a 2008 graduate of Columbia Falls High School, loved excitement, whether it came from jumping out of airplanes, off of bridges or cliffs, or snowboarding in the Alps.

“He was quite a daredevil,” Taylor said. “He liked to hunt, skateboard, bike, ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers. And he lived and breathed snowboarding.”

In a posting on his MySpace page, Cook jokingly listed his hometown as “Afghanistan, Montana,” and wrote that “not many people can say they are as stoked about life in general and what they are doing right now.”

“I sure as hell can,” he continued. “I’m doing more now and have seen more already than I ever thought I would.”

Cook was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, out of Camp Ederle, Italy.


Soldier’s death brings war’s impact home to rural Mont. town

By Matt Volz
The Associated Press

 COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. — Residents from the small communities just outside the mountains of Glacier National Park buried one of their own March 20, a young soldier from Hungry Horse killed by Afghan insurgents earlier this month.

Nicholas Cook is the eighth soldier from Montana to be killed in Afghanistan, and the Army private’s death has received a huge deal of attention across the state. About 300 people gathered for the funeral in Columbia Falls — a nearby town big enough to have a church to fit all those who turned out — including Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Sen. John Tester, D-Mont.

“Motivated, excited, strong, quick, fast — everything that you’d expect in a good soldier, he had,” Sgt. Salvatore Giunta said after the burial.

Giunta, a soldier with Cook’s company, escorted Cook’s body back to Montana. “It means a lot to see the amount of respect and outpouring from the community,” Giunta said.

Cook’s death comes at a hard time for this close-knit, private community. Unemployment is in the double digits across Flathead County. Columbia Falls’ biggest private employer, the Plum Creek lumber mill, has had to lay off dozens of workers due to the tough economy.

There aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids like Cook once they graduate. That’s partly why he joined the Army, said Kathy Taylor, his grandmother. Inspired by a favorite aunt, he became an Airborne soldier, she said.

“There were no jobs around here, but he loved to travel and he was an adventurer, Taylor said. “He liked jumping out of airplanes and he liked those long hikes and he liked what the Army meant.”

To the 900 residents of Hungry Horse, Cook is an example for other “Canyon Kids,” the nickname for the rough-around-the-edges children who live in the towns just outside of Glacier park.

“It’s been hard on them. But he died a hero, and that is one thing that lets them hold their heads up,” said Beverly Kahn, a teacher at the Columbia Falls Learning Center, where Cook finished his high school education in 2008. “To hear what Nick has done I hope will give them all that ability to see they can be better than what they appear to be labeled as.”

Nicholas S. Cook
Nicholas S. Cook

Cook was raised by grandparents Chuck and Kathy Taylor from a young age. He wrestled, played baseball and football, and raised goats that he’d show at the Flathead County Fair. He was a risk-taker who loved snowboarding, above everything else.

“He was a manic snowboarder. He lived to shred, that’s what he would tell you,” said Gary Menning, Cook’s 10th-grade English teacher, who kept a close relationship with Cook through high school.

His teachers said he was very friendly, honest, worked hard and was mature beyond his years. At times, though, he was a headstrong student.

“He was a tough kid. He had to learn things in life the hard way,” Kahn said. “You can get that attitude in life of, ‘Nobody’s going to tell me what to do.’ But the military tells you what to do. I think he figured that out. He had to learn that he didn’t know it all.”

Cook was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Camp Ederle, Italy. He found that Army life suited him, Taylor said, and he even found time to do some snowboarding in the Alps while on leave.

His squadron was sent to Afghanistan in December for a yearlong tour. He was based in Kunar province, in the northern part of the country, where the mountains reminded him of home, he told his grandmother.

Cook was on patrol March 7 when his unit came under attack, and he died from wounds received in the fight, according to the Department of Defense. Army National Guard spokesman Maj. Tim Crowe said the attack was still under investigation and no other details could be released.

At the graveside, a little girl wore large artificial flowers in her hair with the words written in the center, “My uncle is a United States Army soldier.” Veterans and firefighters ringed the site holding American flags. Cook’s family looked on as soldiers fired a 21-gun salute. Behind them, smoke from the lumber mill billowed.

Cook’s death has brought the war home to them, making it personal and bringing it closer than they ever wanted, Kahn said.

“He died a hero. People are alive because of him,” Kahn said. But, “I think Nick would get a kick out of people thinking that what he did was so incredible, when he just did what he needed to get done.”

Timothy Bowles

Timothy L. Bowles – October 2010 Shipment Honoree

Tucson Citizen

Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles
Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles

Bowles, an Air Force staff sergeant, was sent to Afghanistan in November, his father said.  It was his first tour in a war zone.  He was a fire engine mechanic, the senior Bowles said.  “He volunteered to go on that mission that day to take the place of a comrade who was sick. I just learned that today (Monday),” Bowles and four other airmen were killed by a roadside bomb in Eastern Afghanistan, according to an Air Force release and an article Monday in The New York Times.

Bowles was assigned to the 755th Air Expeditionary Group’s Nangarhar  Provincial Reconstruction Team in Jalalabad, his father said.  His home base was Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska.

The senior Bowles said his son worked at the Tucson Medical Center cafeteria while taking classes at Pima Community College for a year after his 2002 graduation from Tucson High.  “He never said what he was studying.”

When Timothy enlisted in the Air Force, Bowles said he was “stunned” but “I was all for it.”  He said Louis confided in his mother, Lisa that he was unhappy at times growing up, as his father left for one deployment after another.   He didn’t understand his father’s military career was what took him away from home.  “He didn’t comprehend why I had to leave. He thought, ‘Dad was mad at us,’” he said.  The elder Bowles served in the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, he said.

In addition to his parents, who now live in Glorietta, N.M., he is survived by his older sister, Heather Ketchmark, who lives at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia.


The Associated Press
TimothyL.Bowles
TimothyL.Bowles

As a youngster growing up on base, Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles took a special interest in elderly veterans who attended chapel services on Sundays.  He made a point of paying attention to them and assisting them if they needed help, said his father, Air Force retiree Louis Bowles. “  He was loving and  loyal, a son you could trust.”

“That was Tim,” Air Force retiree Louis Bowles said of his son’s offer to fill in for someone. “He was always unselfish, wanting to help people any way he could.”

Bowles graduated from Tucson High School in 2002 and attended Pima Community College before joining the Air Force.

“Raised in a military family, he knew the cost of freedom.  He did not falter and he did not fail,” said Col. Richard Walberg.


ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) — Elmendorf Air Force Base officials will hold a memorial service this week to honor an NCO killed at 12:30 a.m. March 15 supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Eastern Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles
Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles

Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Lee said Bowles was in an armored Humvee with three Army soldiers when the vehicle rolled over a pressure-sensitive bomb. The two servicemen in front, including Bowles, died instantly, and the two in the back died later, he said.

He deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 1, 2008, and was scheduled to be deployed for nine months. He was assigned to the 755th Air Expeditionary Group’s Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Sergeant Bowles was a fire truck mechanic assigned to the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron. He arrived to Elmendorf AFB in July 2007 and was assigned to the Vehicle Management Flight.

Sergeant Bowles was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and grew up on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where his father was stationed. He graduated from Tucson High School in 2002.

“The 3rd Wing and all of Team Elmendorf feel the pain of losing Sergeant Bowles,” said Col. Richard Walberg, the 3rd Wing vice commander. “He was always ready to go beyond what was merely expected of him. In fact, on Sunday he filled in for a comrade who was not feeling well in Afghanistan. He was a living embodiment of our Air Force core values of integrity, service before self and excellence. Raised in a military family, he knew the cost of freedom. He did not falter and he did not fail. Our prayers are with Tim’s family, friends and professional colleagues.”

Erin McLyman

Erin McLyman—September 2010 Shipment Honoree

Staff and wire reports
Spc. Erin L. McLyman
Spc. Erin L. McLyman

TACOMA, Wash. — An Army specialist with ties to Washington and Oregon has died in Iraq.

The body of Spc. Erin L. McLyman, 26, arrived March 15 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Her identification was released by the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover.

She died March 13 of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked her base with mortar fire.

She lived most recently in Federal Way. She graduated from Sheldon High School in Eugene, Ore.


Memorial honors Ore. soldier killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski joined about 300 relatives, friends and community members on Thursday at a Eugene memorial service for a 26-year-old soldier killed in Iraq.

Pfc. Erin McLyman died March 13 in Balad, Iraq, from injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked her base with mortar fire. She was a 2001 graduate of Eugene’s Sheldon High School.

The governor had ordered flags at all public institutions to be flown at half-staff Thursday in her memory.

McLyman’s husband, Brian Williams, tucked a folded U.S. flag under his arm and followed the soldiers who carried his wife’s casket out of the Eugene Faith Center.

Williams stopped to watch an ivory-colored hearse led by police officers and Patriot Guard Riders transport the casket down Polk Street. He watched until every motorcycle was out of sight, then murmured, “That’s so awesome.”

Based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., McLyman was part of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Her deployment to Iraq in August was her first.


Fallen soldier had turned life around

The Associated Press

Erin McLyman emerged from high school a confident, good student who before graduating had overcome a severe, years-long drug addiction.

“My grades were dropping, I wasn’t going to class, weird people would come over to the house and drop by in the middle of the night. I’d leave and not come back,” a 17-year-old McLyman said nine years ago in an interview with KVAL-TV in Eugene, Ore.

She was sharing her success story of kicking a habit she said had involved using marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. After graduating from Sheldon High School in Eugene, where she was a member of a dance team, she enlisted in the Air Force.

She later re-enlisted with the Oregon National Guard and returned to active duty with the Army.

“She lived every moment like she didn’t have a second to spare,” her family wrote.

McLyman, 26, of Federal Way, Wash., was killed March 13 in Balad, Iraq, in a mortar attack. She was assigned to Joint Base Lews-McChord.

“We will miss her — our state and nation will never be quite as good without her,” Gov. Ted Kulongoski said at a memorial service in Eugene.

She is survived by her husband, Brian Williams; her parents, Robert and Flora McLyman; two sisters; and a grandmother.


Mike Francis and Helen Jung

The Oregonian

 After a “bumpy” freshman year at Eugene’s Sheldon High School, Erin McLyman didn’t return to class the next fall.  But instead of giving up, McLyman worked twice as hard when she came back a year later, a former teacher said. Each day, after a full class schedule, she would come back in the evenings to make up courses she had missed.

As a result, not only did she graduate on time in2001, said Fran Christie, director of Sheldon’s alternative learning program, but she was named the school’s “Turnaround Achievement Award” student, an honor that recognizes select middle and high school students who work to overcome barriers to their personal success.

That kind of perseverance and constant energy were trademark qualities for McLyman, who died Saturday of wounds sustained during a mortar attack on her base while she was serving with the Army in Balad, Iraq.

Her father, Robert McLyman, of Coburg, said it was those kind of qualities that led his daughter to pursue a career in the military.

“If the guys were doing it, she’d do it,” he said. “She’d do it twice as good just to prove a point.”

Robert McLyman spoke just hours after he and McLyman’s mother, Flora Neustel of Eugene, returned Tuesday from Dover Air Force Base, where their daughter’s body was flown.

McLyman, 26, was a private first-class assigned to the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division out of the Lewis-McChord joint base in Washington.

Raised in Eugene, she is the 112th person with ties to Oregon or Southwest Washington to die in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is also the third woman from the area to die in those wars.

“She wanted to go fight for her country,” said her husband, Brian Williams, of Roy, Wash. “She did whatever they asked her to do,” he said, adding that she worked primarily as a mechanic. “She gave it 110 percent.”

The two had met in Washington and married in 2007.

“She was by far the most outgoing woman I ever met in my life,” Williams recalled, adding that she was working three or four jobs when they met.

Williams at the time was enlisted in the U.S. Army and McLyman joined his brigade in January 2009. They last saw each other a month ago, he said, when she returned home on leave.

McLyman was “not the sit-down-and-watch-TV kind of person,” her father said. She made a statement just by her presence, he said.

“You see her walk into the room with that bright red hair and big blue eyes,” he said. “She was loud and fun. You knew it when she came in the room.”

In addition to her husband, mother and father, she leaves sisters Mischa of Seattle and Nancy of Portland. Services have not yet been set.

Gregory Owens

Gregory Owens—August 2010 Shipment Honoree

My name is Gregory Owens Sr. Yesterday I found the 2  stories on your website LHCP about our son and was overwhelmed. First, to see that someone was still thinking of him after a year of his death. Second, that you honored him in August.

Gregory was born on 22 Aug xx while I was station in Baumholder, West Germany. Now what makes this so remarkable he was born in Landsthul Hospital. So we want to thank you all for this special 26th Birthday present. We watch and look at all the stories of the soldiers, airman, marines and sailors that make it back to Landstuhl and wish Gregory could have made it back there. But now thanks to you all he did. 

I’ll send you some photos of him and the 3 soldiers that were killed with him. Killed in Afghanistan on 2o July 2009.

The Owens Family
Greg Sr.,LaDonna, Shelena, (Greg Jr.). Lamar and Jonathan

Thank you all so much


Following dad’s footsteps by joining military

The Associated Press
Sgt. Gregory Owens Jr.
Sgt. Gregory Owens Jr.

Gregory Owens Jr. had an attitude of thinking of others first. When his sister had her appendix removed one summer, he kept her company for an entire week.

And instead of taking his scheduled leave from duty in Afghanistan in July, he swapped shifts with another soldier so that he’d be home in mid-October as a surprise for his father’s 50th birthday.

Owens, 24, of Garland, Texas, died July 20 in Wardak province, Afghanistan when his vehicle was hit with a roadside bomb and enemy fire. He was based in Fort Drum, N.Y.

“He always put others before himself,” said his mother, LaDonna.  “He made time to spend with other people and to listen to them.”

He was born in Germany during his father’s military service and had followed in those footsteps by joining the Army in 2007. He had graduated with honors in 2002 from Hillcrest High School, where he kept a full schedule but still managed to find time to roughhouse with his younger brothers and play sports with them.

“He did everything to keep my mom busy 24/7: band, Boy Scouts, church,” said his sister, Shelena.

Owens is survived by his parents, sister and younger brothers, Lamar and Jonathan.


Awards and Decorations

Sgt Owens’ awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal., National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon

U.S. Sergeant Gregory Owens (L) and Private Dennis Pratt are seen during a patrol in a village of Hajian in mountains of Wardak Province in Afghanistan in this July 15, 2009 file photo. Owens and Pratt died July 20, 2009 in Wardak when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle followed by an attack from enemy forces using small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fires, a U.S. Defense Department statement says. Reuters

Rafael Peralta

Sgt. Rafael Peralta—July 2010 Shipment Honoree

Rafael Peralta was born on April 7, 1979 in Mexico City. Son of Rafael and Rosa Peralta, the oldest of four siblings Icelda, Karen and Ricardo. He immigrated to the United States, graduated from Morse High School in 1997, and joined the United States Marine Corps as soon as he had a green card in 2000. He later became an American citizen while serving in the Marine Corps.

According to accounts, Peralta served the United States with enthusiasm and patriotism: “In his parent’s home, on his bedroom walls hung only three items – a copy of the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp graduation certificate. Before he set out for Fallujah, he wrote to his 14-year old brother, ‘be proud of me, bro…and be proud of being an American.'”

Killed in action

On November 15, 2004, 25 year old Sgt. Peralta, deployed to Iraq as a scout team leader assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, along with his team was ordered to clear houses in the Operation Phantom Fury. Peralta was not assigned to enter the buildings, but chose to do so anyway.

Sergeant Peralta led his team through a series of house clearings before charging into the fourth house. He found two rooms empty on the ground floor. Peralta opened a third door and was hit multiple times with AK-47 fire, leaving him severely wounded. He dropped to the floor and moved aside in order to allow the Marines behind him to return fire.

The insurgents responded by throwing a grenade at the Marines. The two Marines with Sgt. Peralta tried to get out of the room but could not. Sgt. Peralta was still conscious on the floor and reports indicate that despite his wounds, he was able to reach for the grenade and pull it under his body absorbing the majority of the lethal blast and shrapnel which killed him instantly, but saved the lives of his fellow Marines.

Sgt. Peralta is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.

Posthumous award

In December 2004, U.S. Congressman Bob Filner of California introduced legislation to award Sgt. Peralta the Medal of Honor. As of January 22, 2008, a Medal of Honor award for Sgt. Peralta was awaiting presidential approval.

On September 17, 2008, Rafael Peralta’s family was notified by LtGen. Richard Natonski that he would not receive the Medal of Honor, but the Navy Cross instead, the service’s second highest award for valor. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rejected the Marine Corps’ recommendation, concluding that his appointed panel unanimously confirmed that his actions did not meet the standard of “without any possibility of error or doubt”. The central argument posed relates to whether the already mortally-wounded Peralta could have intentionally reached for the grenade, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast. In a Marine Corps investigation of the attack, Natonski said, “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the gravely wounded Peralta covered the grenade.

Since the announcement that Peralta would receive the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor, numerous groups and individuals have spoken out in support of the Medal of Honor for Peralta. The Congressional delegations from California and Hawaii, as well as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have requested a Presidential review of Gates’ decision against a Medal of Honor award. Although rebuked, efforts continue for elevation of the award. Of the seven servicemembers nominations for the Medal of Honor that have reached the Secretary of Defense, Peralta’s is the only nomination that has not been approved.

Awards and honors

Peralta’s awards include: Navy Cross, Purple Heart Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with 1 service star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.


Navy Cross Citation

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the NAVY CROSS posthumously to

SERGEANT
RAFAEL PERALTA
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism while serving as Platoon Guide with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, in action against Anti-Coalition Forces in support of Operation AL FAJR, in Fallujah, Iraq on 15 November 2004. Clearing scores of houses in the previous three days, Sergeant Peralta’ asked to join an under strength squad and volunteered to stand post the night of 14 November, allowing fellow Marines more time to rest. The following morning, during search and attack operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, the point man opened a door to a back room and immediately came under intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents. The squad returned fire, wounding one insurgent. While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sergeant Peralta was shot and fell mortally wounded. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building. The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta’s head. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away. Sergeant Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sergeant Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.


Legacy

On April 24, 2006, William Lansdowne, chief of police for the San Diego Police Department awarded Sgt. Peralta the honorary title of San Diego police officer for his heroism in Iraq. Peralta had long wanted to be a San Diego police officer. The badge was presented to Rafael’s mother, Rosa Peralta.

On September 21, 2007, the 31 MEU, Command Post, building 2533 Camp Hansen, Okinawa, was christened Peralta Hall in his honor.

The History Channel created a one-hour documentary on Sgt Peralta, “Act of Honor”, shown on the THC Classroom. The video is available in both Spanish and English.

Posted by Black Five

When Taps is played at dusk, it has a completely different meaning than when Taps is played during the day. No soldier really wants to hear it played during daylight. For when the bugle plays Taps in the daylight…that means a soldier has fallen…There is a belief among some that Taps is the clarion call to open the gates of heaven for the fallen warrior and letting them know to “Safely Rest”…

Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta earned his rest the hard way. His name should be discussed more often than the celebrities of the day…

Sergeant Peralta was from Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment – his job was that of leading the scout section. In November of 2004, Peralta was 25 years old and not an American citizen. He joined the Marines on the very day that he received his green card. He later earned his citizenship as a Marine.

On November 15, 2004, the Marines were busy clearing houses in the Battle for Fallujah. Peralta, as scout team leader, was responsible for locating the enemy and directly ground forces to destroy them. He was not supposed join in the assaults inside the homes.

However, Rafael Peralta was not the kind of guy to stand around watching things happen. He wanted to make things happen. He routinely requested to join the assault teams entering the insurgent filled houses.

During the fateful assault on the 15th, after clearing three houses, Peralta lead the charge into the fourth house, finding two rooms empty on the ground floor. Upon opening a third door, Peralta was hit multiple times with AK-47 fire – severely wounded, he dropped to the floor and moved away in order to give the Marines behind him an opportunity to fire on the insurgents.

As the battle continued, the insurgents lobbed a grenade at the Marines. Two Marines were trapped in the room with Peralta. When they saw the grenade, they tried to get out of the blast area but were trapped.

Peralta, bleeding out on the floor, reached for the grenade and pulled it to his midsection, cradling the grenade before it cooked off.

The grenaded exploded, killing Peralta and critically wounding another Marine, the others all survived because Peralta absorbed the majority of the lethal blast.


Marine sacrifices his life for others in grenade blast

By Gordon Trowbridge
The Army Times (Seattle Times story)

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Sgt. Rafael Peralta built a reputation as a man who always put his Marines’ interests ahead of his own.

He showed that again, when he made the ultimate sacrifice of his life Tuesday, by shielding his fellow Marines from a grenade blast. “It’s stuff you hear about in boot camp, about World War II and Tarawa Marines who won the Medal of Honor,” said Lance Cpl. Rob Rogers, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla., one of Peralta’s platoon mates in 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Peralta, 25, as platoon scout, wasn’t even assigned to the assault team that entered the insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Marines said. Despite an assignment that would have allowed him to avoid such dangerous duty, he regularly asked squad leaders if he could join their assault teams, they said.

One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.

Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.

As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta’s selfless act.

“He saved half my fire team,” said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga. The Marines said such a sacrifice would be perfectly in character for Peralta, a Mexico native who lived in San Diego and gained U.S. citizenship after joining the Marines.

He’d stand up for his Marines to an insane point,” Rogers said.

Rogers and others remembered Peralta as a squared-away Marine, so meticulous about uniform standards that he sent his camouflage uniform to be pressed while training in Kuwait before entering Iraq.

But mostly they remembered acts of selflessness: offering career advice, giving a buddy a ride home from the bar, teaching salsa dance steps in the barracks.

While Alpha Company was still gathering information, and a formal finding on Peralta’s death is likely months away, not a single Marine in Alpha Company doubted the account of Peralta’s act of sacrifice.

“I believe it,” said Alpha’s commander, Capt. Lee Johnson. “He was that kind of Marine.”

Jeffery Hartley

Staff Sgt. Jeffery L. Hartley—June 2010 Shipment Honoree

The TF 1-10 FA Command Sergeant Major during OIF III provided this statement in regards to SSG Hartley, “There is no greater honor than to be called a Soldier and SSG Jeffery Hartley was a damn fine Soldier.”

Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery L. Hartley remembered

The Associated Press
Jeffery L. Hartley
Jeffery L. Hartley

Despite a sense of humor that bordered on goofball, there was little question that Jeffery L. Hartley meant business when it was time to work.

“He was a no-nonsense professional when the mission was on. You could always count on him,” said Brig. Gen. Francis Mahon.

Hartley, 25, of Hempstead, Texas, died April 8 in Kharguliah, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle struck an explosive. He was assigned to Fort Benning.

“Everyone he befriended came to feel like a member of Jeff’s family,” said Mahon. “Jeff was a caring young man who always took the time to ensure that others were OK.”

Hartley grew up in Hempstead, played for the high school football team and was liked and respected. He went on active duty in June 2001.

He was the first local soldier to fall in combat in Iraq and was remembered above all for his warmth and concern toward fellow soldiers.

He is survived by his father and stepmother, David and Ann Hartley.

His father is a longtime Hempstead police officer, said Detective Jason Martinez. “He truly loved being in the military,” Martinez said.


Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery L. Hartley

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery L. Hartley, 25, of Hempstead, Texas

Jeffery Hartley
Jeffery Hartley

SSgt. Hartley was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.; died April 8, 2008 in Kharguliah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.

Houston Chronicle — On Tuesday, Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery L. Hartley, 25, of Hempstead, was killed when an improvised bomb exploded near his vehicle in Iraq. He was on his fifth tour of duty.

Thursday in Hempstead, the Waller County seat about 50 miles northwest of Houston, flags flew at half-staff at City Hall and the Police Department, where Hartley’s father, Lt. David Hartley, has worked for 16 years.

Students at Hempstead High School, Hartley’s alma mater, spoke about the fallen soldier in hushed tones.

“He truly loved being in the military,” said Hempstead police Detective Jason Martinez, a family friend. “He was very passionate about it.”

Martinez said Hartley had been in the Army for six years and had made the Army his career.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga.

His brother, David Hartley, also served in Iraq and recently left the military, Martinez said.

Martinez said the elder Hartley often speaks about his two sons with admiration and respect.

“He’s always talking about how proud he is of both of them,” he said.

Jeffery Hartley graduated from Hempstead High School in 2001. He played on the football team and was a member of the power-lifting squad, said Gail Schroeder, his 12th-grade English teacher.

Schroeder said he was a good student who made A’s and B’s and was popular and respectful.

“He was one of those kids who was at home with the athletes and scholars,” she said.

Hartley’s classmates have graduated by now, she said, but his death was the talk of the campus Thursday. She said as far as she knew, he was the first soldier from the community to die in Iraq.

“Even though they didn’t know him,” she said, “the students were sad to lose one of their own.”

Source: Living Legend Team

John Pryor

Doctor John J. Pryor—May 2010 Shipment Honoree

Army surgeon killed in Iraq

By Samantha Henry, The Associated Press
Maj. John P. Pryor
Maj. John P. Pryor

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey doctor — who was a well-known trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — has been killed in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense.

In a statement issued Friday night, the DoD said 42-year-old Maj. John P. Pryor of Moorestown died Christmas Day when a mortar round hit near his living quarters. He was serving with a forward surgical team with the Army’s 1st Medical Detachment, based in Fort Totten, N.Y.

Pryor’s colleagues said they were devastated by the loss of the married father of three young children.

“John was a man who truly believed that service to others was his calling,” said Dr. C. William Schwab, chief of trauma surgery and critical care at the hospital, which is in Philadelphia. “Whether it was volunteering at Ground Zero on 9/11 or with the Army, or serving the people of the community, that was what he was about.”

Schwab said Pryor joined the hospital in 1999 after graduating medical school at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He described Pryor as a “star” who quickly rose through the hospital ranks to become director of its trauma program.

Pryor deployed Dec. 6 for his second tour of duty in Iraq as a combat medic with the Army Reserves, and was due to come home in April, Schwab said. He said Pryor had studied Arabic, knowing he could be dealing with wounded Iraqi civilians — especially children — and wanted to make them feel at ease.

Pryor wrote of his experiences as a surgeon confronting violence in Iraq and inner-city Philadelphia in articles published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

“As a trauma surgeon, every death I have is painful; every one takes a little out of me,” he wrote in a 2006 article in the Inquirer. “Losing these kids here in Iraq rips a hole through my soul so large that it’s hard for me to continue breathing.

“If I could say something to this Marine’s parents, it would be this: I am so sorry that you have lost your son. We, more than almost everyone else, know he was a true American hero.”


Doctor killed in Iraq ‘elevated everyone’ to serve

By Joann Loviglio, The Associated Press
Doctor John J. Pryor
Doctor John J. Pryor

PHILADELPHIA — In every one of his many roles — husband, father, soldier, doctor, friend and colleague — Army Maj. John P. Pryor devoted his life to serve others at home, at work and in war.

“All we can do is what we think is the right thing to do,” the Rev. Damian J. McElroy told more than 1,000 mourners during Pryor’s funeral Mass on Monday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. “He served humanity generously. He served God generously.”

Pryor, head of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania trauma team and a major in the Army Reserve, died Christmas Day when a mortar round struck near his living quarters in Mosul, Iraq.

The 42-year-old married father of three from Moorestown, N.J., arrived in Iraq on Dec. 6 to serve his second tour of duty with the Army reserves as a combat medic.

He received his medical school training at the State University of New York at Buffalo and arrived in 1999 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received training in trauma surgery and critical care and became director of the Penn’s trauma program.

“Every one of his patients got the best care and his full commitment,” said Dr. Elizabeth Datner, medical director of Penn’s department of emergency medicine.

“You would expect that any medical provider would have a dedication to their patients, but it can be hard to sustain in a field where you see trauma over and over again and real heartache and misery,” she said. “People wanted to emulate John’s commitment to patients. He elevated everyone.”

Pryor was described by his colleagues, friends and relatives as a doting father and devoted husband.

“John loved his family, he loved his children. He lived and breathed for them,” McElroy, Pryor’s pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown, N.J., said in his homily.

McElroy read parts of a letter Pryor wrote and left with family in the event of his death in Iraq. Acknowledging that some people closest to him did not support his decision to go to Iraq, Pryor wrote that he “hopes and prays for forgiveness from his family and colleagues.”

Rushing to New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and refusing to sit idly in a room with hundreds of other doctors awaiting instruction, Pryor “went out to the street, flagged down an ambulance and went to ground zero,” McElroy said.

He enlisted in the Army reserves after 9/11, not only completing the required training but also taking it upon himself to learn Arabic, McElroy said.

Pryor was serving his second tour with a forward surgical team with the Army’s 1st Medical Detachment, based in Fort Totten, N.Y. His first four-month tour was at a combat support hospital in 2006 at Abu Ghraib.

As chief medical adviser to the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Pryor conducted disaster-relief training for volunteers. In those lectures, he drew parallels between the injuries soldiers experience on the battlefield and the injuries to shooting victims brought to Philadelphia emergency rooms.

A talented writer, Dr. Pryor contributed opinion articles to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post, and was interviewed repeatedly by NPR and ABC News.

In a June 2006 column in the Inquirer, Pryor wrote of the personal sense of loss and the intolerable grief that came with every soldier he couldn’t save.

He described the death of one young Marine on his operating room table and expressed his sorrow to the family of the soldier, whom he did not identify. Pryor’s words about the Marine echo those spoken about him in the days following his death.

“We, more than almost anyone else, know he was a true American hero,” Pryor wrote to the soldier’s family. “I also want you to know that I will never forget your son, and that I will pray for him and all of the children lost in this war.”

Pryor is survived by his wife, Carmela Calvo, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children; a daughter, Danielle, 10; sons Francis, 8, and John Jr., 4; a brother, Richard; and his parents, Richard C. and Victoria.


Moorestown Renames Park After Fallen Surgeon

 By: TODD MCHALE, Burlington County Times
Maj. John P. Pryor
Maj. John P. Pryor

 MOORESTOWN – The township has dedicated one of its parks to Maj. John P. Pryor, the Army Reserves doctor who was killed while serving in Iraq.

“This guy was truly a hero,” Mayor Daniel Roccato said of the trauma surgeon who died in a mortar attack Christmas morning 2008 in Mosul, northern Iraq.

At the time of the attack, Pryor was serving his second tour of duty since 2006.

Ever since the death of the 42-year-old father of three children, the township has brainstormed about what would be the best way for the community to recognize the man who dedicated his life to serving others.

Officials decided to rename Salem Park at Borton Landing and Hartford roads after Pryor.

“The park is a way to honor John’s legacy,” Roccato said. “It is our hope this park becomes a lasting memorial to John’s legacy as well as place of peace and joy.”

Pryor’s wife, Carmela Calvo, said the family appreciates what the community has done.

“I’m very honored and very touched,” Calvo said. “This is wonderful for the children. This (park) embodies life.”

Calvo said her husband would be embarrassed by all the attention, but also would have gotten a kick out of a park named after him.

The new John P. Pryor Park gives her children a place to go to remember their father as well as run around and have fun with friends.

“It gives them a sense of hope + (because) we’re still grieving,” she said.

Pryor, who worked at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was serving as a battlefield surgeon with the 1st Medical Detachment, Forward Surgical Team based out of Fort Totten, N.Y., when a mortar round exploded near his living quarters.

Just a few years earlier, he hitched a ride on an ambulance to help those injured at ground zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That experience inspired him to serve his country.

Pryor joined the Army Reserves Medical Corps and in 2006 served his first three-month tour of duty. He returned for a second tour on Dec. 6, 2008.

Calvo said her husband believed that he had a duty to serve and to do whatever he could to help the soldiers.


The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember John during the month of May 2010 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with John’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Ryan Connolly

Ryan J. Connolly—April 2010 Shipment Honoree

Santa Rosa paratrooper buried with honors

The Associated Press
Ryan J. Connolly
Ryan J. Connolly

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — A 24-year-old Army paratrooper who grew up in Santa Rosa and died last month in Afghanistan was buried Monday with full military honors.

Ryan James Connolly had recently been promoted to sergeant and had 14 days left in his tour in Afghanistan when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb on June 24, according to the Department of Defense. He was riding with four other troops when the bomb went off in the town of Khogyani near the border of Pakistan, killing him and another soldier.

Connolly served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy with units in Germany. His widow and 1-year-old daughter were brought to California on a military flight from Germany.


Ryan James Connolly, Medic, United States Army, KIA in Afghanistan

June 26, 2008 by Da-Chief
Filed under Army News, Corpsman.com News, Military Information

Ryan James Connolly, a 24-year-old Army medic who grew up in Santa Rosa, was killed by a plastic land mine in a remote area of Afghanistan, family members said Wednesday.

Connolly, who was promoted recently to the rank of sergeant, served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade based outside the town of Khogyani in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.  He was riding in a vehicle with four other troops when the mine exploded Tuesday afternoon (Afghanistan time). One other soldier was killed and three were wounded, said his stepfather, Robert Nelson of Vacaville.

Ryan J. Connolly
Ryan J. Connolly

The combat medic had just two weeks left on his one-year deployment to Afghanistan, with orders to report to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey.  Improvised explosive devices, including plastic mines that are virtually undetectable, have become a constant source of bloodshed in Afghanistan.  According to the Associated Press, nearly 2,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year in Afghanistan – many of them killed by mines and bombs detonated next to convoys.

“He was a really strong young man – strong physically, mentally and morally, heart and soul – and a loving father,” Nelson said.  He said Connolly’s wife, Stephi, lives in Bamberg, Germany, with their 1-year-daughter, Kayla.

Connolly graduated from Piner High School in Santa Rosa, and joined the Army in 2005.

He had survived multiple firefights in Afghanistan. Just a few days ago, he phoned his father, mortgage broker Jim Connolly of Santa Rosa, and described being ambushed. His unit was pinned down in a firefight for hours after they walked into a village.

Connolly had taken a leave in April, bringing his family to Santa Rosa. During that trip, he bought a 1970 Chevy Nova and began to restore it. He had a passion for baseball, classic muscle cars, NASCAR racing and all things mechanical.  “He was in good spirits then,” Nelson said, “and looking forward to finishing the last three months and coming back home.”

Ryan Connolly
Ryan Connolly

Soon after Connolly returned to Afghanistan, Nelson said, a 10-year-old boy with a bomb blew himself up in a crowded square. Connolly was among the first medics on the scene – rescuing about 20 Afghans.  Nelson said his stepson had grown weary of the abject poverty and violence in Afghanistan, which Connolly described as “11th century with cars and cell phones. He hated the way women and children were treated there as chattel. He was a good man.”

The medic apparently never tired of practicing his trade.  “He loved helping out in Afghanistan, sewing up the kids,” Nelson said. “It broke his heart when he didn’t have enough medicine for a whole village.”  Connolly’s mother, Robin Nelson, lives in Vacaville. His brother, Mike Connolly, lives in Santa Rosa, and his sister, Kelly Connolly, lives in San Francisco.

“He was the best brother anyone could have,” Kelly Connolly said. “Very protective, always looking out for my best interest. He was a great husband and father. He loved his daughter.”

Katie Soenksen

Katie Soenksen—March 2010 Shipment Honoree

Katie Soenksen remembered at memorials

Katie M. Soenksen
Katie M. Soenksen

The first time he saw her, dancing at a nightclub, Ben Rowella knew he had to meet Katie Soenksen.

She reminded him of actress Jessica Biel.

And, oh, that smile.

“In my 30 years, I’ve been all over the world, seen lots of places, met lots of people,” Rowella said. “There was just something that hit me when I saw her.”

Rowella proposed to her that night. They married two weeks later, on June 23.

Soenksen, 19 and a private first class in the Army, was deployed to Iraq six days after that. Rowella, 30, and a specialist in the Army, was deployed for his second tour in Iraq during October.

They worked in the same area of the country, Rowella said. He last saw her April 30.

Then, on May 2, he heard her battle roster number called out on his radio, followed by an order for a MedEvac.

“I knew something was wrong,” he said today.

Soenksen died that day of injuries resulting from a roadside bomb explosion in west Baghdad. She is the 11th female member of the U.S. military under the age of 20 to die in Iraq.

Tonight, Rowella stood in the auditorium at Davenport North High School, greeting hundreds of people he had never met before, people who came to offer their sympathy.

He stood next to Katie’s parents, Ron and Mary Ann Soenksen, her sister, her brother and a host of other family members.

Outside the auditorium stood Tim McCoy.

He and his wife, Chris, came from Lansing, Mich., to honor Pfc. Soenksen.


Roadside bomb

Tim McCoy’s son was a member of the same military police company as Katie Soenksen.

Staff Sgt. Greg McCoy was 26 years old when he and another soldier were killed by a roadside bomb in November.

Soenksen was in a truck right behind him.

“She was there for my son’s service in Iraq,” Tim McCoy said. “We made the trip to honor her for my son. Something pulled me here. Maybe my son was pushing me here.”

McCoy stood outside the visitation, holding a large American flag for most of the afternoon. He was one of about two dozen fellow Patriot Guard Riders who stood guard.

The Riders escorted Staff Sgt. McCoy’s remains to his final resting place on their motorcycles. They will do the same today for Pfc. Soenksen.

The last time Soenksen came home, in February, she brought a video of McCoy’s memorial service in Iraq, a recording the McCoys have not seen.

Soenksen’s mom still has the video, the McCoys learned at the visitation Wednesday.


Memorial in Iraq

The memorial for Soenksen in Iraq was held Tuesday.

Pfc. James Alaimo was there. He was one of her friends in Iraq.

She was a joker, he said.

She used to set his leg hairs on fire with a lighter. She helped him party with water on his 21st birthday. Soldiers are not allowed to consume alcohol in Iraq.

“I know she’d kick me in the butt if she knew how sad I am right now, but I can’t help it,” Alaimo wrote in an e-mail. “It’s like she’s taken a piece of my heart with her, but it’s okay, ’cause mine is so much bigger for knowing her.”

Glancing sporadically at the pictures of Katie’s childhood flashing on a screen on the auditorium stage at Davenport North, Ben Rowella talked about how he enlisted in the Marines for four years.

He then spent four years managing a Taco Bell. Late at night, after closing time, he would go to eat at a café and watch the war in Iraq rage on CNN. He decided to join the Army.

Rowella will return to Fort Hood after he buries his wife today. He plans to return to Iraq eventually. His unit’s stay has been extended to January 2008.

“It’s my job. It’s my career,” he said.

Then, before going outside to take a break from the crowd, he said he will never marry again.

“She was that one special person everyone needs in their life.”

Source: Quad City Times


Congressional Record > May 10, 2007

Katie SoenksenCELEBRATING THE LIFE AND MEMORY OF KATIE M. SOENKSEN

The United States House of Representative

May 10, 2007
Section 27
In This Section…
Rep. Braley [D-IA]: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the life and the memory of PFC Katie Soenksen, who graduated from Davenport North High School in 2005 and died in an explosion…

Rep. Bruce Braley [D-IA]: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the life and the memory of PFC Katie Soenksen, who graduated from Davenport North High School in 2005 and died in an explosion on May 2 in West Baghdad, Iraq, while conducting a security mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Katie Soenksen
Katie Soenksen

Katie was a 19-year-old woman from Davenport, Iowa, who was a member of the 410th Military Police Company from Fort Hood, Texas. She left behind a loving family, including her parents, Ron and Mary Ann Soenksen, a brother, Matthew, from Davenport, and a sister, Sarah, from Blue Springs, Missouri.

Katie’s friends and family remember her as a fun-loving, energetic young woman who loved bowling, playing softball and spending time with her friends.

Mr. Speaker, as we come to the floor every day and decide important public policy issues that affect the lives of people like Katie Soenksen, I hope we all remember that this is something we are all in together, and the lives of future generations of Americans are affected by the policies that we set on this floor.


Death of Teen Soldier Brings Grief to Iowans

Mourning Impinges on Views of Iraq War

By Peter Slevin
The Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007; A03

Katie Soenksen
Katie M. Soenksen

DAVENPORT, Iowa. May 10 — The long black hearse did not belong in the picture, parked outside Davenport North High School on a day more suited to a picnic than a wake. As students spilled into the afternoon sunshine and did a double take, a family gathered to mourn an effervescent teenager taken too soon.

Pfc. Katie M. Soenksen, a 19-year-old soldier serving with the 410th Military Police Company, died last week in a Baghdad explosion not two years after she graduated from North High. She enlisted and wrote recently that being in Iraq “makes me realize how good we have it in America.”

She was the 71st woman killed in Iraq — 45 by hostile action — and the 246th teenage soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. With women serving in combat in unprecedented numbers, the number killed in action is higher than in previous wars, roughly triple the number of female casualties in Vietnam and the Gulf War combined.

Soenksen’s death cut deeply in Iowa, which buried another 19-year-old soldier on Wednesday. In the Quad Cities, which straddle the Mississippi, 14 fighting men and women have been buried since the Iraq war began, breaking hearts and driving political attitudes.

Anger over Iraq was decisive in November, when the Democrats captured the 1st District congressional seat held by Republicans since 1978. Losing GOP candidate Mike Whalen said it was “the overwhelming issue,” a predicament all too familiar to anxious Republican moderates who warned President Bush this week that patience with the war is waning.

But the days since a homemade bomb killed Soenksen have been more about pain and hugs than politics. Support for the family has been overwhelming. Hundreds of people streamed into the high school on Wednesday, the day before her military funeral, to offer comforting words and heartfelt embraces.

As lights on a signboard flashed, “We’ll Miss You, Katie,” one administrator said the experience of burying a student who had been so vibrant and alive was “very surreal.”

When the news reached Davenport on May 2, Brandon Concannon Colter was with his best friend, Marco Torres, who had dated Soenksen for two years. They were riding bikes at the Bettendorf skate park when Torres’s cellphone rang.

“It just got kind of silent,” said Concannon Colter, 17, a senior in North High’s Junior ROTC program. “He was like, ‘I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right.’ He got off the phone and he was [teed] off and sad.

“I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘Katie died.’ It was a silent ride home.”

Concannon Colter told his parents and his sister, but Soenksen’s death did not compute.

“It was more shock than devastation. ‘They’re lying,’ ” he thought.

The next morning, when Gunnery Sgt. Greg Livingston drove into the school parking lot, his ROTC students burst from the doorway to tell him. He said it must be a bad rumor.

“I didn’t want to believe it. The kids didn’t want to believe it,” said Livingston, a Marine who oversees three platoons of ROTC students. Later that morning, confirmation arrived. He addressed the young students, telling them this was the reality of war.

“Every day,” he told them, “somebody’s dying over there for us. She was willing to stand up and do what she believed in. We should be a grateful nation for what she did. If you live the right way, the correct way, I believe we’ll all be together again.”

Students were devastated. Many cried. Just two years earlier, Soenksen was a leader in the same room. The juniors and seniors knew her. Others remembered her stopping by school when she was home on leave, proud in her Army uniform.

“I’ll always love her,” said Livingston, his eyes reddening. “You can’t forget her. She made you feel good, no matter what mood you were in. I’m a moody person, but she wasn’t like that. She set the example for others to follow.”

Monsignor James F. Parizek, who led a funeral Mass on Thursday at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, said Soenksen could be “strong-willed and stubborn,” butting heads with people who stood in her way. She had an impulsive streak, marrying Army Spec. Benjamin Rowella, 30. It was six days before her deployment and two weeks after they met at a nightclub. At the Mass, he sat in the front pew.

Soenksen did not need to look far for military models. Her aunt, Air Force Lt. Col. Rose Ramirez, will soon complete her 34th year in uniform. She flew to Davenport with Soenksen’s remains.

Ramirez was with the family on Wednesday as an army officer presented Soenksen’s parents with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. The certificate said, “Her commitment contributed to our Nation’s continual war on terror and her actions represented her dedication to the security of the United States of America.”

Countless friends and more than a few strangers waited patiently in the North High auditorium for the chance to walk past Soenksen’s ashes and a stage full of flowers and tributes. One who had not known her was Pat Clayton, who served as an Army MP in the 1970s, shortly after the Vietnam War ended. A government employee, she is seeking work in Iraq, to help the troops.

“If you don’t feel it, you would never understand,” Clayton replied when asked why. “Just a need to go over and support ’em. God and country. That’s what it’s all about.”

Standing nearby, accepting condolences, was business teacher Jeff Manders. He coached Soenksen in basketball, soccer and softball from the time she was little. In high school, she played outfield and “had a cannon for an arm.” He adored her.

“There are special kids you always remember. She was one of those kids,” Manders said. “A fun kid. A teaser. She would tease her friends, tease her teachers, tease her coaches. Could Katie push it to the limit? Yeah, but she always had a way of coming back and making amends.”

Soenksen’s sudden death crystallized Manders’s misgivings about the war. He said it will “definitely” influence his 2008 vote.

“This one hurts. This brings the war to your front door. It’s no longer someone else’s kid from a distant place. It’s the kid next door who’s died,” said Manders. He described Iraq as “a mess.”

“How are we going to get out of it? I saw the Republican debate: ‘We can’t pick up and leave or it would be chaos.’ I understand, but what’s the tradeoff? How many American lives are we going to lose? [I] just want to get the hell out of there.”

Manders took in the auditorium that had been transformed into a funeral chapel, the line of people studying Soenksen’s cheerful portraits, the scrapbooks of photos from childhood and from war, her softball trophies, the flowers, the simple wooden box holding her ashes.

“It’s sad, but unfortunately I don’t think this is going to be the end of it, not for Iowans, not for the United States.”

Concannon Colter will turn 18 on Sept. 6. Three days later, he leaves for Marine Corps basic training and, he expects, deployment to Iraq. Since Soenksen died, his commitment to the military has grown stronger.

“It’s helping her out,” Concannon Colter said, “fighting for her cause, too.”

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.

Joseph M. Hernandez

Joseph Hernandez—Jan 2010 Shipment Honoree

Soldier loved animals, sons

Sources: The Associated Press, Military Times

Joseph HernandezJoseph M. Hernandez was an animal lover. He once saw a dog fall through a frozen lake, so he jumped in and saved it. At one point, he and his wife shared a two-bedroom apartment with four cats and three dogs.

Hernandez, 24, of Hammond, Ind., died Jan. 9 of wounds suffered when a bomb detonated near his vehicle in Jaldak, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Hohenfels, Germany.

He studied mechanical engineering and biology at Purdue University for two years. In 2002, he surprised his friends and family when he announced he was joining the Army.

“He said it was something he felt he had to do,” said his wife, Alison. “He never had anything bad to say about the military. He just decided to join. He felt it was his duty.”

Hernandez also is survived by his sons, Jacob, 2, and Noah, 9 months.

He enjoyed working on old cars and teaching his older son how to fly mini model airplanes.  When Hernandez was younger, he badly wanted to play piano. The family finally bought one, and he started playing it as it was being carried into the house. His mother asked him how he knew to play, and he said he had been practicing on paper.


Hammond soldier dies in Afghanistan

January 13, 2009
By Christin Nance Lazerus
Courtesy of the (Indiana) Post-Tribune
Joseph M. Hernandez
Joseph M. Hernandez

Alison Hernandez usually received a call from her husband, Hammond native Specialist Joseph M. Hernandez, every two days while he was stationed in Afghanistan.

Hernandez was waiting for him to contact her on Friday, but she felt something wasn’t right.   “My stomach hurt. I wasn’t feeling well. I broke down and cried to my dad, and said ‘I need my husband’,” she said.   That night, Army representatives delivered the solemn news to her that Joseph was killed earlier in the day in a roadside bomb attack.

Major Brian M. Mescall, 33, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and Specialist Jason R. Parsons, 24, of Lenoir, North Carolina, also died when an improvised explosive device detonated near their armored Humvee in Jaldak, Afghanistan.

Hernandez, 24, is survived by his wife and two sons — Jacob, 2 , and Noah, 9 months. He is also survived by his parents, Elva Hernandez and Jessie Hernandez; his two brothers, Jesse and Jason Hernandez; and other relatives.

Specialist Hernandez was recalled as a dedicated father and husband and someone who loved cars, music and animals.   Hernandez joined the Army in 2005 and he was in Afghanistan for the past 6 months. He was stationed in Hohenfels, Germany, as part of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, and he lived in military housing there with his family.   Alison and the boys traveled back to Northwest Indiana for the holidays, and Joseph was scheduled to join them in early March.

Joseph Hernandez
Joseph Hernandez

Hernandez played soccer for four years at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, and he boxed at Whiting Boxing Club. He was an altar boy and sang in the choir at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the Hessville section of Hammond.   Alice Gordon, Alison’s grandmother, considered Joseph as one of her grandchildren.   “I loved him dearly and he spent a lot of time at my house,” Gordon said.   Hernandez attended Holy Cross, then he entered the mechanical engineering and biology programs at Purdue University in West Lafayette.   Alison Hernandez said that he adopted four cats and three dogs while he was working at the local humane society, including a drowning dog that he saved.

He enjoyed working on old cars and teaching his older son how to fly mini model airplanes.

His wife said she keeps expecting Joseph to text her or get word that it’s all a mistake.

“You plan your life and you just have all these things that you want to do and you don’t have a chance to do them any more,” Alison Hernandez said.   “I talked to him on Wednesday, and he told me everything was fine, but he also was telling me all of his plans that he wanted to do when he got back.”   He planned on taking his family to a Chicago Cubs preseason game and eating at Gino’s East.   “He was my soul mate,” Alison Hernandez said.

The family has not finalized the exact date and time of the funeral services. The funeral service will be conducted at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Hernandez will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 23, 2009.

Hernandez used to serve in the Old Guard, which presided at funerals in Arlington.


Full Military Honors Honor a Soldier’s Full Sacrifice

First Enlisted Soldier Buried Under New Arlington Policy

By Mark Berman
Courtesy of The Washington Post
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Joseph M. Hernandez, 24, was a family man with a wife and two young sons. But he was also an Army man and a soldier. Yesterday, he became the first enlisted soldier to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery under a new policy that allows those killed in action full military honors.

“He said it was something he felt he had to do,” his wife, Alison Hernandez, 22, told the Chicago Tribune last week about his military service. “He never had anything bad to say about the military. He just decided to join. He felt it was his duty.”

Specialist Hernandez, of Hammond, Indiana, died January 9, 2009, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan after a makeshift explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Jaldak.

Hernandez was the 82nd casualty from Afghanistan to be buried there. The new Army policy took effect January 1, 2009. Previously, full honors were reserved for officers and enlisted personnel who reached the highest enlisted rank of E-9, according to cemetery officials.

In the past, limited resources, among other things, have hindered having more full honors services. A standard honors service includes a firing party, bugler and chaplain; full honors also includes a band, colors team, escort platoon and horse-drawn caisson.

“Arlington National Cemetery is an expression of our nation’s reverence for those who served her in uniform, many making the ultimate sacrifice,” said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren about the policy change in a release last month. “Arlington and those honored there are part of our national heritage. This new policy provides a common standard for honoring all soldiers killed in action.”

Hernandez’s ceremony didn’t include all the elements because of scheduling and weather issues. Both of the cemetery’s caissons were already scheduled for use yesterday, and Hernandez’s widow opted to have the service sooner rather than waiting for a later date when a caisson would be available, said Kaitlin Horst, cemetery spokeswoman.

And instead of a full military band, there was only a drummer because the band doesn’t perform when the weather is below freezing due to the impact of cold on instruments, Horst said. “Anything in addition to standard honors is considered a full honors service,” she added.

More than 100 mourners turned out yesterday to return Hernandez to the place where he had served as a member of the Old Guard. An escort removed his silver casket from a silver hearse and carried it to the grave site.

Flags were presented to Alison Hernandez, their two young sons and her husband’s parents, Elva and Jessie Hernandez. As the flags were given out, 9-month-old Noah Hernandez, wailed loudly from where he was being held in the front row. His older brother, Jacob, stood in front of the seats and accepted a flag that seemed almost as big as his 2-year-old body.

Killed along with Hernandez were Maj. Brian M. Mescall, 33, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and Sergeant Jason R. Parsons, 24, of Lenoir, North Carolina. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 4th Infant Regiment, based at Hohenfels, Germany. Mescall will be buried at Arlington on Monday.

Alison Hernandez told the Post-Tribune newspaper of Northern Indiana that her husband called her every two days while he was in Afghanistan. On January 9, she waited for the call and felt something wasn’t right.

“My stomach hurt,” she told the Post-Tribune. “I wasn’t feeling well. I broke down and cried to my dad, and said, ‘I need my husband.’ ”

Alison and their sons lived in military housing with Hernandez in Hohenfels. She and the boys came back to the United States for the holidays, and Hernandez was going to join them in March. Instead, on the night of January 9, Army representatives informed her of her husband’s death.

“It was a nightmare come true,” Robert Gordon Jr., Alison Hernandez’s father, told the Chicago Tribune. “I heard her scream from the porch. I got up and she fell through the door. ‘He’s gone.’ ”

Anthony C. Garcia

Anthony C. Garcia—January 2010 Shipment Honoree

Email from Carol Lindsey–Hello I am Anthony’s mother, I am glad to hear that these PKG’s are being sent in Anthony’s name. Thank you


‘He was protecting his Marines’

Haney graduate’s friends remember sailor killed in Afghanistan

August 08, 2009 12:39:00 AM
By ROBBYN BROOKS / Florida Freedom Newspapers
Anthony Garcia casualty return
Anthony Garcia Casualty Return

PANAMA CITY — Anthony Garcia knew what he wanted to do before he graduated from high school.

He was Navy-bound.

“He was very passionate about it,” said Nicholas Cooper, who went to Haney Technical Center with Garcia. “He wanted to be a SEAL, but being a corpsman was the next best thing at the time. Turned out to be even better.”

Garcia and Cooper joined the Navy together in July 2006, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Garcia reported to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in February 2009. Garcia, 21, was a hospital corpsman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and he deployed to Afghanistan with a unit of about 1,000 Marines in May, Marine officials reported.

He died Wednesday “while supporting combat operations in Farah Province, Afghanistan,” according to a Department of Defense news release. “Tyndall, Fla.” was listed as his hometown.

Anthony and Jewell
Anthony and Jewell

“There are two things a Marine will ask for in the field: God and the doc,” Cooper said. “He died for his country. He was protecting his Marines.”

Garcia last logged on to his MySpace account Aug. 4. His headline reads, “Turn that frown upside down” and his status is “chill.” Garcia recently married his wife, Jewell, and Cooper said his friend was excited to be deploying when they spoke in May.

“That’s what we joined for. That’s what we were here for and trained so hard for,” Cooper said. “We’re combat medics. We take care of Marines. They protect us, and when they need us, we go in.”

“I think everyone was looking forward to deployment so they could do what we do,” said Patrick Horgan, who worked with Garcia in Hawaii.

HM1 (FMF/CAC) Horgan was an independent duty corpsman with Garcia’s Hawaii-based unit. He recently returned from Afghanistan, so he didn’t deploy with the rest of the group.

“He had a great sense of humor. He liked to joke around,” Horgan said of Garcia. “He had a tight bond with his friends, definitely. He really liked where he was at and had a wonderful camaraderie with the Marines.”

On his MySpace page, Garcia wrote he was born in Denver but “grew up an Air Force brat and moved around a lot,” joining the Navy right after graduating from Haney, where he had majored in the school’s residential electrician program.

“Things would have been rough for me in school,” Cooper said about his high school days with Garcia. “He was the first person that befriended me. He took the time to show me around and helped me out.

Navy Corpsman Anthony C. Garcia
Navy Corpsman Anthony C. Garcia

“He was a great friend. He was on your side and would back you up no matter what.”

Garcia will be awarded the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Cooper said he has not been able to reach his friend’s father, who is active-duty airman at Eglin Air Force Base, but he hopes to attend Garcia’s funeral.

Attempts to reach Garcia’s family Friday were unsuccessful. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

“You hear about the deaths over there,” Cooper said. “As a corpsman, you know that happens. But it is unbelievable that he is one of the fallen heroes of this war. He was a hero among heroes. He was defending his country and was taking care of his Marines.”


The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Anthony during the month of January 2010 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Anthony’s family and friends today and in the years to come.