Drip. Drip. Drip.
As I stood in the rain on an afternoon in April, my thoughts were on how cold my rain-soaked uniform felt on my weary body as rain drops dripped from my headgear. We had been standing at attention for what seemed like forever.
Usually during these formations, there is a lot of under breath talking and joking. After all, most of the time, we are in these formations for a dog and pony show. This time was different. That morning, when volunteers were asked for to go to an honorable transfer of three of Ohio’s fallen, most of us volunteered. Sure, it would be cold and rainy…but these were our fellow Soldiers and Ohioans. So, in the reverent silence, as we awaited the C-130 carrying our fallen comrades, my mind began to wander to an April seven years ago.
I was stationed in Iraq along the Iranian border. Caldwell actually wasn’t too bad of a place to reside for a year. Our sleeping quarters were in a building with the officers and other members of headquarters and our Area of Operations (AO) was relatively quiet compared to what our brethren were experiencing out west. It was my off day. April 2005. All of a sudden, one Captain told me that there was a firefight going on, and our troops were ambushed. The information was incomplete, but it was enough to get me to get dressed and head in. We knew there were injuries, but we did NOT know how severe or how many. As our Squadron S1 accountability person, it was my job to find out and report to Regiment. After a couple of hours, we found out that they were in a Baghdad hospital and some were serious…there was a death, but the question was who and was it one of ours. We closed down the phone banks and internet service until we could find out. And as I finally got through to the hospital…they were rattling off those injured, I wrote them down… and then SSG Stephen Kennedy…Kilo-India-Alpha. My heart stopped. We had heard a rumor that SSG Kennedy had been killed, but this was final.
As we lined up as a Squadron to pay our final respects by saluting the infamous rifle, boots, and Kevlar it was solemn. A wave of regret over most of us. We now had a debt we couldn’t ever repay. We now had to live as to not taint what he had done for us. RIP SFC Kennedy April 4, 2005 Turki Village, Iraq.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
As the unmistakable hum of the C130 nears where we are, the families are now ushered out joined by the top commanders and the governor. The worse part is seeing the kids…I had resolved not to shed a tear, but that breaks me. My mind flashes back to June 2004 when I said good-bye to my 14 month old. I remember turning to Mandi and saying, “she has no clue what is about to happen.” Neither do those kids. My heart breaks as tears join the endless parade of droplets down my uniform.
As the caskets go by, we salute. It is the ultimate respect. It is a respect that is earned, not by deed, but by position. Regardless of rank, these Soldiers have achieved such a position. They have given us their last full measure of devotion. They have earned everything we have to give.
1…2…3…heroes loaded by an Honor Guard whose performance is so professional, so dignified. As the last hearse pulls away, and as we march back to the air hangar, that feeling comes back.
They gave their service.
They gave their optimism.
They gave their lives.
They gave everything to support and defend this nation built on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
John Adams said, “It will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom, I can see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means.”
What do we owe them for these “rays of ravishing light and glory” burning bright in our hearts?
We owe our service. We owe our optimism. We owe our lives.
And that is why we must remember.
RIP CPT Nick Rozanski, MSG Jeffrey Rieck, and MSG Shawn Hannon