Pfc. Cale Miller could put “a ruck the size of a house on his back and shoulder the load with no complaint.”
Spc. Gerardo Campos was a proud dad who wanted his last words to tell his daughter “be happy and smile.”
Sgt. 1st Class Barett McNabb used his experience and creative thinking not only to help his platoon find ways to disable buried bombs, but to mentor younger soldiers as they faced life’s challenges.
Each died in separate attacks over the past month, but they were mourned together Tuesday at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord ceremony that reflected the toll of a difficult fighting season for Stryker soldiers in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
They were linked under the flag of Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which deployed to Kandahar in late April.
Campos and Miller, both 23, were infantrymen assigned to the brigade’s 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Campos was killed by gunshot wounds June 2 in Kandahar’s Maiwand District. Miller was killed by an improvised explosive in the same part of Kandahar on May 24.
McNabb, 33, served in the brigade’s 562nd Engineer Company, a unit that clears roads of buried bombs. He was killed by an improvised explosive June 12 just north of Maiwand.
They are among 15 Lewis-McChord soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this year.
Lt. Col. Gregory Harkins, the 4th Battalion’s commander, turned to the emergency-notification forms his soldiers fill out before deployments to share stories about the character Campos and Miller showed in combat.
Campos, of Miami, had a young family that warmed his heart despite the disciplined exterior he showed as one of his platoon’s toughest soldiers.
He left behind his wife, Rubi Ramos, and daughter, Isabella. He directed his last words to the child. “Love you, Bella. Your dad will always be with you.”
Campos “was simply an outstanding American soldier,” Harkins wrote.
Miller, of Overland Park, Kan., revealed the humor he showed his fellow soldiers in the 15 months since he’d enlisted. He answered a question about his preferences for his funeral by writing, “Bury me facing the rising sun so I can get a sun tan.”
Another question asked what was most important to Miller: “Family, friends and the United States Army!” he answered.
Friends of the two infantrymen were left speechless in trying to describe their contributions to their units. One praised Miller as dedicated, courageous and honorable. Another called Campos someone who was “able to show us exactly what a hero looks like.”
McNabb, of Chino Valley, Ariz., drew on experience from two deployments to Iraq when he left for Afghanistan this spring. He did not tie himself to the routines he learned on those tours.
Instead, McNabb’s platoon leader remembered him as a creative thinker who surprised fellow soldiers with “outside the box” solutions to challenges they faced.
For example, McNabb kept looking for ways to get a bomb-disposal robot in his vehicle because he was the soldier who most often analyzed threats from explosives.
“It was that same sharp mind that made him a tremendous asset in my platoon,” Lt. Simrattal Singh wrote in remarks that were read at the service.
McNabb left behind a son and two stepdaughters. His family experiences helped him develop the younger soldiers in his platoon. They’d relate to each other in hear-to-heart talks that turned frustration into laughter.
“There wasn’t a moment when Sgt. First Class McNabb wasn’t available to his guys,” a friend wrote from Afghanistan.
Today, Lewis-McChord is hosting a memorial to another fallen soldier: Staff Sgt. Alexander G. Povilaitis, 47, of Dawsonville, Ga. He was a combat engineer killed in Kandahar province May 31.