Sgt. Mark Colborn has heard many Army leaders say they would rather take risks themselves than send soldiers under their command into dangerous places.
He never saw anyone practice that as often or as sincerely as Staff Sgt. Alexander Povilaitis, who was killed by an enemy bomb May 31 while serving with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 14th Engineer Battalion in southern Afghanistan.
“To the very end, (Povilaitis) was a selfless and loyal leader, always to the front,” said Povilaitis’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. John Buck.
Soldiers at Lewis-McChord gathered Wednesday to remember Povilaitis, 47, of Dawsonville, Ga., as a tough veteran who rejoined the Army at an age when most troops begin contemplating second careers and retirements.
His battalion deployed a year ago, and Povilaitis is its only fatal casualty. He is the fourth-oldest Washington-based service member to die in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to News Tribune records.
Povilaitis is survived by his wife, Kimberly, two sons and four stepchildren. He served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1984-88, then left the military to run a construction company.
He re-enlisted in 2007 and committed himself to outperforming men half his age. At 45, Buck wrote, Povilaitis passed the physical tests required of soldiers who want to serve in Special Forces units.
“He was a physical beast,” Buck wrote in remarks that were read at the ceremony.
Povilaitis deployed to Iraq in 2009-10 with a New Mexico-based engineer battalion, clearing roads of buried bombs in areas around ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
He joined the Lewis-McChord unit just before it left for Afghanistan and made an immediate impression on his new peers and subordinates.
“I remember the first time I met you, I thought, ‘What is this old man doing in the Army? He may have a heart attack,’” wrote Lt. Jusino Cesaray.
The lieutenant learned his lesson on their first trip to the gym, when Povilaitis out-lifted and outlasted the young officer. Later, they’d talk about hunting and become friends.
Other soldiers would tease them when they went to meetings together, asking if it was “take your son to work day” because of the age difference.
“You were by far the most rugged of us all. We love you. We miss you greatly,” Cesaray wrote from Afghanistan, using the 14th Engineer Battalion’s motto of “rugged” to praise Povilaitis.
Colborn, the sergeant, was Povilaitis’ “battle buddy” in Afghanistan. They were together constantly, whether on missions outside the wire or relaxing on downtime at their forward base.
Colborn called Povilaitis a leader who enjoyed teaching younger soldiers by getting his hands dirty with them.
“He’s the type of person who makes this country great,” Colborn said.