JBLM Special Forces unit observes early Memorial Day, honors fallen soldiers

Staff writerMay 15, 2014 

A bell at Joint Base Lewis-McChord rang 22 times Thursday, each tone honoring a fallen soldier from a Special Forces unit that has worked in Afghanistan off and on since the war’s earliest days.

One bell tolled for Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman, the first American soldier to die in combat in the nation’s longest war.

Another was for Sgt. Joshua Strickland, shot to death by an Afghan turncoat in an apparent insider attack last September.

Both soldiers served in JBLM’s elite 1st Special Forces Group, which gathered its troops for an early Memorial Day observance at its headquarters.

Its commanders sought to highlight the sacrifices of the fallen even as they sense the public’s attention turning away from the long-running war.

“It is all too easy to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice when a war is at its height, when the nation is whipped into a patriotic fervor,” said Deputy Commander Col. Max Carpenter.

“But it is our obligation to ensure that our brothers live on in the memories we carry of them and the touch their lives and service has had upon our profession, our souls and our competencies as special operators and soldiers of America’s Army,” he said.

The 1st Group’s memorial lists the names of its fallen dating back to the Vietnam War. It looks different than other memorials at JBLM, though, because the wall has far more space for names than it uses.

The open black granite leaves an impression conveying that the 1st Group expects to be on the front lines of conflicts for years to come. It likely will be among the last to leave Afghanistan.

“As this war comes to an end for the majority of our forces, we know the sacrifices made by soldiers wearing the green and red beret of the 1st Special Forces Group will go on,” Commander Col. Robert McDowell wrote in remarks that were read for him at the ceremony.

McDowell could not attend because he’s serving in the Philippines, where the 1st Special Forces Group routinely sends soldiers to work with allies.

The 1st Group has lost 22 soldiers since the terrorist attacks of 2001. They were killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines.

Strickland’s widow, Heather, took in the scene at ceremony. So did Krista Simpson, whose husband Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson died a year ago from wounds he suffered in an explosion.

McDowell called their husbands and the 1st Group’s other fallen soldiers “men who will remain legends because they went the distance and beyond to save a brother, stop an enemy and preserve a way of life.”

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