Psy-ops soldiers honor fallen hero with Fort Bragg ceremony, workout
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 16, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Cpl. Nicholas Ryan Roush did nothing halfway.
As a young man preparing for the Army, Roush filled his old high school book bag with barbell weights and hiked long trails near his family’s home in Middleville, Michigan.
As a soldier at Fort Bragg, Roush often wore ankle weights during long runs with his unit. He would tell others that he needed the weights to get a full workout in.
“Others would find that cocky,” said Master Sgt. Jason Montesanto, who counted Roush among his soldiers and as a friend. “If you knew Nick, you knew that’s not who he was. If he did something, it was never to show off. It was simply to get better at it.”
Eight years after Roush was killed in Afghanistan, leaders hope that legacy – that drive to improve – will motivate current and future soldiers in the psychological operations community.
On Wednesday, Roush’s parents were invited back to Fort Bragg to help honor their son.
His old unit, the 1st Military Information Support Battalion, 8th Military Information Support Group, hosted a “Hero Workout of the Day” in Roush’s honor before dedicating a classroom in their battalion headquarters to the soldier.
Robert and Donna Roush were at a loss for words as they watched more than 120 soldiers run around them near the battalion headquarters on Psyops Lane.
“It’s unbelievable,” Robert Roush said of the battalion’s events aimed at honoring his son. “It’s one thing when it’s a year later, but eight years later… We’re honored. We’re humbled. It’s hard to put into words.”
“It means the world to us,” Donna Roush added.
As the Roush family watched, soldiers alternated between eight exercises – including sit-ups, push-ups and burpees – and laps around the parking lot where the workout was held.
Officials said the routine was meant to simulate an exercise program Roush used as he prepared for his first deployment in 2009.
Lt. Col. Michael A. Stone, the commander of the 1st Military Information Support Battalion, said the events were meant to celebrate the memory and keep alive the legacy of Roush, who was killed in Herat, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2009.
“We’re here to do something that Nick did as a routine thing,” Stone said ahead of the morning workout. “Remember what it’s all about. Be proud of what you do.”
Later in the morning, officials unveiled a plaque outside the newly dedicated Cpl. Nicholas Ryan Roush Classroom. The classroom will help introduce new soldiers to Roush, Stone said, even as Roush continues to inspire the unit and those who served with him.
Roush was killed by a bomb while on a mission in Herat province, where his psychological operations team was embedded within a team of Marine Corps special operations troops.
He was in Afghanistan to help prepare the nation and its population for national elections that year. They patrolled with the Marines and also created public service announcements to help inform the Afghan people.
Roush was killed days ahead of the election during operations targeting members of a shadow government that sought to destabilize the region ahead of the vote.
Montesanto was on the mission. He said that while the troops anticipated combat on previous missions in Afghanistan, this operation was different.
“We were going to initiate it,” Montesanto said.
He said the mission was a success, but while heading back to base, the troops were the victims of a complex ambush.
Montesanto said he heard a series of explosions among the troops’ convoy. He later learned that Roush’s vehicle was one of those targeted by the blasts. Roush and an interpreter were killed instantly, and four Marines were severely wounded.
Montesanto personally escorted Roush’s remains back to his family.
Today, Robert Roush said he considers Montesanto a son.
As Montesanto prepared to honor Roush on Wednesday, the soldier stood at a podium but couldn’t find words.
He strained to hold back his emotions as he looked out at the crowd of more than 130 soldiers. Failing, Robert Roush stood from his seat and approached the podium.
The two men embraced briefly before Montesanto collected himself and began his speech.
He spoke of the first time he saw Roush – who he described as a red-headed Viking warrior – during the psychological operations qualification course. During that training, Montesanto said, he met Roush in a parking lot, where the latter’s car had been struck by another motorist.
Roush was upset, but not mad, Montesanto said. Instead, he was already thinking about how to fix his car, a “beat up Honda Del Sol,” and make the vehicle better in the process.
“That’s what he did,” Montesanto said. “Instead of getting angry about something really unfair that had happened to him, he moved forward.”
After the qualification course, Montesanto became a team leader with C Company, 1st Military Information Support Battalion as the unit prepared for a deployment. He said he asked for Roush by name to serve on his three-man team.
“Nick was my first-round draft pick,” Montesanto said.
Roush was tough, he said. But the soldier was more than just grit and physical prowess. He had a great personality, was well-mannered and respectful, and was fun to be around.
“He was the standout soldier in the company,” Montesanto said. “He was one of the very few guys that literally everyone liked.”
Montesanto said Roush was the product of solid upbringing.
Roush’s parents, however, were anxious to meet some of their son’s “other family” during their visit to Fort Bragg.
On Thursday, the pair are expected to jump with the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, but Robert Roush said he was most looking forward to speaking with those who served alongside his son.
He said Fort Bragg was a new experience for him and Donna Roush, but one they were prepared to embrace.
“We’re fish out of water, but it’s fun being out of water,” he said.
Speaking at the classroom dedication, Robert Roush said the family was beginning to understand the tight bond of the special operations community – the same bond Roush joined the Army to experience.
“We didn’t really understand but we do now,” he said.
Robert Roush said his son wanted, more than anything, to be part of that community.
He recalled a charismatic young man who rebuilt a 1995 Eagle Talon named “Monica” and who toured the car around Michigan.
Long before Roush was a psychological operations soldier, Robert Roush said his son was influencing others with a big smile and a firm handshake.
“His personality sparked,” Robert Roush said as he challenged the soldiers to live their lives like his son did, always preparing for the next challenge and always bettering himself.
Montesanto said the battalion would do well to look up to the example Roush set.
“Nick fulfilled his duty in training and in combat,” he said. “He performed with excellence as always.”
“We – all of us – lost a lot when we lost Nick.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.