Special Forces Group honors fallen soldier in roadside ceremony
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: October 28, 2017
Fayetteville, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — More than 150 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers gathered along Yadkin Road early Friday to remember Sgt. Jalisha Tucker.
Not everyone who gathered on Fort Bragg knew Tucker, but they were aware of the legacy she left behind – a legacy of putting others before herself, of mentoring young soldiers and of leading from the front.
Tucker, 24, of Ocala, Florida, was struck by a vehicle during a morning run on Oct. 24, 2016. She died a few days later, on Oct. 28, 2016.
A year after Tucker's death, her impact still resonates with her unit within the Group Support Battalion, officials said.
Ahead of the anniversary of her death, soldiers gathered to ensure that legacy survives for years to come.
"We are the keepers of her memory," said 1st Sgt. Sompaul Vorapanich as he gathered paratroopers ahead of a memorial run. "We honor her."
Friday's ceremony keeps with the tradition within 3rd Special Forces Group, which stresses the importance of keeping the legacies of fallen soldiers alive. The group hosts monthly memorial ceremonies to honor those who have died while serving with the unit.
The ceremony for Tucker took place near the area where she was struck, around a memorial stone that was placed after her death.
"Memories of you are cherished in your absence," the stone reads. "Your love for life and those you shared it with will remain unmeasurable. Paratroopers don't die, they just slip away."
Sgt. Anna Luna and Sgt. Genesis Mendez, two close friends of Tucker's, said driving along Yadkin Road on Fort Bragg remains difficult, even a year after their friend's death.
Early Friday, the two soldiers sported pained smiles as they remembered their loss but also honored Tucker's memory.
They placed a piece of paper on the memorial stone to make a rubbing for Tucker's family in Florida. Soldiers also posed for group photos to be sent to the family.
"This was very important," Luna said. "It was a great turnout."
Tucker was a good noncommissioned officer and an even better friend, they said.
"It's still hard not having her around," Mendez said.
Vorapanich, the senior noncommissioned officer for A Company, Group Support Battalion, was with Tucker's family at a hospital in Chapel Hill when she died. He said Tucker had a clear impact on all of those around her.
"It wasn't just in her military life – what she did in uniform," Vorapanich said. "But it was what she did out of uniform, too."
"Today is about her legacy," he added. "And that legacy will live on."
Officials said they intend for the memorial run to become an annual event.
After the run and a short ceremony, soldiers were provided a hot breakfast and encouraged to stay and share memories of Tucker.
After her death, officials said Tucker was "the consummate, balanced professional representing her fellow soldiers" and represented "the very best of our special operations community."
She and other soldiers who died in noncombat incidents last year also were honored earlier this year during a 3rd Special Forces Group remembrance ceremony. During that event, held in May, Tucker was added to the group's Hall of Heroes, which features the names and faces of the nearly 100 soldiers from the 3rd Special Forces Group who have died since the unit was reactivated at Fort Bragg in 1990.
Tucker was a parachute rigger who had served in several units on Fort Bragg. At the time of her death, she was pursuing an associate's degree and hoped to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing.
She was survived by her husband, Jose Gomez; mother, Altmease Gousby; and father, Edward Tucker.
On Friday, Vorapanich said he wanted the Tucker family to know that their daughter would not be forgotten and that they are always welcome on Fort Bragg.
"The Alpha Archangels are an extension of their family," he said. "We welcome them anytime."
Meanwhile, other soldiers said they hoped the memorial would remind drivers on Fort Bragg to be safe and watch for soldiers who run along Yadkin Road each morning.
After Tucker's death, Fort Bragg officials lowered the speed limit on Yadkin Road and added warning signs.
An investigation into Tucker's death determined it was accidental. She was struck while she and another soldier attempted to cross the road before sunrise, in an area that was not a marked pedestrian crossing.
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