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Fifteen sets of helmets, rifles, dog tags and boots were placed in front of a U.S. and Army flag as a memorial to the 15 soldiers killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter Sunday. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians attended the memorial service Thursday night at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq.
Fifteen sets of helmets, rifles, dog tags and boots were placed in front of a U.S. and Army flag as a memorial to the 15 soldiers killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter Sunday. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians attended the memorial service Thursday night at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Fifteen sets of helmets, rifles, dog tags and boots were placed in front of a U.S. and Army flag as a memorial to the 15 soldiers killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter Sunday. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians attended the memorial service Thursday night at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq.
Fifteen sets of helmets, rifles, dog tags and boots were placed in front of a U.S. and Army flag as a memorial to the 15 soldiers killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter Sunday. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians attended the memorial service Thursday night at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Soldiers kneel in front of a memorial set up for the 15 soldiers killed in a Chinook helicopter downing Sunday. A memorial service for the soldiers had finished minutes earlier at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq.
Soldiers kneel in front of a memorial set up for the 15 soldiers killed in a Chinook helicopter downing Sunday. A memorial service for the soldiers had finished minutes earlier at the Rifle Base stadium on al-Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — “Their lives were lived in freedom, their deaths were in the cause of freedom,” said Col. David Teeples, speaking about the 15 soldiers who were killed when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down Sunday.

Teeples, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment commander, addressed the hundreds of military and civilian personnel who filled the unit’s Rifles Base stadium during a remembrance service Thursday night.

A makeshift memorial with 15 sets of helmets, rifles, dog tags and boots stood out bright against the night sky as Teeples spoke.

“They all had hopes and dreams of the future with their families,” he said. “They chose to put those dreams on hold until the mission was accomplished. They chose the sacrifice of the soldier.

“We depended on them, they depended on us.”

Pvt. Neil Vermillion of Howitzer Battery, 2nd Battalion, 3rd ACR, sat on the stadium’s bleacher stairs, watching the ceremony. One of the soldiers killed in the crash, Spc. Darius Jennings, was from his unit. Vermillion said he didn’t know his fellow battery member as well as he could have.

“In retrospect, I never thought that something like this could happen,” he said.

Vermillion, who has been in Iraq for about four months, has Jennings’ name and the letters “R.I.P.” on the side of his desert camouflage boonie cap.

“I don’t know if this is the best way, but it’s my way to pay some respect to him,” he said.

Vermillion and other soldiers of the unit later gathered in front of the memorial, some kneeling, some standing. Before leaving, they saluted their 15 fallen comrades under the glare of television lights.

“It won’t bring them back, but it’s at least something for the families,” Sgt. Richard Bennett, from the 122nd Engineer Company, said of the media attention.

Bennett said that none of the dead soldiers was from his unit, but he did know a few of them in passing.

“I knew the faces of some of them,” he said, recalling that Spc. Frances Vega used to help at the base post office.

Staff Sgt. Jose Perou knew more than faces. Pfc. Anthony Dagostino worked under Perou in the 3rd Signal Brigade, 16th Signal Battalion.

“He was the hardest working soldier I’ve ever had,” he said later that evening.

Thursday, Perou said, would have been Dagostino’s 21st birthday. He was planning to be on rest and recuperation, having his first “legal” beer on this night.

Instead, his fellow signal brigade soldiers were remembering him for his life and service.

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