3rd Special Forces Group soldiers' Remembrance PT honors those killed in action

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: March 1, 2021

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — One took a flight to bring fellow soldiers hamburgers after being involved in an hours-long gun battle.

Another woke to horses and another argued about rugby.

All were 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers killed in action and remembered this month.

On Friday, the names and stories of 11 soldiers who were part of the 3rd Special Forces Group were remembered during physical training between flutter kicks, air squats and pushups.

The monthly Remembrance PT was started about five years ago by previous group commander Col. Bob Wilson to honor the unit's soldiers killed in action during the Global War on Terror, said Col. Jason Johnston, current commander.

"This is so that no one forgets — no one in this unit forgets for sure," Johnston said.

Sixty stones line the group's memorial walkway, and each month Gold Star families, veterans and soldiers from across Fort Bragg are invited to participate to remember the Group's Special Forces soldiers on the month of their death.

Because the event was not held during the holiday season, those who died in January and February in years past were remembered Friday.

These are their stories as told by the soldiers who served with them.

The Fayetteville Observer is withholding the names of the active-duty soldiers who shared these stories because of operational security.

Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, 24, was killed Jan. 25, 2008, in Afghanistan. It was his second tour there.

Miller served with Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, as a weapons sergeant and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

One soldier who remembered Miller said he was with him the day he died.

"He died a hero," the soldier said, pointing to the unit's headquarters building named in honor of Miller. "Spend a few minutes in the foyer here and learn about the type of man who Robby was, the life that he lived and grew up, and the large family that he had."

Miller's two brothers are in the military, one of whom is a Green Beret, the soldier said.

Though younger than most on his team, Miller repeatedly assured his sergeant he was up to the task, '"Hey, I know that I'm the youngest. I know I'm the most inexperienced, but I promise I'll never let you down, no matter what," the soldier recalled Miller saying.

"And about 18 months later ... he paid the ultimate price for protecting his team. He never let anybody down," he said.

Capt. David "J.P." Thompson, 39, was killed Jan. 29, 2010, in Afghanistan. It was his third deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pausing as he read through Thompson's biography, a soldier described Thompson as "engaging" a "friend to all" and "someone you could talk to any time."

"I remember oddly enough the guy loved CrossFit..." the soldier said. "And I used to give him all kinds of (expletive) about CrossFit and said, 'Do you even lift bro,' because he was all about doing CrossFit and (he was) all about being a leader; constant Green Beret, great guy ....we definitely took a hit with losing a guy of that caliber."

Master Sgt. Daniel Lee, 28, died Jan. 15, 2014, in Afghanistan. He earned his green beret in 2012 and was a Special Forces communications sergeant assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion.

One soldier remembered going through the Special Forces Qualification Course with Lee and later seeing him downrange in 2014.

"He was the guy you'd want protecting your six on your left and right and you could really depend on him," the soldier said.

Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Joshua Beale, 32, was killed Jan. 22, 2019, in Afghanistan on what was his fourth deployment.

One soldier described Beale as "quiet," but someone who "liked to get his hands dirty," once putting a turret together by himself.

"That's just how he was," the soldier said. "He knew a job needed to be done, and he did it."

Staff Sgt. Marc Small, 29, was a medical sergeant killed Feb. 12, 2009, in Afghanistan.

Small's leader shared a time in 2009 at Firebase Anaconda when Small woke to find horses nearby.

"Marc is walking around all confused, and I said, 'What's up man? 'And he said, 'Well I thought somebody was at the door, opened it and it was a bunch of horses ... I said, 'Well that explains all the horses running around right now Marc,' He said, 'Yeah.' I was like, 'OK. Sounds good. Let's wrangle them up and get them back in the pen.'"

The same soldier remembered Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bessa, 26, killed Feb. 20, 2009, in Afghanistan

Bessa was a combat medic assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion.

The soldier, who was Bessa's senior leader, said Bessa was a Philadelphia Phillies fan who loved former Phillies second-baseman Chase Utley. Utley, the soldier said, reached out to Bessa's family after his death.

Master Sgt. David L. Hurt, 36, was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion and killed Feb. 20, 2009, in Afghanistan during his fifth deployment in the Global War on Terror.

One of Hurt's students remembered Hurt as a dive instructor who said he didn't like "18 X-rays," and they "better prove" themselves.

The soldier remembered seeing Hurt after he was struck by an improvised explosive device, but saw "peace" in his eyes.

Another soldier described Hurt as competitive.

"This guy was a karaoke champion," the soldier said. "It didn't matter if it was a line dance competition — he'd win it and I'd tell you... there was no task too difficult."

Another soldier described Hurt as similar to the fictional Sgt. Petersen in the movie "Green Berets."

The soldier remembered a time when a sister unit was engaged in a 14 to 15-hour gun battle, and Hurt got on a flight near Bagram, Afghanistan, that was delivering ammunition to the unit.

"The crew chiefs are kicking the ammo off the bird and here comes Dave Hurt stepping off the bird with a kit bag full of Whoppers with cheese from Burger King," the soldier said. "That's how he got the name the big whopper."

Spc. Christopher Landis, 27, was killed Feb. 10, 2014, in Afghanistan.

Landis was a cryptologic linguist assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion.

A soldier who served with Landis in another unit remembered instances of Landis bringing ammunition rounds toward a ridgeline to soldiers during a deployment to Afghanistan or riding on a truck with infantry soldiers even though those weren't his jobs.

"I get it ..., we all want to be in the fight or whatever," the soldier said. "But that was him."

Spc. John Pehlham, 22, was killed Feb. 12, 2014, in Afghanistan. It was his first deployment.

He was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion.

"I didn't personally know John, but the honor and sacrifice will never be forgotten," a soldier said.

Warrant Officer 1 Shawn Thomas, 35, was killed Feb. 2, 2017, in Niger, Africa.

Thomas was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion.

One soldier remembered seeing Thomas a month before his death, and said Thomas was excited about one day being a "great company warrant officer."

"When I think about Shawn and those memories and that conversation, I'm left with memories," the soldier said.

Another soldier recalled Thomas arguing with another teammate about rugby — even though the teammate played rugby and Thomas did not.

Thomas went outside to learn the sport and get "pointers" on how to argue about rugby, the soldier said.

"That in itself tells you he was going to be the best," the soldier said.

Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Skelt Jr., 41, was killed Feb. 12, 2014, in Afghanistan. he was assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion.

Soldiers described him as a "great dude" who loved to watch his sons play sports.

"He was a big guy, but the kind of teddy bear big guy, 'cause the nicest dude you could know," a soldier said.

Following the February Remembrance PT, Chaplain (Maj.) Charlie Shields said the monthly observance guarantees those who "paid the ultimate sacrifice" will not be forgotten.

"And as long as your name is spoken, you're still living on this earth amongst your brothers...," Shields said. "It's a guarantee to families that your loved one's sacrifice never becomes normal. It's never normalized. We don't heal and move on. We heal and remember."


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