Fort Drum remembers soldiers, civilian killed during deployments in 2013

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: June 25, 2014

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — Did soldiers die in vain in Afghanistan?

That was the question posed by Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates as he spoke to the families of 10th Mountain Division soldiers and a civilian killed while serving there in 2013.

The retired general, a former commander of the post and division, said they did not.

“A life lost in defense of friends, the innocent and in service of our great nation is deserving of our highest praise and honor. It is not possible for such a loss to be in vain, regardless of the larger political outcome,” he said. “Soldiers fight in sacrifice for each other, and for a cause much larger than themselves.”

Among those hearing the general’s remarks was Javier G. Sanchez, father of Sgt. Javier Sanchez Jr., who died last June when his unit was attacked in Sar Rowzah with an improvised explosive devise while on mounted patrol. Sgt. Sanchez was 28 years old.

“It’s been really tough,” the elder Mr. Sanchez said. “There are days that aren’t easy.”

Mr. Sanchez said his son was the first generation of the family, originally from Mexico, to become an American citizen. When his son first talked about joining the Army, Mr. Sanchez said, he tried to dissuade him from joining because of the dangers he might face. His son’s persistence eventually won him over, and Mr. Sanchez said he was proud of his son’s service.

“Once I knew he was going to do it, we supported him until the end,” Mr. Sanchez said.

Hearing Gen. Oates’s comments, Mr. Sanchez said, made him think of the questions he and his family have discussed since his son’s death.

“We think sometimes, ‘Is it worth it?’” he said. “At the end, it’s worth it to do it.”

Also honored during Tuesday’s ceremony at the post’s Memorial Park were Sgt. Derek T. McConnell, Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, Lt. Col. Todd J. Clark, Lt. Col. Jaimie E. Leonard, Pfc. Mariano M. Raymundo, Sgt. Anthony R. Maddox and Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, as well as civilian Joseph Morabito, who died with Col. Clark and Col. Leonard during an insider attack, along with Fort Polk-based division soldier Sgt. William D. Brown III.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, briefly home from leading the division’s headquarters in eastern Afghanistan, said the word on his mind was “remember.” He told people of his reaction to seeing a Facebook comment in April about the soldiers’ deaths, in which the commenter said he thought American military activity overseas was over.

“This American wasn’t even aware that our soldiers were fighting in harm’s way in Afghanistan,” Gen. Townsend said. “That’s our charter, this group here today, to make sure we never forget.”

Those memories can be the toughest things for family members who are left behind.

“Thinking about him — that’s what hurts the most,” said Ellen C. Raymundo, mother of Pfc. Raymundo, who died in a non-combat incident last June in Sharan. “I think about him every day.”

Ms. Raymundo said her son joined the Army to disprove his father, who felt he wouldn’t be able to join.

“He did it,” Ms. Raymundo said.

In his 21 years of life, she said, her son — her “good boy,” she called him — enjoyed life to the fullest, with a personality his sisters, Rachel and Samantha, lovingly described as crazy and loud.

His persistence continued up until his final deployment.

Ms. Raymundo said her son was upset when he initially was told he wouldn’t join the 2nd Brigade Combat Team on deployment. His disappointment turned around when he later was told he would join the outgoing group.

“He was happy,” she said.


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