Vilseck community mourns four of its own killed during battle for Fallujah
November 19, 2004
VILSECK, Germany — War came home Wednesday to Rose Barracks in Vilseck.
On a gray, cold and rainy day that reflected just how this community felt, more than 700 people filled the Vilseck Chapel and adjoining fellowship room to say farewell to four 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment soldiers killed last week in the battle for Fallujah, Iraq.
The unit had dispatched grief counselors to help people deal with the Nov. 9 death of Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenburg.
But before the community could say farewell to Faulkenburg — his memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday — word came Saturday that three more 2-2 Infantry soldiers had fallen in Fallujah.
The three were Capt. Sean Sims, 1st Lt. Edward Iwan and Sgt. James Matteson. Sims, Iwan and Matteson all were from Company A. The battalion lost its command sergeant major, a company commander, a company executive officer and a team leader all within five days.
With the helmets, rifles, boots and identification tags of the four standing at the front of the chapel as tangible proof that this tragedy was real, many people were in tears before the service began.
The community did not have to grieve alone. Gen. B.B. Bell and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gravens, U.S. Army Europe’s commander and command sergeant major, were there.
Col. Dana Pittard, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team commander, who oversees the 2nd Battalion’s Task Force 2-2 Infantry, returned from Iraq for the service. He brought a strong dose of healing power with him.
“As soldiers always know, there is a possibility of death, but when it hits, it hits so very hard,” Pittard said in remarks during the service.
“In Iraq, it may seem easier to deal with. We mourn; we grieve, but most of us move on. Here at home in Vilseck, it’s different. When the news hit here, our world temporarily stopped.”
After the service, Pittard stood in the entrance of the chapel to comfort community members. Many broke down and sobbed in his arms. They expressed thanks to the colonel, who still has a war to fight in Iraq, for being there. It took the roughly 400 people in the chapel almost an hour to exit.
During the service, some soldiers shared their memories of the fallen soldiers.
Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenburg
“I knew [Faulkenburg] well on a professional level,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Ledoux, 3rd Brigade Combat Team operations noncommissioned officer.
“My soldiers were a little afraid of him at first, but it only took getting to know him. [Faulkenburg] was everywhere, always checking on his soldiers.”
Pittard called him a legend in the 2nd Battalion “Ramrods.”
“Command Sergeant Major Faulkenburg was an icon,” he said. “When he was around, you knew he had your back. He would say to me: ‘Sir, Ramrods are here. We got it.’
“Every time I spoke with him, he beamed with pride and confidence. When we think of the Ramrods, we will always think of [Faulkenburg].”
Faulkenburg is survived by his wife, Tonya, and daughters April, Jenna Clifton and Katherine Clifton.
Capt. Sean Sims
Sims was described as both a great leader and family man. He was commander of the battalion’s Company A in Iraq.
“I know the soldiers of Company A were proud to call Sean their commander and proud to fight with him in combat,” said Capt. Steven Tabat, commander, Company B, 2-2 Infantry.
“His love for his family was nothing short of inspirational,” Tabat said. He said Sims talked of his wife, Heidi, “like they were at once both newlyweds and an old married couple.”
He also said that community members “have the responsibility to cherish our memories [of Sims] and share them” with his son, Colin. He said Sims “loved his son, he loved his wife, and he gave the ultimate sacrifice, because he loved his country.”
Spc. Joe Seyford was injured in the firefight that took Sims’ life.
“He was a great man,” Seyford said of Sims after the service. “It’s hard for me. For the guys [in Iraq], I know it’s really tough. Someone has to fill that slot. We were almost done [in Fallujah], and we lost him.”
Sims is survived by his wife and son.
1st Lt. Edward Iwan
Iwan, who spent time as an enlisted soldier before earning his commission, had a hard time letting go of his enlisted-soldier duties, said 1st Sgt. Felipe Ogas, Company B, 2-2 Infantry. Iwan was the Company A executive officer in Iraq.
“In Kosovo, I had to chase him out of the motor pool all the time. He was always in there trying to fix the Humvees,” Ogas said.
“I knew I could always count on a smile from this tall, red-haired officer and leader of men. He was happy. He was doing what he signed on to do. He was being a leader.”
Iwan is survived by his parents, Kenneth and Donna Iwan.
Sgt. James Matteson
Sgt. Kirby Nebeker, rear detachment commander for Company C, 2-2 Infantry, read remarks at the service from Capt. Brian Ducote, formerly Matteson’s Scout Platoon leader.
“He worked hard to be a soldier,” Ducote wrote. “His soldiers not only loved him as a friend, but respected him as a leader. He never gave up, and, more importantly, his team never gave up on him. Never have I seen soldiers so dedicated to a young leader.”
Matteson is survived by his father, Jay Matteson, and mother, Joyce Reynolds.
Having said a formal goodbye to its fallen soldiers, the community now must find a way to heal itself.
“No loss has touched any community more deeply than this one,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, 1st Infantry Division rear detachment commander.
“While we honor them with our grief, it is more important that we honor them by celebrating the lives they led.”
“I know that it is difficult for all of us in our community,” Pittard said. “I just ask that we continue to pull together and watch over each other.”
Although the community was knocked to its knees by this tragedy, it will climb back to its feet, several speakers said.
“This community took a hard hit; all of these men were such wonderful people and we’ll never forget them,” said Megan Murphy, a fourth-grade teacher from Vilseck Elementary School, where Sims’ wife, Heidi, taught sixth grade.
“For those who have husbands or fathers deployed, this has made them worry more. But it also has made our community stronger, to see that we have such great support for one another.
“We learned that we have so many great resources. We will definitely recover. We’re on our way.”