Soldiers, Family Members and guests filled large tents and bleachers in Memorial Park last week to honor six Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) who were killed in Afghanistan throughout 2012 during Fort Drum's annual Mountain Remembrance ceremony.
After the national anthem and an invocation from the division chaplain, Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, walked with three others behind the Military Mountaineers Monument, where they unveiled a new memorial plaque inscribed with the names of the six fallen Soldiers.
Accompanying Townsend was retired Col. Mike Plummer, president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, who on behalf of the association donated the memorial to stand as a permanent fixture in front of division headquarters.
Also a part of the detail were Command Sgt. Maj. Mark H. Oldroyd, Fort Drum garrison senior enlisted adviser, and retired Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, former 10th Mountain Division (LI) assistant division commander for support and the event’s guest speaker.
Before introducing Jackman, Townsend thanked everyone for coming. He extended a special welcome to Gold Star Families and asked the crowd to join him in a round of applause for the Family Members of fallen Soldiers in attendance.
Townsend also spent a few minutes explaining how a popular country song played moments before the ceremony was inspired by a man sitting in the audience.
He said Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck” was written with Paul Monti in mind, a Gold Star father who still drives the truck left behind by his son, former 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti.
Monti reluctantly stood to be recognized at the general’s request.
During his remarks, Townsend explained how in the safety and security of Fort Drum, it is important for people to appreciate that more than 5,000 division Soldiers remain in harm’s way today.
“Our nation may be drawing down its efforts in Afghanistan, and our Army may be returning to its garrisons, but not the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum,” he said. “It’s tough, but it’s fitting for this division. We were there at the start of this war on the ground in Afghanistan, and it’s appropriate that we be there to close out Operation Enduring Freedom.”
When Townsend concluded his remarks, Jackman took his place in front of the dozens of flags that waved in the warm summer breeze above a line of Soldiers fanned out on the field. The colors, some of them cased to signify the division’s deployed brigades, represented every major Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) unit.
Jackman, who called Fort Drum his Family’s favorite Army assignment, told audience members that the names of the six fallen Soldiers represented hundreds of other division Soldiers who stood “shoulder to shoulder with their forefathers of the 10th Mountain Division.”
“I grieve for the Families, friends and fellow Soldiers they leave behind,” he said. “These are shattering losses.”
The retired general went on to say that after 35 years of service as an Army officer, he always marveled at how masterfully America’s warriors have fought on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He said lessons were learned, down to the smallest tactical levels. But one thing always remained.
“These warriors fought bravely and effectively, and our foes learned that about us.”
Jackman spoke a great deal about America’s past wars, pointing out the deeper meanings of what it means to be an American service member.
“The Families that make up America produce these outstanding men and women,” he said. “When the United States was wounded on 9/11, these men and women responded to the call of duty. They came from every corner of our country and raised their right hand to support and defend our Constitution.
“They became our warriors,” he added. “They are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, and our neighbors.”
He said regardless of right or wrong strategic decisions, these young Soldiers stepped forward at a time of war, volunteering and re-volunteering to serve.
“They are a credit to America,” he said. “They represent the finest in American character. They are simply the best of us.”
But the death of each Soldier greatly impacts Families, comrades and friends left behind, Jackman said, all of whom lost something in themselves when their Soldier fell.
“We can never put things back to the way they were,” he said. “But we can honor the treasure that the fallen and wounded have given us.”
Jackman finished by encouraging audience members to honor the memories of the fallen while also comforting and praying for the Family Members.
“(I ask you) to reflect,” he said. “That you not take for granted their sacrifice, and that you commit yourselves to honoring them and their Families.
“It is right. It is pure. And they deserve nothing else.”
The names of those Soldiers killed in action, appearing in chronological order, are as follows: 2nd Lt. David E. Rylander and Spc. Junot Mevs LeGrand Cochilus, both from 630th Route Clearance Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade; Staff Sgt. Daniel A. Rodriguez and Sgt. Jose J. Reyes, both of 110th Transportation Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade; and Sgt. 1st Class Bobby L. Estle and Pfc. Jose O. Belmontes, both of 630th Route Clearance Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade.
After a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” and the benediction, loved ones and friends took turns viewing the new monument inscribed with the names of their fallen warriors.