One of the benefits that the Guard sells to young soldiers is that Guard is family, and I think this is true is the sense that you get to know your fellow Guardsmen over the years better then you would in an active duty or reserve unit as personnel are changed out more often. Most of the soldiers that you drill with are from your hometown, went to the same schools, and know the same people. The Nebraska National Guard has lost 8 or our brothers and sisters during OIF. While the loss of every soldier is a tragedy, our fellow Guardsmen usually hit a little closer to home. I didn't know any of these soldiers on a personal level, but they've all had a lasting impact on me, and my fellow soldiers, that I wanted to share.
The first 2 soldiers we lost were early in the war. MSG Linda Ann Tarango-Griess and SGT Jeremy J. Fisher were killed in action on 11 July 2004. I remember getting an email at work with a link to the story and feeling incredible sadness, shock, and disbelief. Most of us thought the war would be over quickly and without much loss of life. The fact that our fellow soldiers had paid the ultimate price was hard to believe.
The Nebraska Guard went over a year without another casualty. SFC Tricia L. Jameson was killed in action on 14 July 2005. SFC Jameson was a medic that had volunteered for her deployment to fill a spot that needed a soldier, and had only been in theater a short while. She was responding to an attack when her ambulance was targeted by a secondary IED, a particularly cowardly attack. The Combat Medic Training Center here at Balad is named after her.
Another year passed, and on 31 July 2006, SGT Joshua Ford was killed in action. His death occurred after we arrived in theater, which made it that much harder. Every soldier knows that there is the possibility this will happen, but as a coping mechanism, most of us think that it won't happen to us or anyone we know.
Unfortunately, the year between combat deaths pattern didn't hold. Task Force Saber lost our first soldier, SSG Jeffrey Hansen, on 27 August 2006. SSG Hansen was the victim of a tragic accident where his vehicle rolled over into one of the many canal roads surrounding Anaconda. SSG Hansen had been around the Cav for a long time, and was well known by many and loved by all. His memorial service was held here at Anaconda, I served on the rifle team and was part of the 21 gun salute. It was an honor to participate and allow the soldiers from his unit and those that knew him the best to attend the memorial.
A short 2 days after B Troop and the rest of the 1-167 had grieved for SSG Hansen, SGT Germaine Debro was killed in action. He died on 4 September 2006. For an already grief stricken unit, this was an incredibly tough blow. SGT Debro had volunteered for this deployment to serve with his friends and paid the ultimate price. I went home for leave a few days later, and attended his funeral in Omaha while I was home. It was obvious from the crowd and the speeches what kind of a man SGT Debro was and how much he was loved by his family and friends. The IED Training Lane here at Anaconda was just recently dedicated in honor of SGT Debro, in order to provide training opportunities to other soldiers and increase their chance of survival.
SGT Randy J. Matheny died in combat on 4 February 2007. His sister is a Staff Sergeant in a unit that is stationed here at Anaconda, and he would often spend time with her when he had a stop over during a convoy. His brother is also a member of the Nebraska Guard. His sister's unit held a small memorial here on post for him, and once again it was clear that SGT Matheny was a hero to those that knew him.
The final Nebraska casualty was SPC William L. Bailey III, who was killed in action on 25 May 2007. His unit was stationed here, and I attended his memorial. SPC Bailey was a father of 5 and had a lifetime of service. He was a volunteer firefighter in Bellevue, and had rejoined the Guard in 2005 after fulfilling his initial obligation because he wanted to serve.
One thing that struck me about each of these soldiers is that most, if not all, were volunteers. Not just volunteers to join the Guard, as we are all, but volunteers to deploy to Iraq and do what needed to be done. I know that most of them could have stayed home, having already done duty in Kuwait, Bosnia, or a prior deployment to Iraq. But they didn't. Their unit, their state, and their country needed them, and they answered the call. And they paid the ultimate price. This may be cliche, but "Where do we find such men and women?" I am proud to wear the uniform and to have served in the Nebraska National Guard with MSG Tarango-Griess, SGT Fisher, SFC Jameson, SGT Ford, SSG Hansen, SGT Debro, SGT Matheny, and SPC Bailey. God bless you all. We will never forget you.