Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Fallen soldiers, airmen honored at Fort Carson ceremony

By Ryan Handy and Jakob Rodgers Published: May 23, 2013

A chilly drizzle fell on Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera as he strode past dozens of mourners - some crying, others stoic in their grief.

"Apparently, the heavens are mourning with us also," LaCamera said.

Led by LaCamera, Fort Carson's commanding general, hundreds of troops gathered Thursday to pay their respects to 12 men whose names were added to The Mountain Post Global War on Terrorism Fallen Soldiers' Memorial.

A blanket of gray clouds hung low over the post as the uniformed men and women bowed their heads in prayer. Four days before Memorial Day - a national holiday often referred to as the unofficial start of summer - the weather seemed appropriate.

"I think everyone who's served in the Army over the last several years is personally touched by a loss," said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Norman, commander of Fort Carson's 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Brigade Combat Team. He planned to take his children to the memorial on Monday.

"It helps kind of ground a person," he said.

Nine of the troops whose names were added to the stone memorial, at Nelson Boulevard and Highway 115, served in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, a unit that returned late last year from nine-months in eastern Afghanistan. There, the threat of Afghans wearing army and police uniforms equalled that of roadside bombs - traditionally the deadliest threat to American troops.

Three members of the brigade died in the "insider" attacks, the same number killed by roadside bombs.

In one attack, an Afghan turned his newly-issued gun on U.S. troops on Aug. 27, killing two Fort Carson soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher Birdwell and Spc. Mabry Anders.

Anders' mother, Genevieve Woydziak, traded messages with the 21-year-old on Facebook nearly every day while he served in Afghanistan. One day, those conversations stopped.

Instead, an Army officer bearing the message of her son's death knocked on her door.

"He'd been gone one day too long," she said.

One airman added to the wall, Maj. Walter Gray, was attached to the 4th Brigade while helping to coordinate airstrikes with the Air Force's 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, a unit stationed at Fort Carson.

Gray, as well as two Fort Carson soldiers - including the brigade's top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin - and a U.S. State Department employee died Aug. 8 when two suicide bombers attacked.

The brigade's headquarters building soon will be named for Griffin, said Maj. Earl Brown, a post spokesman.

Another airman added to the post's wall, Senior Airman Bradley Smith, died in 2010 while temporarily assigned to the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron. The most recent casualty, Staff Sgt. Mark Schoonhoven of the 43rd Sustainment Brigade, died a month after a mid-December bombing.

The meaning of Memorial Day is too often dismissed by those not in the military, said Griffin's brother, Shawn Griffin.

"It's something I think that's just out of sight, out of mind for a lot of citizens," Shawn Griffin said.

The evidence of the post's lingering grief was clear on Thursday in a wreath set at the front of the memorial.

In it were 12 pink carnations, one for each of the fallen troops.

One by one, a comrade from each soldier or airman's unit walked up slowly to wreath and offered a final salute.

And as a bugle played in the background, hundreds of other troops stood up and did the same.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

Facebook Jakob Rodgers

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