Under the spires of the Air Force Academy Cadet Protestant Chapel, fellow soldiers, family and friends on Saturday mourned the loss of Fort Carson Green Beret James “Ryan” Sartor, a casualty in America’s longest war.
Sgt. Maj. Sartor, 40, died July 13 in a firefight in Faryab Province, the Army said, the fourth Green Beret and the fifth Fort Carson soldier to die this year in Afghanistan. Sartor was on his seventh deployment since joining the Army in 2001.
His funeral was held at the Air Force Academy instead of the Army post because the cadet chapel could accommodate more mourners. Sartor will be buried in his native Texas.
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As rain pounded against the stained glass of the chapel walls, friends and family honored the life of a small town “Texas boy” who lived for others.
He died just weeks before he planned to retire, his wife, Deanna Sartor, said. His dream was to move to Montana and plant a cherry orchard.
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A down-to-earth Texan, Sartor fit easily into Falcon, where his family lived for the past 11 years and until recently a rural area on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. His son played on the Falcon High School football team; his family went to church; it was hard for him to go anywhere without bumping into someone he knew.
“No matter how many deployments he went on, he never felt that he had done enough,” Deanna said at the funeral. “I could never convince him that he had.”
Mentor, leader, adventurer, loved — all words used by Sartor’s comrades in arms to describe him at his funeral. But perhaps the most shared description: a brother.
“His mother Terri said to me, ‘Most people never get to meet their heroes; I got to raise mine,’” a friend of Sartor’s said at the funeral.
Saturday’s funeral would be the last public service for Sartor before his body is taken home to Texas for burial.
On July 18, hundreds gathered in Falcon to honor the fallen Fort Carson Green Beret. The crowd was an assortment of community members — the Falcon High School football team, the Green Beret Special Forces motorcycle club, Holy Cross Lutheran Church members.
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“He was the best man that I’ve known,” said Travis Cain at the memorial. Cain was with Sartor when he was killed.
“In my entire life, there has been nobody who’s influenced me like him” Cain said through tears. “He just set an example of what a man’s supposed to be like, a man that serves.”
On Wednesday, a procession to the Shrine of Remembrance in southeast Colorado Springs brought dozens of people out along the streets to pay their respects. Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis ordered the American and Colorado flags be lowered to half-staff statewide until Saturday to honor Sartor.
The recent American casualties come as the U.S. is pushing for a peace deal by Sept. 1 to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. Through talks in Qatar with Taliban leaders, U.S. negotiators have sought a pact that brings a cease-fire to Afghanistan while incorporating the Taliban back into society.
Sartor joined the Army three months before the 9/11 attacks and served in Iraq and in Afghanistan with the 10th Special Forces Group.
He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal four times and also had four Army Commendation Medals.
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As a sergeant major, Sartor held the Army’s highest enlisted rank, serving as a mentor to other soldiers and an advisor to officers.
He is survived by his wife, Deanna, his three children, Stryder, Grace and Garrett, his parents, Mary Teresa Pryor and James Sartor, sister Crista Brooner, half-sister Shae Sartor and grandmother, Patricia Pryor.
The Gazette’s Tom Roeder contributed to this report.