The human toll of the Afghanistan war and sacrifices made by the Stryker Brigade were recognized Saturday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with memorials bearing the names of 56 soldiers.
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Capt. Cory Jenkins was a physician assistant with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, as his unit deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2009. His mother hoped he would tend to the wounded at a base, where he would be safe from the perils of the war.
But on Aug. 25 of that year, five weeks into his deployment, the 30-year-old Jenkins climbed into an eight-wheel Stryker to respond to a cholera outbreak in a village, and died with three of his comrades when a bomb struck their vehicle.
Through two deployments to Afghanistan, many more soldiers would die, sacrifices recognized Saturday at this Western Washington base as twin granite memorials were unveiled in a lush green park.
One curved monument is engraved with the names of 41 soldiers who died during the 5/2 Brigade’s 2009-2010 deployment. The second bears the names of 15 soldiers who died when the unit’s successor — the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division — deployed to Afghanistan from March 2012 to January 2013.
Most Read Local Stories
- West Seattle Bridge reopening date announced
- How to spend less time in Sea-Tac Airport lines for passenger pickup, drop-off
- Harborview Medical Center will temporarily stop accepting some patients due to capacity issues
- Sound Transit 3: Progress in West Seattle, paralysis in Chinatown International District
- Enjoy Seattle-area weekend weather before next round of heat
The late-morning dedication ceremony included brief remarks from officers, the laying down of 56 roses — one for each soldier who died during the two deployments — and a low flyover by two Apache helicopters. It was attended by some 3,500 active-duty soldiers as well as Afghanistan veterans and mothers, fathers, brothers, widows and children whose loved ones are honored with the memorial.
The names of the fallen soldiers are listed in the order they died, with Jenkins listed fourth on the monument dedicated to the 5/2 Brigade.
“When he left, I had no idea that he wouldn’t be coming back,” said his mother, Jeanne Jenkins, who traveled from her home in Arizona for the service. “But when he went out (in the Stryker), I know that’s what he would have loved doing. He was helping people, and that’s what he was all about.”
The 5/2 Brigade was the first to bring Stryker vehicles to Afghanistan as part of a surge in U.S. troops intended to help weaken the Taliban in their traditional strongholds in southern provinces. The unit commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and that was summed up by the unit’s motto “Strike, Destroy,” now emblazoned atop the 5/2 monument.
But the Strykers were vulnerable to powerful improvised explosive devices, and the unit’s death toll on the first deployment helped spur modifications that improved the vehicle’s safety later on in Afghanistan. One bomb that exploded on Oct. 27, 2009, claimed the lives of seven soldiers in a Stryker, along with an Afghan interpreter.
“We were just starting to get used to him being over there,” said Sybil Williamson, of Broussard, La., whose 24-year-old son, Sgt. Patrick Williamson, died in that bomb blast. “He always approached his missions in life with such enthusiasm that we thought he was going to be OK.”
The second monument for the 2/2 bears its motto at the top: “Seize the high ground.”
The twin monuments result from the work of the Lancer Soldier and Family Fund, a volunteer group of service members and their families. Over the years, the group raised the $60,000 needed by holding fundraisers such as selling pizza and T-shirts and soliciting in-kind donations.
Danielle L’Heureux, who headed up that effort, has a husband who serves with the renamed 2nd Brigade. She said it was important that any memorial effort also honor soldiers who died during the brigade’s first tour of Afghanistan, when it was still the 5/2.
Once the unit returned from that first tour and was renamed, there was a sense among some members of the old 5/2 that they were being forgotten and pushed aside, L’Heureux said.
Now, the two pillars remembering those lost from both brigades stand side by side in the park.
The organization also struggled to figure out just whose names would be included.
Some soldiers did not die in battle, but did lose their lives during the time their units were in Afghanistan or training for deployment. Their names are listed with asterisks and a note at the bottom of each monument explaining the deaths as “noncombat related.”
There is also room for more names, should the unit go to war again.
“If we had to, we could add them,” L’Heureux said. “God willing, we don’t.”