Strykers Honor Fallen Comrades

Soldiers, families pay tribute to 26 who died in Iraq

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2006

FAIRBANKS - Nearly 3,800 soldiers with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team returned home to Alaska from Iraq to during the last two weeks.

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Twenty-six did not.

Those 26 died while serving with the brigade - 19 of them during the brigade's first 12 months in northern and western Iraq, and seven in Baghdad after the brigade's tour was extended 120 days and moved to the capital to help combat sectarian violence. An additional 10 service members died while attached to the 172nd or assisting the brigade with combat operations.

But commanders, soldiers and family members at a memorial ceremony Tuesday on Fort Wainwright asked that those soldiers not be remembered just for how they died.

"While today's ceremony could easily focus on the death of these great Americans, we choose to celebrate how they lived," said the brigade's commander, Col. Michael Shields.

"This group of warriors consisted of hunters, fishermen, outdoorsmen, mountain climbers, snowboarders, skiers, musicians, cowboys, philosophers, athletes, pilots and so much more. These soldiers were someone's best friend, leader, son, brother, fiancé, husband and dad. Several of them left children that will never know their father."

The ceremony came on a day that the Army officially redeployed, or established the brigade back in Alaska, from its Iraq tour.

Soldiers and families gathered at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks later in the day to uncase the unit's colors, or flags, that the unit flew while in Iraq. On Thursday the brigade will change command and become known as the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

About 350 soldiers suffered injuries in combat during the brigade's 16-month deployment.

Shields and Sgt. Maj. Joe Ulibarri unveiled a memorial wall in the atrium of the Battle Command Training Center. Plaques with each soldier's photo hung on the wall.

During the ceremony, a pair of tan combat boots, Kevlar helmet and goggles and a rifle with bayonet sat in front of the wall. Around the rifle hung 36 dog tags with the names of each man and woman on the wall.

"The faces you see before you represent the human nature of war," Chaplain Robert Nay said.

Nay explained the symbolism for the rifle, helmet, boots and dog tags. He said the bayonet of the rifle was covered, because although soldiers are "trained to kill ... soldiers always desire peace."

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke at the ceremony, telling family that the state becomes attached to military personnel that are stationed in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

"The people of Alaska embrace the men and women of our military," she said. "The death of a service member based in Alaska is the death of an Alaskan."

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