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Families, soldiers and community gather to mark wreath ceremony
wreath laying
Family members lay mementos and a wreath at the marker for 2nd Lt. Matthew Coutu, who was a member of the 720th Military Police Battalion. Photos by Pat Donahue

FORT STEWART — Junior ROTC cadets stood at the ready in the rain, waiting to hand wreaths to the families to place alongside memorials Saturday at Warriors Walk. There are 469 trees, all crape myrtles, planted alongside Cottrell Field in memory of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and soldiers from units attached to the Marne Division who were killed in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

“This is an incredibly humbling time for all of us to reflect on the sacrifices and the selflessness of those who have come before us,” said current 3rd ID commander Maj. Gen. Christopher Norrie. “And that this community would come together to give back and honor all of those things means so much to us in this division. It is a tribute not only to Fort Stewart but also to the greater coastal region here in southeast Georgia.”

About 60 family members, representing 16 soldiers, were on hand for the 17th annual Wreaths for Warriors Walk annual wreath ceremony, according to Bruce Muncher of Wreaths for Warriors Walk.

“Many of these families have come back for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Norrie said. “That is an incredible tribute to their commitment, not only to their soldier and their families but to this community and this incredible division. It speaks to every good thing in the world. We’re really proud and humbled to be a part of it.”

Maj. Gen. Norrie met the family members before the ceremony’s start Saturday morning, which was his first as 3rd ID and Fort Stewart commander.

“It is the most humbling thing to be around them and hear their stories,” he said. “They were selfless and giving, attracted to service, fully committed to serving our nation and universally committed to being good teammates.”

The first trees, Norrie noted, were planted in late April 2003, just weeks after the 3rd ID completed its mission to charge into Iraq and eventually seize Baghdad, its capital.

The first tree planted was for Staff Sgt. George E. Buggs, a member of the 3rd Forward Support Battalion and a Barnwell, S.C., native. He was killed when his convoy was ambushed on March 23, 2003. Norrie said Buggs was “loved, revered and admired by his soldiers. A fellow soldier said you will be greatly missed. I learned so much from you.”

Norrie also recalled another soldier remarking on how nervous he was but there was Buggs, playing spades.

“In that moment, we were all happy and smiling,” Norrie related another soldier saying.

The last tree planted was in February 2019, for Cpl. Joseph Maciel, a California native serving with the 1/28 Infantry Battalion, then based at Fort Moore. Maciel was killed in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province in an insider attack.

Maciel’s “commitment and bravery were exceptional,” Maj. Gen. Norrie said. “His commitment and his bravery were exceptional. What truly set him apart was his impact on those around him. His battalion commander called him an unbelievable soldier, beloved by his teammates.”

As the crape myrtles grow, their branches will grow together, forming a canopy over the sections of Warriors Walk, Maj. Gen. Norrie pointed out.

To this day, trinkets and tokens of remembrance are left alongside the trees and markers by family members and former comrades.

“Each tree not only represents a story of valor and a fight against our enemies to protect our freedom but it is also a testament to a family and their sacrifice,” Maj. Gen. Norrie said. “Their service exemplifies exceptional valor, honor and respect for the Army and their country and our cause.”

Cottrell Field, flanked to its northwest and southeast by Warriors Walk and its trees, has been the ground where thousands of troops have assembled before heading off to a deployment and thousands have been greeted by their loved ones upon returning home, Maj. Gen. Norrie pointed out. Each of those trees alongside the field represents a hero, and those here should “reflect on their bravery, their dedication and the profound loss that we continue to still feel,” he said.

“This walk symbolizes the sacrifice of every dogfaced soldier to have laid down their lives since 1917,” Maj. Gen. Norrie said, referencing the inception of the 3rd Infantry Division 106 years ago. “These brave men and women are the epitome of courage. It is humbling to honor their sacrifice which is the cornerstone of our freedom and our way of life.

“It is not just a path; it is a sacred ground. It includes stories of valor, sacrifice. Freedom is not free. It requires people willing to sacrifice. This is the price we pay for our freedoms and our privileges we enjoy today.”

Maj. Gen. Christopher Norrie, commander of the 3rd ID, pays tribute to the men and women honored at Warriors Walk.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Norrie, commander of the 3rd ID, pays tribute to the men and women honored at Warriors Walk.
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