Another 3rd Infantry Division soldier was memorialized with a tree dedication ceremony Thursday morning at Fort Stewart’s Warriors Walk.
The eastern redbud tree planted for Pvt. 1st Class Barrett L. Austin is the 458th tree now serving as a living memorial to the sacrifice of Marne Division soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dreary, overcast skies threatened rain throughout the ceremony, and an occasional breeze caused wind chimes hidden among the memorial trees to ring.
A slow procession of family members, friends and fellow soldiers were escorted to their seats as the 3rd ID band played quiet hymns in the background. Among the hundreds of fellow soldiers attending Austin’s tree-dedication ceremony was his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Brendan Fossum.
Fossum, who was injured severely by the same improvised explosive device that took Austin’s life last month, came to Stewart from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C, just to participate in the memorial service for his soldier.
“(Austin) was a very worry-free guy,” recalled Fossum as he leaned on a walking cane for support. “He never let anything get him down.”
Fossum was one of three soldiers wounded when an IED struck their vehicle April 17 in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Austin, a native of Easley, S.C., died from his wounds in Landstuhl, Germany, the following day. He served with 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Austin was 20 years old.
“(Warriors Walk) is where memories of Marne Division soldiers live on,” said Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear. “Let us never forget the warriors who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who wear the scars of war.”
Hort welcomed the 18 members of the Austin family who attended the ceremony, including Austin’s widow, Heather, and parents, sister, grandparents and in-laws. He said the Austin family represented 58 years combined federal service, which likely inspired Austin, whom Hort said represented the 1 percent of Americans who took an oath to protect the country.
Following Hort’s remarks, 3rd ID Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Pegues led the tree-dedication ceremony by calling Austin by name. Spc. April Walters, who was standing guard by Austin’s granite memorial, did an about-face then got down on one knee to remove the camouflaged cover.
She returned to the position of attention, did another about-face, and then stood at parade rest with the fold cover in her hands.
The family was given first honors to visit Austin’s tree and memorial. They were followed by close friends and fellow soldiers. After a short time of reflecting with his family by the tree, Curt Austin took time to talk about his son and the day’s ceremony.
“It means a lot to us to see the support my son’s unit has given him,” he said. “The honor that’s been shown for him helps us to realize that he counted for something. People who are willing to take their time to participate in this, (it) shows their commitment.”
He said the tree ceremony helped him better understand the commitment soldiers have for each other. He added that he also is grateful that his son didn’t have to suffer because of his wounds.