Friday morning’s dreary weather fit the somber mood of the occasion.
The overcast skies even shed a few teardrops on the family members and friends who gathered at Warriors Walk to remember Sgt. Timothy Conrad and Sgt. Joshua Born, both killed in Afghanistan Feb. 23 while serving with the 385th Military Police Battalion.
Two Eastern Redbud trees and a small gray monument now represent Conrad and Born at Warriors Walk, bringing the number of trees dedicated to the memory of 3rd ID soldiers who’ve given everything for their country during this “era of persistent conflict” to 441.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” said Sgt. Christopher Smith, a member of the 385th MP Battalion’s special response team and friend of Conrad. “One day you’re here, and the next you’re gone. I met Sgt. Conrad when he first got here in 2008, and he was just a (private first class). He was a real go-getter. Very competitive. He’d do whatever he could to motivate other soldiers.”
Tears rolled down Smith’s face as he struggled for the words to describe his friend, his loss. But Smith was not alone. Spc. Justin Uno, also with the 385th MP’s SRT, remembered Conrad as a friend whose combat death was a shock.
“He was probably there a month and a week,” Uno said. “We were in the field training. The (rear detachment commander) called us all together and told us we had just lost two guys. When he said their names, I couldn’t believe it.”
Uno paused to contain his emotions then revealed the special camaraderie only understood by soldiers.
“I’d take his place right now if I could,” he said, swallowing hard as he spoke. “(That way) he could be back with his boy.”
Uno was referring to Conrad’s infant son Bentley, who was at the ceremony with his mom Holly, Conrad’s father Timothy Conrad, Sr. and other family members who took turns carrying him in their arms while Holly responded to well-wishers.
Born’s widow Megan was there as well, along with her mother Elizabeth Craft, her husband’s wheelchair-bound father Craig Born and other family members and close friends.
“Ninety-nine percent of Americans take one day out of each year to remember those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice,” Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commanding general of the 3rd ID and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, told those gathered for the ceremony. “Of course, I’m talking about Memorial Day. (However), we who serve remember our fallen comrades every day.”
Abrams said the soldiers memorialized at Warriors Walk represent less than 1 percent of Americans who swore to defend the nation with their lives. He noted there have been numerous fallen heroes in numerous wars. The biggest difference between the fallen of earlier wars, he said, was that today’s persistent conflict is being fought by an all-volunteer force.
Every second of every day, they watch each other’s back, he said.
“We should not dwell on how these men died but on how they lived,” he said. “As of today, there are 441 living monuments to our fallen heroes … Warriors Walk ensures no one will ever forget.”
Following Abrams’ remarks, 3rd ID Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson lead the presentation ceremony. Staff Sgt. Kevin Goodrow and Sgt. Jose Ruizrodriguez stepped forward, stooped down and removed the ACU cloth with each soldier’s rank and name tag, uncovering the monument at the foot of the Eastern Redbud.
As family members and friends crowded around their soldier’s tree, hugging and crying on each other’s shoulders, it became apparent to everyone there that the soldier is not the only one who understands the cost of freedom. Spouses, parents and siblings understand the cost of freedom as well.