UPDATED BELOW with video of CPL Ayers' ceremony from Fox News as well as video of CPT Myer's, SGT Denton's and SFC Dwzik's Ceremony and additional links added at end of post.
LOVE OF FELLOW MAN
CELEBRATION OF LIFE
AWARDS OF VALOR
This past weekend was about all of the above and so much more. It will be impossible for me to find words to fully describe the events. It will be equally as impossible for me to be able to describe the privilege of being able to sit back and watch the men of 2-503 and, more specifically of Chosen Company, interact with each other. I was privileged to sit for hours and listen to them remember all of their Fallen Brothers and to talk about the memories they have of them and about how much they miss them. When it came to the Awards of Valor for those who survived the Battle at Wanat EVERY SINGLE SOLDIER could have cared less about receiving an award. Why? Because they would rather their Brothers in Arms be here and because they were just "doing their jobs."
From the Columbus, GA ledger-enquirer:
“I’m excited and a little bit sad because of the guys that can’t be here,” Dzwik said. “But that’s also why this is important. It’s not, in my opinion, for me. It’s for my men. They fought very hard that day. They fought for each other, and I’m just glad to be here to represent them.”
According to Dzwik’s citation, the platoon sergeant directly engaged the enemy while also directing indirect fire. Additionally, Dzwik led reinforcements to a beleaguered Coalition Force Observation Post and then ensured that several casualties were evacuated.
Myer said his award will serve as a reminder of what he and his brothers in arms endured on the battlefield that day. At the time of the attack on Wanat, Myer was serving as company commander for C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
“I’d really say for all the guys I know that have gotten high level awards, the award itself doesn’t mean as much as what they’ve gone through, the people that they’ve been with as they went through it,” Myer said. “So it means more to me that there’s people here that were there with me that day.”
Denton was serving as a grenadier in C Company during the attack on Wanat, which is located in the Hindu Kush Mountains, adjacent to the Pakistan border. He said he was happy some of the guys from his old unit came out to Eubanks Field to witness his promotion from specialist to sergeant and the presentation of his award. Denton said the Silver Star is more for his fallen comrades.
“It’s more for the guys that didn’t come home,” he said. “It’s not just for me, it’s for everybody that was out there fighting that day.
“I didn’t want it,” Denton added. “I’m not going to lie. I was just doing my job just like everybody else.”
My pick for sweetest photo of the weekend below. CPT Myer's son Drew saluting as the National Anthem is played on Monday 30 March at the Airborne Walk at Fort Benning prior to the awards ceremony for CPT Myer, SGT Denton and SFC Dwzik
Most of us who were traveling in for the weekend's events arrived Saturday afternoon. Sky Soldiers flew in from WRAMC and drove in from Illinois, Florida, South Carolina and other parts of Georgia. There may have been others who traveled in but those are the ones I'm aware of. Saturday night COL Ostlund (former 173rd, 2-503 Battalion Commander during the deployment to Afghanistan and now Deputy Commander, 75th Ranger Regiment) and his wife, Heather, hosted a party at their house on Fort Benning. The rain FINALLY stopped in time for the party and a crowd of at least 50 showed up. Attendees included Vietnam Veterans of the 2-503, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of the 2-503, current members of the 2-503, Wounded Warriors from the recent Afghanistan deployment, Rangers, family and friends. The star of the show was COL Ostlund's 2 year old son Brenget. Regretfully I didn't take any photos that night.
For several hours everyone enjoyed the fellowship, told stories and remembered the Fallen. COL Ostlund gave a very touching speech about why everyone was there - to remember the Fallen and to reconnect. He reminded everyone that "Once a Sky Soldier, Always a Sky Soldier". He introduced us to Les Kapelka, a Vietnam Veteran of the 173rd, and his wife who had come from Eufaula, AL. Les is a member of VFW Post 5850 and Secretary-Treasurer of the VFW Southern Conference. It was such an honor to have them join the "younger" men and their families.
Around 21:00 several of the Soldiers, girlfriends and family members made their way back to the hotel where most of the out of towners where staying. A party ensued until around 0330 Sunday morning with about 30 or more people having a grand time. Rumor has it many others were at the Ostlund's until around the same time. What a night!
A few photos of the merriment at the hotel:
On Sunday 30 March 2009 everyone from the Fort Benning area traveled to Snellville, GA for the Silver Star Presentation and Celebration of Life Cermony for CPL Jonathan Ayers. We arrived to one of the greatest sights one could. The Patriot Guard Riders were standing in formation at the entrance to the Shiloh High School auditorium. There had to have been at least 100 great American Veterans and Patriots standing in two lines with American flags flying proudly in the breeze.
When this gentleman from the PRG was introducing CSM Meyers, COL Ostlund and CPT Myer (who was off camera) it was incredibly moving. At one point when he was thanking them and their Soldiers for doing what they do to protect this nation and our freedom he had to pause momentarily because of his emotion. That, my friends, is what these amazing Patriots (many of whom are Veterans) are all about. The Patriot Guard Riders do what the do so well and so respectfully at their own expense and on their own time. Definitely National Treasures in my book.
We made our way into the Auditorium and took our seats. Not long after that the Patriot Guard Riders entered the building and completely surrounded the auditorium as they stood with their flags. If you haven't seen a sight like this it's impossible to explain it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo of the entire auditorium. This is the best I could do from my seat:
There were around 50 Sky Soldiers in attendance in their Class A uniforms and a few others in civilian clothes due to either 1) being out of the Army now or 2) their Class A uniforms being in transit from their prior duty station and unavailable for them to wear. It was an impressive sight. The members of Chosen Company (5 of whom in attendance were at Wanat with CPL Ayers that fateful day 13 July 2008) were seated together on the front row center. All of the other Sky Soldiers and their spouses/signficant others were seated together on the front rows on the right of the auditorium. A true brotherhood.
COL Ostlund and CPT Myers both participated in the ceremony. Jim Hanson from Blackfive.net captured their remarks on video:
The ceremony was a true celebraton of CPL Ayers' life. In my opinion Brig Gen Joseph Schroedel "stole the show" with his many uplifting and humorous remarks about CPL Ayers and his family. CPL Ayers' mother, Suzanne; his father, Bill; and his brother Josh also shared many great remarks and stories with us. Please take the time to watch the video and listen to a little about CLP Ayers and those who served with him.
And I would be completely remise if I didn't mention the Shiloh High School Air Force Junior ROTC members. Their participation in the program was done with exceptional dignity, honor and precision. It was more than evident during the program that they has spent countless hours practicing all of their duties. A big HOOAH (sorry, don't know the Air Force one) for a job WELL DONE. CPL Ayers was a member of the Shiloh High School Junior ROTC program and was instrumental in their program receiving many awards and top honors during his tenure.
After Brig Gen Schroedel finished his remarks the members of 2-503 Chosen Company marched onto the stage to stand behind the family as CPL Ayers' family was awarded his Silver Star posthumously.
UPDATE: From Fox News:
Prior to leaving Snellville several of the Soldiers who had served with CPL Ayers (many during the Battle at Wanat) along with their family members went to pay their respects at CPL Ayers' grave. It was the first opportunity they had to do so since many had been Wounded and were in the hospital and others were either still in Afghanistan or redeploying back to Italy at the time of his funeral.
After the Celebration of CPL Ayers' life we traveled back to the Fort Benning area and relaxed in preparation for Monday's events. Here are a couple of photos of the relaxing time we had:
It is impossible to describe what it was like to witness 1SG Beeson and his men interacting that night. Heartwarming to say the least. They spent a lot of time remembering their Fallen Brothers. They also spent time reminding each other of some of the crazy things they had done and been through. I wish I had a dollar for every time 1SG Beeson shook his head and said, "I had no knowledge of that at the time and it's a good thing I didn't".
We were up bright and early on Monday morning to attend the Awards Ceremony for CPT Myer, SPC Denton (but not for long that day), and SFC Dwzik held at Fort Benning on the Airborne Walk. It was an absolutely beautiful morning. I credit Heather Ostlund for making the rain go away.
The ceremony began with SPC Michael Denton being promoted to SGT Denton
COL Ostlund made a few remarks about the Chosen Few and those being awarded Medals of Valor. He also recognized Medal of Honor Nominee SGT Kyle White (November 9, 2007 Ambush) and Distiguished Service Cross Nominee SGT Ryan Pitts (Battle of Wanat) who were in attendance.
Then the Commanding General of Fort Benning, Major Gen Michael Barbero made remarks:
CPT Myer, SGT Denton and SFC Dwzik were called forward to receive their awards presented to them by Major General Michael Barbero
CPT Myer and SGT Denton were presented the Silver Star for their actions at the Battle at Wanat. SFC Dwzik was presented the Bronze Star with V Device for his actions at the Battle of Wanat.
Jim Hanson from Blackfive captured the awards ceremony on video. Thanks Uncle Jimbo!
COL Ostlund shares incredible facts and information about the men of Chosen Company. I encourage you to watch this video.
I was quite shocked at the amount of media at the event. After the Awards were given each of the three men were approached by the media for interviews. I have a couple of photos of SGT Denton being interviewed but didn't capture any photos of CPT Myer or SFC Dwzik being interviewed.
And the "money" quote of the day from SGT Denton when the CNN reporter approached him for the THIRD time about an interview, "Didn't you say you were from CNN?", Her reply, "yes". SGT Denton, "I'm not interested." That's my guy! You see, CNN, if you hadn't been so nasty for so long to our military personnel to the point of, in my opinion, distrust, you might have had a shot at the interview. A real shame. SGT Denton is a stand up man and a stand up Soldier with amazing stories of heroism to tell about his Fallen Brothers and all those with whom he has served as well as what he endured. SGT Denton probably wouldn't want me to mention this in the post. He knows how proud I am of him anyway. This was just icing on the cake for me.
A few more photos after the ceremony:
I want to express my most sincere appreciation to both Major Gen Barbero and COL Ostlund as well as the members of their respective staffs for making the awards Ceremony on Monday a first class event. I also want to express my gratitude to MAJ Perry Jarmon, Dep Chief of Public Affiars, 1st Army and his staff for all they did to make CPL Ayers' ceremony first class. Without an enormous amount of work in a short amount of time by all of these people the events of this weekend would not have come together as they did.
The Battle at Wanat is a difficult memory for the families, friends and Brothers in Arms of the Fallen Heroes. I believe the events of the past few days have done such honor to the Fallen and I hope the events have helped a little more in the healing process of those who survived.
There are no words in the English language to convey how honored I am to have been able to attend these events and to spend time with these men, so many of whom have become great friends.
http://www.army.mil/ Vicenza Soldiers Honored For Bravery In Afghanistan
www.blackfive.net - Blog post #1
www.blackfive.net - Blog post #2 (with video)
www.blackfive.net - Blog post #3
www.thisainthell.us - Blog post
UPDATE: Print story from WLTZ 38 News
UPDATE: From 11Alive.com
UPDATE: Must scroll down to Four More 173rd Paratroopers Receive Awards for Actions During Battle of Wanat
UPDATE: Must scroll down to For Gallantry in Action