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Army names Arizona facility for Orange County soldier killed in Afghanistan

Michelle Bannar touches the memorial to her husband at the training venue at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. / RANDY HOEFT / YUMA (ARIZ.) SUN

Michelle Bannar touches the memorial to her husband at the training venue at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. / RANDY HOEFT / YUMA (ARIZ.) SUN

Hundreds of George Bannar Jr.’s friends, relatives and fellow soldiers gathered at Locust Grove Elementary School in September to remember a man who “lived life to the fullest.”

The funeral for the 37-year-old Orange County High School graduate and Army special forces soldier who died Aug. 20 in Afghanistan, was not his final tribute.

In January, another crowd gathered at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona to dedicate the Master Sgt. George Bannar Jr. Vertical Wind Tunnel, named in his honor, with his wife, Michelle, and mother, Sheila Long, looking on.

Bannar, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Military Freefall School at Yuma Proving Ground from 2009 to 2012.

Vertical wind tunnels simulate free fall during parachute jumps, one of many types of intensive training special forces soldiers receive.

The wind tunnel—the largest one in the world, accommodating eight jumpers at once—took about two years to build and cost nearly $10 million.

In a Jan. 24 article in the Yuma Sun, Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of the Army Special Operations Command, praised Bannar and the training venue that will carry on his name.

“He was clearly a man of extraordinary talents. Even among his own special forces brothers he was a standout,” Cleveland told the newspaper.

And of the site, “For the foreseeable future, our nation will ask extraordinary things of our special operators. The training they receive here … will ensure they are ready. I can think of no finer memorial to a warrior like him than one that impacts every special operator who comes after him.”

Bannar attended Spotsylvania schools and was a 1993 graduate of Orange County High. He trained as a medic after joining the Army, qualified for airborne duty, and later, special forces. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. On his fifth deployment to Afghanistan, he died after being wounded in an attack on his unit in Wardak Province.

According to a report by KYMA–TV in Yuma, his wife, Michelle, got a chance to try out the wind tunnel’s 175-mph winds. She said afterward, “I will always say, ‘George, my darling husband, you now know how much you’re loved.’ And I don’t think he ever realized that.”

Sheila Long said in an interview last week that her son’s brothers in arms, “had gotten together within 24 hours of his passing and wanted to do some type of tribute.”

They raised some money, and with help from a trust fund for Green Berets, secured enough for a memorial stone in honor of Bannar.

“Then they wanted to do more than that,” she said: Name the state-of-the art wind tunnel after him.

A process that normally takes about two years was accomplished in a matter of weeks. The memorial stone sits outside the building.

“We knew how wonderful he was. He didn’t know how much he was loved and admired by everybody else. I knew he was a special kid.”

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

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