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Taking stock of wars’ toll back here at home

With the Iraq War over and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, one way to fathom the toll in the Fredericksburg area is the number 34.

That’s how many—32 men and two women with ties to the area—have died in those conflicts.

Most were in their 20s, doing their duty on the battlefield. Some were civilians working for government contractors. A few were claimed by illness and tragic accidents in the war zones.

All are mourned and remembered by family and loved ones; many of their names are etched in stone at the city’s Our Fallen Heroes memorial at the intersection of Barton, Liberty and George streets.

David K. James, a Fredericksburg resident and retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, says people from the area have always answered the call to military service.

“Going overseas is part of it, and lives are lost because of it,” said James, who is compiling a history of the local National Guard and its roots in Colonial militia.

“Some of our finest don’t come home.”

Vic Mason, whose 20-year-old son, Army National Guard Sgt. Nicholas, “Nick” Mason, was killed in a mess-tent suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004, said the toll goes beyond the 34 killed in the war zones. It’s a loss shared by the community.

“It certainly weighs on families, friends,” neighbors and strangers “who have come out to support us in so many different ways. It’s kind of hard to put in words what it means,” said Mason, longtime clerk of the King George County Circuit Court.

Army Sgt. David Ruhren of Stafford County also was killed in the Iraq mess-tent bombing that left 22 dead.

Some area families have worked together to ensure their loved ones’ sacrifices won’t be forgotten.

For example, the Masons, and the Frazier family in Spotsylvania County, created the Some Gave All Foundation in 2007 to honor their sons: Nick Mason, and Marine Sgt. Joshua Frazier, 24, who was killed Feb. 6, 2007, by a sniper in Ramadi, Iraq.

The foundation raises money to help the wounded, and sponsors the annual Some Gave All memorial motorcycle rally.

Said Mason, “The other thing I’d like to keep out there is the after-affects of the soldiers that come back” alive, but with life-changing traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That’s one thing we need to do, to continue to support them.”

Among the first area residents to die in the Iraq war was 30-year-old David Parson. The Army staff sergeant was killed four months after U.S. troops entered the country. He was shot July 6, 2003, as his vehicle approached Baghdad. The father of three had married into the Belman family of Stafford.

The following year was especially deadly, with nine from the region killed.

On Feb. 19, 2004, Army 2nd Lt. Jeff Graham, 24, a 1998 graduate of Brooke Point High School was killed by a roadside bomb about 50 miles west of Baghdad.

A civilian medic died Nov. 2, 2004, during a battle at Abu Ghraib prison between Fallujah and Baghdad. Jeffery Serrett, 43, was a Caroline County native who lived in Spotsylvania.

By the beginning of 2007, the casualty list had grown to 19, and by then, included a soldier serving in Afghanistan.

Army Master Sgt. Michael Russell, 31, originally of Stafford, was killed on June 28, 2005, along with 15 others when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province.

By 2009 there were 25 names, among them, Army Cpl. Ryan Casey McGhee, 21, an Army Ranger from Spotsylvania, killed May 13, 2009, by small-arms fire in central Iraq.

Marine Sgt. Donald J. Lamar II, 23, a 2004 Stafford High School graduate, was killed May 12, 2010, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Morganne McBeth, 19, of Stafford, died July 2, 2010, after being stabbed by a fellow soldier at Al Asad air base in Iraq.

By the summer of last year, there were 33 names.

The most recent was added in August.

Army Master Sgt. George A. Bannar Jr., of Fort Bragg, N.C., and formerly of Orange County, died Aug. 20, 2013, when his special forces unit was attacked in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.

Across Virginia, more than 200 men and women have died since the 9/11 terrorist attacks; nationally, the number is 6,795, according to the website icasual ties.org.

In his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, President Obama said that 60,000 troops have come home from Afghanistan.

“Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over,” the president said.

About 38,000 U.S. troops are still there as work continues on a security agreement that could keep a contingent in Afghanistan after 2014.

It’s been two years since the last Guard soldiers from the Fredericksburg area returned from deployment. It included 20 Virginia Army National Guard soldiers from Bowling Green. Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Special Troops Battalion returned from Afghanistan in January 2012 after providing aerial reconnaissance support for the Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team Headquarters.

Prior to that, about 130 National Guard soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg Armory served in Iraq for four months in 2011, returning just before a Dec. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to leave. They were attached to Company D, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, and had been expected to be in Iraq a full year.

No area National Guard units are currently serving in Afghanistan.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

AS WAR ENDS, MILITARY PREPAREDNESS STILL A PRIORITY

As the war in Afghanistan ends, pre-deployment training for troops at military bases such as Fort A.P. Hill, has slowed as well.

But the 76,000-acre base, which straddles Caroline and Essex counties, still buzzes with helicopters, the boom of ordnance training, the rattle of machine guns and pop–pop of small arms. All Army units still have to complete training in basic soldier skills.

And the fort is preparing soldiers, other branches of the military and some government agencies for the next frontier in warfare with the recent opening of a $90 million Asymmetric Warfare Training Center to meet a growing threat of global insurgencies.

“Our mission is to train military forces—active, Reserve, primarily Army, but also Marines, Air Force and we do a little training for Navy SEALs,” fort spokesman Bob McElroy said in a recent interview.

“We’re here, really, for the warriors,” he said. “We can do anything they want.” For example, there are ranges for pistols and rifles, heavier weapons such as machine guns and mortars, artillery and aerial gunnery, and courses in marksmanship, patrolling and land navigation.

One week last fall, “we had the Delaware National Guard doing aerial gunnery from Blackhawks [helicopters].” A unit from Dover Air Force Base was practicing tactical landings.

Navy SEALs occasionally train in small boats along the Rappahannock River. The 3rd Special Forces group from Fort Bragg, N.C., has been using the fort in an ongoing effort to train the Afghan National Army.

“A lot of units come here for annual training; summer is the busiest time,” McElroy said. Most of the roughly 80,000 troops who trained at the fort last fiscal year—down from about 95,000 in 2010—came from bases along the East Coast.

Most come from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, McElroy said, with others from farther away.

For example, “We had a battalion from the Marine Corps Reserve out of Houston, and the 4th Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division” out of Fort Polk, La.

Troops leaving Afghanistan and heading to their home bases may mean more troops will be training in Virginia.

“At Fort Bragg, they tell us that training ranges are at a premium,” McElroy said. Soldiers stationed at the North Carolina fort “can come here. We’ve got the space and they can do it without having to compete with a bunch of other units.”

Last year’s sequester-related furloughs had an impact on training. With A.P. Hill staffers gone a day a week for six weeks, “we had to juggle schedules,” McElroy said, to accommodate training.

“[They] spend a lot of money to come here. We can’t say, ‘Sorry You can’t come.’”

About 200 civilians work on the installation; the base commander and sergeant major are the two permanent military personnel.

In October 2011, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal school opened on 2,700 acres west of U.S. 301. Non-commissioned officers from Fort Lee, near Petersburg, are bused to A.P. Hill for training.

The fort’s most recent addition is the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, managed by the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group out of Fort Meade, Md.

The “battle laboratory,” spread out over 300 acres, is devoted to helping troops survive, and finding quick solutions to ever-evolving global threats.

The region’s two other military installations—Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Naval Support Facility Dahlgren—also maintain busy training components.

For example, Quantico is a national hub of professional education for Marine officers and career enlisted personnel on 60,000 acres in Stafford, Fauquier and Prince William counties.

The Dahlgren Navy base in King George County is a major research and development complex with eight tenant commands, including the Aegis Training and Readiness Center, which provides instruction on an advanced shipboard weapons combat system.

—Rusty Dennen

ABOUT FORT A.P. HILL

Established in June 1941, Fort A.P. Hill encompasses about 76,000 acres in Caroline and Essex counties, and is one of the Army’s premier training venues.

During World War II, it was used as a maneuver area for 11 Army corps and three National Guard divisions. It was the staging area for Maj. Gen George Patton’s Task Force A, which invaded French Morocco. Later, it conducted field training for the Army’s Officer Candidate School.

During the? Korean War, it was a major staging area for units being sent to Europe, and it was used for officer training during the Vietnam War. It has been a training and mobilization site for units going to Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia–Herzegovina and Kosovo in the Balkans, and Afghanistan and Iraq.

The base is named for Confederate Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, who was mortally wounded in 1865 at Petersburg.

—U.S. Army

DEATHS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN

To date, at least 32 men and two women with ties to the Fredericksburg area have died in Iraq or Afghanistan since the war on terror began:

Army Master Sgt. George A. Bannar Jr., of Fort Bragg, N.C., and formerly of Orange County, was killed Aug. 20, 2013, when enemy forces attacked his unit in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. He was part of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.

Angel Roldan Jr., 62, an employee of DynCorp, was killed along with three other workers for the defense contractor in an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 16, 2013. The Stafford County resident had formerly served in Army Special Forces.

Marine Sgt. Sean T. Callahan, 23, of Warrenton, was killed in combat April 23, 2011, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Callahan was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Army Spc. Morganne McBeth, 19, of Stafford County, died July 2, 2010, after being stabbed by another soldier at Al Asad air base in Iraq.

Marine Cpl. Nicolas Parada–Rodriguez, 29, of Stafford County was killed May 16, 2010, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. He moved to Northern Virginia from El Salvador with his family when he was 5.

Marine Sgt. Donald J. Lamar II, 23, a 2004 Stafford High School graduate, was killed May 12, 2010, while supporting combat operations in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. David Shane Spicer, 33, of Montross, was killed July 13, 2009, outside Delhi, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mark E. Stratton, 39, was killed May 26, 2009, by an improvised explosive device near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Originally from Alabama, he moved his family to Stafford County when he was stationed at the Pentagon.

Army Cpl. Ryan Casey McGhee, 21, an Army Ranger from Spotsylvania County, was killed May 13, 2009,

by small-arms fire while conducting combat operations in central Iraq.

Army Capt. Torre Mallard, 27, whose father teaches JROTC at Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center, was killed March 10, 2008, in Balad Ruz, Iraq, by an improvised explosive device.

Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Hall, 24, whose family lives in Fredericksburg, was killed July 31, 2007, leading his infantry platoon in Chowkay Valley, Afghanistan.

Army Col. John Lockey, 44, of Fredericksburg, was killed July 6, 2007, in a noncombat-related incident.

Army Sgt. Dustin Perrott, 23, of Spotsylvania County, was killed June 21, 2007, when a bomb exploded near his vehicle in Miri, Afghanistan.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Stanley, 27, a native of Spotsylvania County, was killed March 5, 2007, when his unit tripped an IED in Samarra, Iraq.

Marine Sgt. Joshua Frazier, 24, of Spotsylvania County was killed Feb. 6, 2007, by a sniper in Ramadi, Iraq.

Army National Guard Col. Paul M. Kelly, 45, of Stafford County was killed Jan. 20, 2007, when his helicopter was shot down near Baghdad.

Army Pvt. Edwin Andino II, 23, of Culpeper, died Sept. 3, 2006, when the vehicle in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb.

Army Cpl. Adam Fargo, 22, a medic with relatives in Fredericksburg, was killed July 22, 2006, by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Marine Cpl. Brett Lee Lundstrom, a 2001 Brooke Point High School graduate, was killed Jan. 7, 2006,

by small-arms fire near Fallujah, Iraq.

Army National Guard Spc. Jeremy Hodge, 20, whose mother lives in Fredericksburg, was killed Oct. 10, 2005, when the convoy he was leading was hit by a bomb near Baghdad.

Army Master Sgt. Michael Russell, 31, originally of Stafford, was killed June 28, 2005, in Afghanistan with 15 other service members when their helicopter was shot down

by insurgents.

Marine Cpl. Christopher Weaver, 24, of Spotsylvania County was one of four Marine reservists killed in a Jan. 26, 2005, convoy ambush near Haditha, Iraq.

Army Sgt. Nicholas “Nick” Mason, 20, a National Guardsman from King George County, was one of 22 people killed in a Dec. 21, 2004, mess-tent suicide bombing near Mosul, Iraq.

Army Sgt. David Ruhren, 20, a National Guardsman from Stafford County, also was killed in the mess-tent suicide bombing.

Army Sgt. Jack Bryant Jr., of Dale City was killed in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, on Nov. 20, 2004, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military convoy.

Civilian medic Jeffery Serrett, a 43-year-old Caroline County native who lived in Spotsylvania, was shot and killed by an unidentified assailant Nov. 2, 2004, at Abu Ghraib prison between Baghdad and Fallujah.

He was working for Halliburton.

Marine Lance Cpl. Caleb Powers, 21, a former Fredericksburg-area resident, was killed by a sniper Aug. 17, 2004, in Ramadi, Iraq.

Army 2nd Lt. Leonard Cowherd III, 22, of Culpeper was killed by a sniper May 16, 2004, while on a mission near Karbala, Iraq.

Army Spc. Frank K. Rivers Jr., 23, of Woodbridge suffered heart failure during physical training April 14, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq.

Army 2nd Lt. Jeff Graham, 24, a 1998 graduate Brooke Point High School, was killed Feb. 19, 2004, about 50 miles west of Baghdad after a bomb exploded while he led his platoon on foot patrol.

Army Staff Sgt. Thomas D. Robbins, 27, a scout, was killed Feb. 9, 2004, near Mosul, Iraq, when confiscated Iraqi ammunition exploded while he and others were moving it. Robbins grew up in New York, but has relatives in the Fredericksburg area.

Army Regimental Sgt. Maj. Cornell W. Gilmore, 45, of North Stafford was killed Nov. 7, 2003, in a helicopter shot down over Tikrit, Iraq. He worked for the Judge Advocate General Corps at the Pentagon and was on a brief mission in Iraq.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sharon T. Swartworth, 43, of Alexandria, who spent weekends at a summer home at Lake Anna in Orange County, also worked for JAG and died with Gilmore.

Army Staff Sgt. David Parson, 30, was shot July 6, 2003, as his vehicle approached Baghdad. The father of three had married into the Belman family of Stafford.

—The Free Lance–Star archives, U.S. Department of Defense

 

 

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