Soldier honors brother with service
August 8, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- For most Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, when they passed the reviewing stand at Hilton Field Aug. 1 to graduate from Basic Combat Training, it marked the end of a physical and emotional 10-week journey. For Pvt. Ashley Chase it was the end of a journey that began 2-1/2 years earlier, one born out of heartache.
"I know that I was making him proud. I was honoring him," Chase said of her older brother Jordan who started BCT here in January 2011.
He never made it to his graduation day. Six weeks into his training, Jordan was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. He passed away several weeks later in a Columbia hospital room.
"We got a call On Valentine's Day that he was in ICU and not doing so well, so my husband and I came down and stayed with him in the hospital. The following Sunday he passed," said Rhonda Tilley, Ashley and Jordan's mother.
Jordan's battalion commander at the time, then Lt. Col. Bryan Hernandez (now Col. Hernandez and the 165th Infantry Brigade commander), flew to Maine for Jordan's memorial service, and then back again in the spring for his funeral.
"We really reached out to the family throughout Jordan's ordeal. His fight in the hospital, the whole battalion -- the company commander, the drill sergeants, everybody -- really wrapped themselves around the family when they were here at Fort Jackson," Hernandez recalled.
"Then when we went up to Maine for the memorial service we sent everyone up there as well to represent Fort Jackson. We went to help tell the story of who Jordan was, what he was going through in basic training," he said. "We went back up in April after the ground had thawed as well. I handed the flag to his dad, his mother, his brothers and sisters, I handed the flag to Ashley."
It was during those moments that a bond started to form -- a bond of trust that grew stronger over time.
"We've kept in contact since Jordan's death," Tilley said. "He (Col. Hernandez) has just been a source of outstanding support for us, it's just amazing. I couldn't ask for anything better."
That bond would serve as a source of strength when Ashley decided to follow in her brother's footsteps and signed up to become a Soldier in the Maine National Guard.
"I was a nervous wreck," Tilley said. "I had already lost one child, and didn't really want to risk losing another, but on the other hand I was very proud of her. I commended her for why she was doing it and what she was aiming for, but it wasn't easy."
"It was something that I needed to get over and overcome," Chase said.
Upon learning the news that Ashley would receive her basic training at Fort Jackson, Tilley sent a text message to Hernandez (who was at Fort Bragg, N.C. at the time, but slated to return here) asking him if he could keep a watchful eye on her.
It was a request that Hernandez was happy to fulfill. It also instilled in him the importance of the trust that had been forged out of tragedy.
"For a family that has lost a loved one to have the faith in the institution to let their daughter, now their daughter, join the Army and come to Fort Jackson really sends a signal that out of tragedy can spawn goodness," he said. "We owe that to the American people every single day. It's critical. We owe it to them to show that we can be a trusted organization with the lives of their loved ones."
Hernandez kept the family updated throughout Ashley's training.
"They would call me and let me know how she was doing," Tilley said. "They put me at ease; they wanted me to be relaxed with having her here."
As he watched Ashley graduate and then reunited with the Chase and Tilley families, Hernandez said he felt as if things had come full circle.
"Last time I was on bent knees in the snow in Maine handing them a flag at Jordan's funeral," Hernandez said. "This time I could hand their daughter the coin and congratulate her for a job well done and hug the parents and tell them how proud we were as well and let them know we are still there for whatever she needs as she continues her service.
"We could all join in the thought that Jordan's joining in watching from above, probably smiling down, and bring some type of light to their darkness."
As for Ashley, when asked what she would like to tell Jordan if she had the chance, she replied with a bit of a chuckle as a tear ran down her cheek, "I miss his tall a**. But I'm proud of him for doing what he wanted to do."