A Place of Peace: Remembrance Trail pays tribute to fallen Night Stalkers
June 2, 2014
- "Yes, it hurts. The pain will always be there. [The Remembrance Trail is] a way for me to come here and reflect and also to celebrate his life. To have that moment in private is a healing." - Jazlyn Redd, daughter of fallen 160th SOAR Soldier Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven B. Redd
- "It's a beautiful trail. It's a beautiful idea. For me, as a Gold Star son, it's a beautiful reminder of we're cared for, we're loved and their sacrifice is not in vain. That's something to keep me proud." - Kyle Anderson, son of fallen 160th SOAR Soldier Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael F. Anderson
- "Maybe we can reshape and redefine what a memorial is. This memorial could stretch across the United States. It could be a mile here; a mile there. It could be 120 miles long … It could be on post; it could be off post." - Sergeant 1st Class Tom Wegner, 160th SOAR
FORT CAMPBELL, KY. -- As Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead, Jazlyn Redd glided her index finger lightly over her father's name engraved on a plaque and posted on a young elm tree.
The 22-year-old spent a few precious moments in silence looking at the letters that spelled, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven B. Redd.
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Soldier was 37 when he died Aug. 8, 2011, after his AH-6M Little Bird helicopter crashed at a live-fire range at Fort Benning, Ga., during a training mission.
"A lot of people remember my dad as being intense -- an intense dude, very aggressive into his work," Jazlyn said. "But, I have those memories of him laughing and us having fun together all the time."
Those memories came flooding back as Jazlyn walked the new Remembrance Trail, located in a wooded area just outside the 160th SOAR compound at Fort Campbell.
"Yes, it hurts. The pain will always be there," she said. "[The Remembrance Trail is] a way for me to come here and reflect and also to celebrate his life. To have that moment in private is a healing."
Sergeant 1st Class Tom Wegner, 160th SOAR, designed the mile-long Remembrance Trail, which features posted plaques with names of 94 fallen Night Stalkers.
Having known several of the fallen, the idea for the Remembrance Trail developed during his daily runs along the wooded area of post.
"I thought it would be great to put a trail out here where I could go and reflect …," Wegner said. "I thought it would be even better to put the names of the fallen Night Stalkers out there so that no one forgets -- so that we remember the names."
Armed only with a machete, Wegner spent nearly 17 months of his free time chopping down weeds and brush to carve out the natural pathway through trees, over hills and beside a creek.
"In December 2012, I started at the far end of the trail and just started cutting with a machete …," he said, smiling. "I didn't realize there were thicker portions of the woods, but … I kept going and I got help along the way."
To put the finishing touches on the trail, Wegner reached out to his fellow Soldiers, like Staff Sgt. Richard Anderson, F Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR.
"He gave me the opportunity to apply myself to it," the staff sergeant said. "He came up with a couple of ideas … I kind of built onto those things and actually put hammer to nail. With help from a couple of friends, I had two bridges built and we put in some stairs … leveled off some parts of the trail to make it easier for people to run on. We put in some entry and exit points with signs. We actually named each entry and exit point."
Anderson knew seven of the fallen Night Stalkers and was humbled that Wegner gave him the opportunity to help out with the trail landscaping.
"I was just motivated by the idea," he said. "I knew the same exact people he knew [who died]. They were really dear friends of mine. Really close friends. It broke my heart to see their Families go through that loss … There's things out here that help the healing process. It brings a smile to my heart."
The Remembrance Trail was formally dedicated May 20 with Wegner, Anderson and Gold Star Family members -- relatives of the fallen Soldiers -- in attendance.
"We've got a long tradition in the 160th of remembering our fallen," said Col. John Evans Jr., 160th SOAR commander. "… Sgt. 1st Class Tom Wegner took on this labor of love really to give a place for contemplation and solitude for our Soldiers and guests and Families of our fallen to come and think about the people we've lost."
Jazlyn and other Gold Star Family members placed rocks at the base of their loved one's tree. On some of the rocks were painted the letters NSDQ -- an acronym for "Night Stalkers Don't Quit," the regiment motto. Others had Black Hawk helicopters drawn on the stones and personal handwritten messages.
"As they place the rock on the ground, it's kind of taking the load off of them -- that weight that they carry with them after losing a loved one," Jazlyn said. "It's very healing for them."
For Gold Star son Kyle Anderson, the Remembrance Trail offered him a place of peace.
"It's a great place to come and just think and be alone with the spirit of all of the fallen fathers, sons, husbands and brothers here who have died to keep us free and keep us safe," he said.
Kyle is the son of fallen Night Stalker Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael F. Anderson, who died Feb. 21, 1991, while serving as the flight lead of an MH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during Operation Desert Storm in Southwest Asia. The Soldier received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his extraordinary heroism on that day.
"I was 9 months old. I'm 24 now and a proud Night Stalker son," Kyle said. "… It never gets easier. It never gets OK. It never gets better. But things like this [Remembrance Trail] make it bearable ..."
Other Family members have placed the dog tags of their fallen loved ones onto one of the trail bridges. A variety of other memorials have also been added to the trail, Wegner said. There are some guidelines to follow before adding a memorial to the trail. Anyone interested in the trail should contact the 160th SOAR Public Affairs Office at (270) 412-8108.
"I think everybody in this unit has thought at some point that they might not come back, but they still went willingly," Wegner said. "I have a lot of respect [for these fallen Soldiers]. I think it's very important that we don't forget them. I thought that it would mean a lot to the Family members."
Although he believes his work is complete, Wegner hopes that the Remembrance Trail doesn't stop at the 160th.
"Maybe we can reshape and redefine what a memorial is," he said. "This memorial could stretch across the United States. It could be a mile here; a mile there. It could be 120 miles long … It could be on post; it could be off post."
Wegner and Staff Sgt. Anderson each said they hope that Soldiers, Gold Star Family members and other visitors stop by the Remembrance Trail and take time to relax and reflect.
"I hope they enjoy walking through it as much as I enjoyed building it," Anderson said. "It's something that's going to change every year, so I hope they keep coming back."
Kyle, who has moved away from the Fort Campbell area, said he plans to return to the Remembrance Trail.
"It's a beautiful trail. It's a beautiful idea," he said. "For me, as a Gold Star son, it's a beautiful reminder of we're cared for, we're loved and their sacrifice is not in vain. That's something to keep me proud."