Remembering her brother in Marez
May 20, 2009
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - She fidgeted with her black bracelet showing a black and white portrait of a man wearing dark sunglasses inscribed with a date and some words. Underneath her uniform, she wears a cross concealing within it, a vial of ashes. She smiled as she said, "I am a walking memorial of my brother."
Capt. Linda A. Bass, a support operations resource plans officer for the 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), began her deployment hoping to visit Forward Operating Base Marez; where a street was named after her little brother, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Henkes, who died in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Sept. 2006.
"He had just been promoted ... and this was his first time being a platoon sergeant, a "platoon daddy" as he liked to call it, and he was very excited about it," Bass said.
Henkes was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Inf. Division, Fort Lewis, Wash., when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations.
Approximately a month later, Henkes' previous commander e-mailed Bass to tell her a road had been named in her brother's honor. He also included a photo of the sign.
"I told my dad I'm going to see that sign and going to take a picture in front of it," said Bass, a Bessemer, Ala., native. "I didn't know it would actually happen."
Bass spoke with the support operations officer for the 3d ESC, Col. Cheri A. Provancha, about her wishes to travel to FOB Marez. Provancha knew the commanding general of the 3d ESC Brig. Gen. Michael J. Lally was going on a trip to FOB Marez; she requested Bass accompany him. Lally agreed.
"I was very excited about that," said Provancha, a San Diego, Calif., native. "The fact that she was able to go up there and get some closure is pretty important."
"I was just amazed and gratified by their support and their willingness to do that for me, especially since I had just gotten here," Bass said.
Bass flew by helicopter to Marez with Lally. While riding to the tactical operations center, Bass saw her brother's road sign. She had a restless night waiting to find it again in the morning.
The next day Bass traveled around the base with her own driver. With his help they found two street signs with her brother's name and stumbled upon a third. Bass laid a charm in the shape of a shield with the verse Joshua 1:9 inscribed on the back at the base of one of the signs. The verse is, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Bass, armed with photos of her brother on FOB Marez, visited more sights on the post and took photos to match the ones her brother took three years ago.
Her stops included a barrier where her brother's unit's art was displayed and the trauma room where he spent his last moments. She made a stop at the coffee shop on base thinking if it was there in 2006, it would have been one of the places he visited. "He was a coffee snob," Bass laughed.
Before leaving FOB Marez, Bass was given one of the street signs with "HENKES Ln." painted in bold, white letters slightly dusted by the weather of Iraq.
"Not many people who have lost their loved ones here can say that they've had an opportunity to walk where he walked and be where he last lived," Bass said. "The fact that I get to bring a little piece of that home to share with my family is amazing to me."