Fraser Award reflects integrity, ingenuity of a fallen Army Engineer
April 6, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 6, 2011) -- "I'm not exaggerating, not even a little bit when I say that participating in this particular presentation is among the greatest honors in my professional military career," began Col. Stephen Ressler, West Point Civil and Mechanical Engineering professor and department head, speaking at the 2011 Engineer Branch Send-Off Dinner on March 29.
The first David M. Fraser Award for Engineering Excellence was just presented to Class of 2011 Cadet Erin Anthony, and Ressler-a former faculty advisor to Cadet Fraser who graduated with the Class of 2004, had a few words to share. Ressler addressed a room of more than 200 West Point cadets, faculty and invited guests representing the Engineer Regiment community.
"In making these remarks I have but one simple goal-to enlist all of you in helping me fulfill a vow I made on a very dark day in November 2006 when I learned that Lt. David Fraser had been killed by an IED while leading route-clearing patrols in Baghdad. On that day I vowed to never forget; to never forget this extraordinary young man who was my student, but who also somehow managed to become my teacher too."
Fraser initiated an independent study project his final year at West Point with fellow cross country teammate Seth Chappell to build a pedestrian bridge near the West Point Youth Center.
"The bridge was Dave's personal creative vision," Ressler said. "It was he who developed the design concept; it was he who decided to use those beautiful glue-laminated timber arches, and it was he who took on the task of convincing the managers at Youth Services that they needed to find a way to pay for those custom-made glue-laminated timber arches because, as Dave argued, this bridge was going to be a work of art."
Fraser presented a persuasive argument and the funding was approved. But as the project progressed, things went awry. Delays with environmental permits, equipment and funding issues were among a series of obstacles.
"And then there was the infamous unmarked sewer line problem that we won't go into. And every step of the way, when it looked like the whole enterprise would fall through, it was Dave Fraser who stepped into the breach and found a way to keep the project moving forward. He was relentlessly optimistic and he matched that optimism with an almost superhuman work ethic," Ressler said.
Late in the construction phase, another incident would test Fraser's resolve.
"The concrete abutments were in place, the bridge had been installed on these abutments, and we were in the process of building those beautiful curved terraced concrete block retaining walls surrounding the abutments-another of Dave's personal inspirational design touches," Ressler recalled.
Fraser left the site to get some construction materials, leaving a large crew of volunteers to continue the work. Upon his return a few hours later, Fraser was shocked to see he had mistakenly set the first course of block about six inches too far back away from the shoreline.
"At this point I watched a short but very intense conversation between Dave and his very good friend Seth Chappell over on the far shore," Ressler said. "Seth argued that they should just leave the wall where it was. It didn't really look all that bad, it was perfectly functional and most importantly, if they had decided to disassemble the wall and move it six inches forward it almost certainly would have provoked a rebellion among their crew of very tired volunteer workers."
It was at that moment, Ressler said, that he learned a valuable lesson from his student.
"Well, at first Dave said nothing," Ressler said. "He just stood there, thinking. And I fully expected him to turn around and ask me for my opinion on the issue, but he never did; he never flinched. And then, with that unwavering look of determination in his eyes, he turned back to Seth and said those words that have stuck with me to this day, nearly seven years later. Dave said, 'It will only take three or four hours to move the wall. The bridge will be here forever.'"
Ressler asked the audience to remember those words, and by doing so, help honor his vow to always remember this extraordinary cadet, engineer officer and Soldier.
"So next time you face one of those impossible situations where there are no easy answers and you have to make the tough call...I ask you to remember those words from the extraordinary young man we honor this evening," Ressler said. "And when you've made the tough call, you will have honored Dave Fraser's service and his sacrifice in the most profound way possible-by emulating his unwavering commitment to doing the right thing, always."