Spartan Brigade unveils memorial statue at Fort Drum's Memorial Park
June 26, 2012
To honor the 109 Spartan Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the last 10 years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division ("Spartans"), officially unveiled the Spartan Statue during a ceremony at Fort Drum's Memorial Park, May 30.
The statue stood shrouded by a black cloth atop a marble base on a path through the trees near the "Climb to Glory" statue across from Hays Hall. Spartan Soldiers past and present, 10th Mountain Division leaders, and dignitaries from the North Country sat silently as a military band played from within the tree line.
Crafting the idea for the statue started in 2005, shortly after the brigade's formation a year earlier, when the brigade's first commander originated plans for a monument built to honor the unit's fallen.
"On the [Brigade Combat Team's] first deployment to Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom VI and VII - our first brigade commander, now Maj. Gen. John Nicholson, committed the Spartan Brigade to building a monument for our fallen Soldiers," said Col. Patrick D. Frank, commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "Col. David Haight continued this focus, along with the tremendous efforts of our Spartan Association president, Jeff Long."
"As a former Spartan, I served in combat with some of you in this formation," said retired Lt. Col. Jeffrey Long, former 3BCT Executive Officer, during the unveiling ceremony. "Spartan warriors have chased terrorists over steep mountains and arid plains of Afghanistan and lured out insurgents in the urban landscapes of Iraq. They have done our nation proud."
"Today we remember and honor the brave Spartans who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Because of their sacrifice, we continue to enjoy the precious gift of freedom. One of the key tenants of the Spartan Association is to perpetuate the memory of war veterans and comfort their survivors. This memorial stands in their memory," continued Long.
Nearly 1,000 Soldiers from the brigade's six battalions participated in the ceremony, many from the same units as those Fallen Spartans who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Raising nearly $6,000 in funds for the statue, Spartan Soldiers ensured their fellow Soldiers would not be forgotten.
"At their core, the Spartan BCT Soldiers in formation believe in the enduring battlefield vow to never leave a fallen comrade," Col. Frank said. "Three separate life-cycles of 3BCT Soldiers have dedicated this memorial to honor the legacy of our Fallen Spartans."
The Soldiers stood in formation partially hidden by the trees, solemnly watching as a large wreath of flowers was laid at the monument's base that serves not only as a memorial to those no longer in their ranks, but also as a tribute to the sacrifices made by all of the Spartan Soldiers during the last decade. With the sun flickering through the leaves, the Division and Spartan command teams pulled away the monument's black cloth, revealing the gleaming figure of an ancient Greek warrior, spear in hand.
"It's a really important symbol for all of us to remember the sacrifices of our Soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Mark Milley, Commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum.
The names of the fallen Soldiers from all but the most recent deployment are engraved on the monument's marble base. The names of the remaining Soldiers from the brigade's latest deployment will be added at a later date in June.
"These are the Soldiers that defeated insurgents in the highly successful 'To the River' operation, pushing the Taliban out of their historic staging areas," Col. Frank said. "They are the American warriors that fought side by side with their Afghan partners and defeated the enemy in the battles of Nalgham, Siah Choy, Band-E-Timor and Killa Wal."
"Each of these Soldiers was more to us than infantryman, cavalry scouts or sappers; they were our brothers," Frank continued. "At no time was this more apparent then out on the battlefield as patrols from across Zhari and Maiwand Districts arrived at the helicopter pick-up zones to render a final salute. This Spartan Memorial now provides a similar place of honor; only now in the peaceful North Country far from Afghanistan, where 3BCT Soldiers can visit and reflect on the loss of our fellow Spartan Soldiers. The bonds of brotherhood that we will remember at this site are a lasting tribute to each of the fallen."
Col. Frank said that the 10th Mountain Division is the Army's most deployed unit over the past 10 years, often being one of the first units on ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The division has lost 295 Soldiers killed in combat operations, 109 of which were Spartan Soldiers. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team lost 38 Soldiers during its most recent combat deployment to Afghanistan.
"In the BCT's most recent operations we lost 38 brave Soldiers, defeating the Taliban on the toughest battlefield in Afghanistan," Col. Frank said. "The warrior spirit in each of these 38 heroes is reflected in several stories shared with me by their fellow Soldiers."
The brigade commander relayed the stories of six Fallen Soldiers, two of whom belonged to other units attached to Task Force Spartan during the deployment. Soldiers from the 3rd BCT are not the only ones honored by the memorial's unveiling, which will also serve as a location for all to honor the brigade's lost Soldiers.
He championed the Families of the Fallen -- Gold Star Families -- who shoulder a bigger burden with the loss of their loved ones in combat. Their sacrifices were just as noteworthy as those of their Soldiers.
"The Spartan BCT Gold Star Families have been profiles of courage for those of us in uniform, shouldering the burden of our combat operations and courageously supporting our demanding missions and this unit," Col. Frank said. "These Army families have had an honored role in our brigade's history and will not be forgotten. On this day, we remember that we live in a free nation because of the brave American Soldiers who have confronted our enemies. We all believe in a cause larger than our self - our Nation."