FORT RILEY, Kan. -- From a sergeant calling out names of Soldiers who will never respond, to blasts from a firing detail's weapons, to the haunting notes of taps from a bugler, the 1st Infantry Division has seen afternoons like Thursday's before.
The gut-wrenching sounds don't cut through the silence as often as they did in 2004 or 2007 at Fort Riley, but the Jan. 9 memorial ceremony at Morris Hill Chapel was a reminder that "Big Red One" Soldiers continue to stand in harm's way. It was also a reminder that, regardless of the years engaged in battle or the proximity to mission completion, loss of life rocks a community.
About 700 gathered at multiple locations across the post to honor the sacrifices of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman, Sgt. 1st Class Omar Forde, Sgt. Peter Bohler and Spc. Terry Gordon. The men died Dec. 17 in southern Afghanistan when their Black Hawk crashed.
Billings, Silverman and Bohler were assigned to Company B, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. Forde was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company; Gordon to Company E, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment.
The brigade, which is largely still serving in Afghanistan, hosted a memorial ceremony Dec. 21 at Kandahar Airfield for Soldiers there.
"Every single Soldier we lose, particularly in combat, hits us very hard -- most often personally," Lt. Col. Matthew Weinshel, commander of 1st Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., said during the memorial. "We worked, celebrated, labored, supported, shared and led with each of these great patriots, both in training and in combat. We shared stories, hopes and goals for our individual and collective futures. Each of these Soldiers knew full well the risks they assumed, but they loved their mission and each other."
Billings and Silverman piloted the aircraft, Silverman receiving his coveted pilot-in-command status just days before. Billings served as an animal-care specialist for 10 years before attending flight school. Bohler, the son of a retired Soldier, was the Black Hawk's crew chief. Gordon was a generator mechanic by trade, but jumped at the opportunity to serve as a door gunner, Weinshel said after the ceremony. Forde was an electronic warfare specialist and the cornerstone in his company's chaotic operations section, Capt. Erin Fox of 3rd AHB, 1st Avn. Regt., said during the ceremony. He was aboard the aircraft "helping us attack the enemy's network," Col. Matthew Lewis, 1st CAB commander, wrote in comments delivered by Weinshel.
"Every man that was on board that helicopter loved what they did," Weinshel said after the ceremony, "they loved flying. And it's important to remember that these are volunteers. And they do love what they do, but they volunteered multiple times to be in the position in which they found themselves."
Solders from the 1st CAB talked about their fallen friends during the ceremony, sharing everything from words of condolence to funny stories.
Billings was an outstanding leader, a knowledgeable mentor and loyal friend, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Frank Kirby of 3rd AHB, 1st Avn. Regt., said. No task was too small or too large for Silverman, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Alison Rusine, 3rd AHB, 1st Avn. Regt., said. Most importantly, he did it all with graciousness and good humor, she added. Forde always had a calm and steady presence, Fox said. "The entire shop was seemingly built around him," she added.
Bohler was an important, lively, energetic soul who graced the presence of those he was around, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shawn Ferris, 3rd AHB, 1st Avn. Regt., said. Bohler will rest peacefully, awaiting the final show time and flight into heaven, Ferris added. "For he was closer to God that day flying around that mountain than anyone else."
Spc. Rosario Paredes of 1st Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., considered Gordon a dear friend who could always bring a smile to everyone's face regardless of the situation.
Billings, Silverman, Forde, Bohler and Gordon were great guys, Capt. Kevin Daul, a 1st CAB chaplain, said.
"Think about something positively tremendous about them and share it. Do you have that thought yet? Grasp onto that good thought and hold it in your mind. Write it down. Find a remarkable photo and post it. Share your most precious memories of these great men with other people."
Daul encouraged people to treasure the genuine relationships they had with the five Soldiers. Express the memorable joys and laughter, and picture and repeat those many times of happiness and jubilation, he added.
"Recount and affirm the admirable points of their lives and share those moments with other friends, their children, wives, parents and siblings," Daul said.
Families of each of the five fallen Soldiers attended the Jan. 9 memorial at Fort Riley.
"It is to these Family members that we owe our gratitude," Weinshel said. "Thank you for raising, supporting and nurturing these great patriots. Your influence, love, care and concern produced these men, willing to sacrifice for something far greater than themselves."
At the front of the chapel, each fallen Soldier was represented by his photo, a pair of boots, dog tags and a helmet. Flight helmets rested on four of the weapons.
Loved ones approached the memorial display, Family by Family, after the ceremony. Music from a nearby piano was occasionally accompanied by clinking as mourners reached out to touch the dog tags.
Retired 1st Sgt. Peter A. Bohler stood by his wife and children and rendered a slow, steady final salute to his son. A former military policeman in the 82nd Airborne Division, the only thing to distinguish him from the Soldiers who filled the chapel were his bloused boots. First Sgt. Bohler placed his Civil Air Patrol ID between his son's tan boots before putting his arms around his Family and walking them out of the sanctuary.
Billings, 34, of Heavener, Okla., is survived by his wife. Silverman, 35, of Scottsdale, Ariz., is survived by his wife. Forde, 28, of Marietta, Ga., is survived by his wife and two sons. Bohler, 29, of Willow Spring, N.C., is survived by his father and mother. Gordon is survived by his parents.