FORT HOOD, Texas -- Thousands in this sprawling Central Texas post paused for a solemn memorial held for nine fallen warriors June 16 during a service inside the Spirit of Fort Hood Chapel.
Eight Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and one cadet from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, were the victims of flash flood waters while conducting convoy operations June 2 on Fort Hood.
"Today, we honor and pay tribute to nine fallen comrades of the 1st Cav. Div.," said Maj. Gen. John 'J.T.' Thomson III, 1st Cav. Div. commanding general. "These exceptional cavalry troopers from Fox Forward Support Company … represent the best our nation has to offer."
Thomson added that as the community mourns the lives lost, "We also praise them for who they were, what they stood for and how they honorably served our nation.
"They were many things to many people -- sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and husbands, caring friends, trustworthy classmates and loyal comrades-in-arms," he said.
Central Texas and the Army family across the nation came together in the wake of the flood to support those in mourning and remember the lives of each victim. The venue for the service has a capacity of 1,500, which was not large enough to seat all those hoping to attend. To reach out to hundreds more, the ceremony was live-streamed to Howze Theater, the Phantom Warrior Center and several conference rooms within the chapel itself.
In addition to several thousand Fort Hood Soldiers, senior Army leaders also attended the event, including Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey.
During the memorial ceremony, several Soldiers gave tributes to their fallen comrades, including Capt. Andrew Garland, company commander, Co. F, 3-16 FA Regt.; 1st Lt. Johnnie Kaapuwai, Distribution Platoon leader, Co. F, 3-16 FA Regt.; and Sgt. Jordan Singh, ammunition ammo noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the Distribution Platoon.
Garland began his Soldier's tribute by announcing each of the fallen by name:
-- Staff Sgt. Miguel Colonvazquez
-- Spc. Yingming Sun
-- Spc. Christine Armstrong
-- Spc. Brandon Banner
-- Pfc. Zachery Fuller
-- Pfc. Isaac DeLeon
-- Pvt. Eddy Gates
-- Pvt. Tysheena James
-- Cadet Mitchell Winey.
"I have nothing but good memories of them," Garland said of his Soldiers. "These nine Soldiers shared the Army Values, but one value stood out among them -- personal courage.
"The personal courage to undertake the challenge of being a Soldier in today's Army," he continued. "They all made the decision to join the Army out of selfless service to their nation."
Sun, Garland said, was known for having a light and warm personality that radiated throughout the platoon and company, someone who always had a smile on his face.
"Sun used his technical knowledge to his advantage in helping his teammates accomplish the mission," Garland said. "He was dedicated to Fox Company by always being ready to train and deploy at a moment's notice."
Kaapuwai began with talking about James, a New Jersey-native with an accent Kaapuwai said the rest of them admired.
"She was so motivated to learn as much as she could," he said. "Especially from all of our NCOs in the platoon ... she never gave up."
Gates, Kaapuwai said, was unique from the very start.
"She will always be remembered as being the helping hand to her battle buddies in need," he said.
As for Fuller, Kaapuwai said he was a proud Soldier who came from a rich military background.
"He loved being a part of something bigger than himself," Kaapuwai said. "He truly was an athlete and a scholar who had big dreams of becoming an officer."
Winey, who was assigned to Co. F during West Point's annual Cadet Troop Leadership Training, was described by Kaapuwai as being immediately ready to get his hands dirty.
"During the short time Mitch was assigned to us, I came to admire him very much for his aspirations to become a leader," the lieutenant said. "I could tell he would go far because of his interactions with the Soldiers and his enthusiasm to learn."
A separate memorial was held June 9, a week before this event, allowing Winey's cadet brothers-and sisters-in-arms, who were also attending Cadet Troop Leadership Training at Fort Hood, to be able to attend. The cadets departed Fort Hood June 11 for New York.
Singh took over for the remaining Soldier tributes beginning with Colonvazquez, saying he was the type of leader who always had a plan.
"He was an NCO who was always on the move, and always ready to train and lead Soldiers," Singh said. "He let us figure out our own solutions to our own problems, but was there for guidance.
"Your leadership will never be forgotten," Singh said. "I'll keep it with me no matter where I go in the Army."
Moving on to Armstrong, Singh said she was one of the hardest-working people he knew, and the one person in the platoon they could all count on to lift spirits.
"It didn't matter the task, or the time," he said. "Armstrong was the type to give you her all, even if she did not have anything left."
DeLeon, Singh said, is someone who could not be easily forgotten.
"He never had a problem doing work, he was not afraid to get started," Singh said. "DeLeon was always the first to jump into whatever we needed done and I knew I could count on him to put out information and relay the messages as soon as possible."
Singh said Banner was known by more than a few Soldiers as a very close battle buddy and a friend.
"He was quiet when we first met him, but once he got to know us, he opened up," Singh said. "He knew he was destined to be great -- he had a determination to overcome anything that stood in his way, which exceeded many in our platoon."
After the benediction by Capt. Anthony Turpin, 3-16 FA Regt. chaplain, a solemn final roll call was conducted, with nine names now missing an answer within the Rolling Thunder's formation. A traditional three-round volley was fired by a rifle team honoring the fallen. Taps followed shortly after, before hundreds of family members and loved ones walked up to the nine Soldiers' Crosses to quietly and privately pay their respects to the fallen warriors.
"All nine of these Soldiers had the fortitude and endurance to accept and conquer the challenges the Army gave them each and every day," Garland said. "They never gave up.
"In closing, to honor their memories," he added. "I am encouraging you all to embrace that concept: as we move forward, inspire yourselves with their memories and dedication to our unit and our nation. We will never give up."