By Alun Thomas, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion - PhoenixMay 31, 2017
ANTHEM, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Recruiting Battalion honored fallen service members as part of the Anthem Memorial Day Ceremony, May 29, Veterans Memorial, Anthem, Arizona.
Hundreds of people attended the ceremony on a warm morning, as they paid tribute to those who gave their lives to their nation in various conflicts dating back almost 241 years.
Guest speaker at the ceremony was Lt. Col. David Clukey, commander, Phoenix. Rec. Bn., who spoke about two Special Forces officers who lost their lives as part of the War on Terror, Capt. Andrew Keel and Capt. Jason Jones.
In paying tribute to Keel, Clukey said he was a fearless and dynamic warrior, who proved himself as a leader in Afghanistan.
"(Keel) had just completed two years of rigorous training to earn his green beret at the Special Forces Qualification Course, and left his fiancée behind to join the battalion forward in Afghanistan," Clukey said. "Here, he worked in the battalion's operations center to gain experience as he anxiously awaited his opportunity to command a Special Forces team."
Keel's opportunity arose in November 2012 when his Operational Detachment lost its team leader to a roadside bomb, putting him in charge.
"Three months after he took command of his Team, on March 11, 2013, (Keel), his team, and local Afghan leaders and police were huddled in front of their staged vehicle convoy inside the secure walls of the team's compound to conduct final preparations for a pending mission," Clukey said. "It was during this assembly that an insurgent dressed in an Afghan Police uniform, subtlety climbed into the bed of one of the staged pick-up trucks and opened fire on the group at close range with a vehicle mounted machine gun. Although the assailant was quickly dispatched, two US service members were killed, eight were wounded, and dozens of Afghans were killed and wounded."
Tragically Keel was one of the two service members killed.
"In the short time (Keel) led his team, his influence and enthusiasm were palpable. His loss brought the battalion to its knees," he said. "He embodied everything we look for in a Special Forces detachment commander, and most importantly he brought hope, cohesion and life, that galvanized a wounded team during a critical time when they needed it the most."
Clukey then spoke about Jones, whose 12-man team was responsible for training, advising, and assisting, a battalion of Afghan commandos in 2014.
"Part of the team's responsibilities was to accompany the commandos on operations to assist them as they conducted missions into extremely dangerous and contested areas," he continued. "Generally these areas were either controlled or highly influenced by insurgent groups including the Taliban."
Clukey said Jones struggled at first, but soon won the respect of his senior noncommissioned officers, becoming one of the best team leaders in the battalion.
"His confidence, poise and clarity when reporting and leading operations in the most intense situations were second to none," Clukey added. "His team quickly developed a reputation for their excellence and their ability to accomplish the mission, no matter the challenge or complexity."
On June 2, 2014, Jones led his team into an austere and highly contested district close to the border of eastern Afghanistan. This was an area now claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) but historically used as a key transit point for ancient smuggling routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clukey said.
"Captain Jones, his team and the commandos they advised were there to liberate the people in the district from oppression, by bringing security and stability to the area,' he said. "Their effort would provide the force necessary to enable the Afghan government to pursue unassisted efforts to re-establish sovereignty of the critical district."
On this mission, like others before, Jason and his team did everything right, Clukey continued.
"They advised the commandos and drove the insurgents from the area, and successfully reclaimed the district center for the Government of Afghanistan through a symbolic gesture of overwhelming force and incredible synchronization."
However, in the military we say the enemy always has a vote, Clukey said.
"Ultimately Captain Jones' young life was claimed by an insurgent indirect fire projectile fired indiscriminately from well outside the security perimeter established by the commandos," he said. "As he was concluding his engagement with local Afghan leaders within the relative security of district center compound, the round impacted and exploded through the wall behind him."
"He is survived by his beautiful wife Amy and they would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary the month of his death. To me, his loss was the complete embodiment of potential lost. I saw in him a young man who struggled and overcame incredible adversity to become exceptional. He and his team did everything right, yet the enemy still had a vote."
Keel and Jones are but two examples of the over 1.3 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardians, who made the ultimate sacrifice in our country's conflicts and wars, either in direct combat or other enabling our freedoms for 241 years, he added.
"It's what has always made America the beacon of hope and freedom that it is -- the generations of brave and courageous warriors who dedicate themselves to the defense of the United States and that my friends, is why we have Memorial Day," Clukey concluded.