Gunfire rang across Fort Jackson as a lone trumpeter solemnly played "Taps" outside Daniel Circle Chapel Oct. 18. A salute team stood silent and still as the last of the song trailed off into the cool morning air.
Inside the chapel, more than 100 Soldiers from Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment quietly sat in pews as they gazed on a platform holding a ceremonial pair of boots with an inverted rifle behind them. An Army combat helmet rested on the buttstock of the rifle as a newly printed set of identification tags, which dangled from the Soldier's Cross, glinted in the sun streaked room. The company sat silently as they honored one of it's own, Pvt. Andrew Dante McLean.
"Private Andrew McLean. Private Andrew Dante McLean," shouted 1st Sgt. Justin C. Lee. No sound was heard after the ceremonial final roll call was made, another tradition of military memorial ceremonies.
McLean, an 18-year-old trainee, passed away Sept. 20 in his company area while preparing for physical training.
"I will always remember the day McLean came to me personally and asked, 'How do I get better at push-ups drill sergeant?'" said Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Cabrera, McLean's drill sergeant, as he spoke during the memorial. "I looked at him and thought to myself, 'Is this kid kidding me?' because of how athletic he looked. My response to him was to keep doing them and I will help you get there."
Cabrera, along with others from his battalion, spoke of McLean's character and the goals he documented in a short biography and journal he completed his first days in training. "One of McLean's goals was to leave Basic Combat Training a better version of himself," said Capt. Aaron Horwood, Company A commander.
While trainees meet and get to know their platoon mates during the training cycle, they are taught one of the most valuable lessons a Soldier will need throughout their military careers - forming strong bonds with fellow Soldiers to ensure unit cohesiveness and personal contact with those who understand them best.
The Soldiers who knew McLean best in his final days, battle buddy Pvt. Coby Martin, shared memories of his friend during the memorial.
"As a man I looked up to McLean," Martin said. "He was someone who loved and cared for everyone around him. Someone you could go to and he would welcome you with open arms. When he talked, we all listened."
Martin fought back his emotions as he recounted how the platoon collectively thought McLean sounded much like former President Barack Obama and how they often had him give platoon information and instruction just to listen to the sound of his voice. A memory of McLean singing to fellow platoon mates to help cheer them up and make them laugh was also recounted by his commander during the memorial.
A box of tissues was passed around the pews filled with McLean's platoon mates. A trainee's day is often long and filled with physical and mental demands to harden their Soldier skills, but are not trained how to lose a fellow Soldier. While the Soldiers have endured a long 9-weeks of training, each remained fixed on the speakers and memorial platform, their eyes red and swollen from grief and tears.
As the speakers concluded their speeches, the ceremony began its closing traditions. Soldiers in the rows of pews stood and slowly walked to the memorial platform with McLean's photo and a small shelf to place personal items such as coins. Each Soldier rendered a slow salute and took a knee before the memorial to say a small prayer or to bid his final farewell then silently stood and exited the chapel.
McLean was laid to rest in the place of his birth, Sanford, North Carolina, where his Family and friends reside. He is survived by his mother Jennifer McLean, father Joen Rucker, sister Haley Elizabeth Rucker, grandmother Patricia McLean and a host of cousins, aunts and uncles.
"He was a friend to everyone. He had great dreams and goals and worked hard to achieving them. He leaves a legacy that he and his Family can be proud of," Horwood said. "Pvt. McLean, well done, be thou at peace."