PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- For Dawn Roberts, the parental fear that something tragic would happen to a child came true in 2010, when her son was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the United States Army.
Sgt. Michael D. Kirspel Jr., 23, died Oct. 27, 2010, near the village of Khwaja Kinti, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. He had talked of joining the Army since he was 12, and began active duty in July 2006 shortly after graduating from Hopatcong High School.
Roberts, who serves on the Hopatcong Borough Council, also had another lingering fear: that her son and his sacrifice would be forgotten.
"If someone, or anyone, or our community, or our society, or our country forgot my son and his sacrifice, quite frankly, I don't think I could go on," she said.
However, those concerns dissipated when she and her family arrived at Picatinny Arsenal on the morning of Oct. 21 and pulled up to a new, remote building on the installation.
The occasion was a dedication ceremony for the Sgt. Michael D. Kirspel Jr. Ballistic Evaluation Center, a state-of-the-art complex with seven unique structures to accommodate the test and evaluation of artillery, tank, mortar and related components.
"When we pulled up here today, and I saw this, I knew that in addition to my beautiful friends, my church family, the people I serve with on council, in addition to all of that, I knew that Picatinny Arsenal would never forget my son. And that gives me the strength that I need to go on, to do what I need to do," Roberts told the audience gathered for the ceremony.
Speakers at the ceremony gave tribute to Kirspel for his service and sacrifice, while also noting that the new building will make it possible to test and develop the best equipment possible for the benefit of warfighters like Kirspel, a cannon crewmember, who protect the freedoms of our nation.
"Thanks to your son, and people like him who served, they grew up in a country that's free," said John Hedderich, in reference to his son and daughter who were born around the same period as Kirspel. Hedderich is Director of the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center.
"I always admire our folks in uniform," Hedderich continued. "What makes a person willing to lay their life down in support of a concept called liberty? It's just amazing. What an amazing son Michael was. And I just want to remember that, what this building is all about."
The new Ballistic Evaluation Center has been almost 30 years in the making, from concept to completion and commissioning, said David Castellano, Executive Director, Munitions Engineering and Technology Center, which is part of the larger Armaments Center.
"The capability it provides is unmatched in the armaments research and development community," Castellano said. "It has already made a significant impact to our warfighting capability, and frankly, it couldn't have come at a better time. The facility will play a pivotal role for many years to come."
"There's nothing I can say here today that will be enough to honor Michael's sacrifice for our country," said U.S. Representative Rebecca Michelle "Mikie" Sherrill, whose New Jersey's 11th congressional district includes Picatinny Arsenal.
"There's nothing anyone can say to capture his commitment to our country," Sherrill added. "But I will try to express on behalf of the grateful nation our sincere and heartfelt thanks to Michael and to his family.
"New Jersey had a proud son in Sgt. Kirspel. A patriot in the truest sense of the term, who loved his country, his family and his community in Sussex. A patriot for whom service was not a slogan but a calling felt deeply."
Michael Dana Kirspel Jr. was born on July 8, 1987, to Michael Kirspel and Dawn Roberts. He joined the Army during his senior year of high school and trained on the weekends until graduation, then immediately went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training and advance individual training. He was attached to 101st Airborne, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York. He had two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Kirspel receive numerous awards and decorations, including the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the NATO Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Combat Action Badge, the Marksmanship Qualification Badge and the Driver Mechanic Badge.
Kirspel is remembered for his various activities, including working on cars, off-roading, welding, riding motorcycles, camping, hunting and fishing.