By Lt. Col. Eric Kunak and 2nd Lt. Dylan ConoverNovember 15, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., Nov. 15, 2019 -- On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery (1-79th FA) placed a flag on the tombstone of James Kaywaykla, an Apache serving as a U.S. scout. This act was the final show of support by the battalion, which had been honoring veterans past and present all week.
"I am grateful to be a part of this tradition of warrior culture," said Capt. Kent Tomah, B Battery commander.
The battalion participated in multiple events throughout the Lawton-Fort Sill community. Its efforts began last week with the 434th Field Artillery Brigade holiday food drive. The battalion collected over 300 pounds of nonperishable food items to assist those who are in need.
Maj. Aaron Palmer, 1-79th FA executive officer, was proud of the efforts of the battalion. He said the commitment to service is something admirable, given the daunting workload battalion Soldiers already have.
"It is an honor to work among the cadre and drill sergeants of this battalion," Palmer said. "They constantly dedicate themselves to not only training the next generation of our Army, but also to making the Lawton-Fort Sill community a better place."
Capt. Nicholas Ocegueda, E Battery, 1-79th FA commander, echoed Palmer's sentiment, reflecting that the Basic Combat Training Soldiers and veterans are inherently connected.
"Basic training is a place where veterans are made," said Ocegueda. "It is an integral part of the Army experience that young Soldiers will remember for the rest of their lives. They are molded and taught that joining the military is a turning point in their lives where the focus becomes on taking care of others."
On Nov. 5, D Battery, 1-79th FA supported the Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin. Battery personnel cleaned up tombstones and the cemetery grounds in preparation for the holiday.
Capt. Branden Buffalo, D Battery commander, said it is important to never forget our brothers and sisters in arms who have passed away.
"Taking the time to clean headstones and set up flags is about commitment," Buffalo said, "commitment to our fallen comrades and their families that we, as a whole, haven't forgotten their sacrifice."
On Nov. 9, 18 Soldiers from the battalion continued the service to fallen veterans, traveling to Highland Cemetery and placing over 450 flags on tombstones from veterans serving as early as the Civil War. This was a humbling moment for many Soldiers of 1-79th FA, and it was a memory they will carry for their entire careers.
"To me, being an active Soldier and veteran means that I carry on with me a lineage of greatness and deep history," said Sgt. DeJuan Naff, a Soldier in the battalion S1 shop. "I have a responsibility to share and pass down that history to those that come after me."
1st Lt. Dylan Chevalier, the battalion's S4 officer, was moved by the opportunity to honor the fallen. In total the battalion visited four cemeteries, and smaller gravesites in and near Fort Sill that do not get as much visitor traffic.
"There were so many graves that probably hadn't been visited in years," said Chevalier. "It was a good chance to get out of the office and the routine, and gain some perspective. Every one of those Soldiers was serving their country like we do. I think they deserve every bit of the small honors we gave them."
Later in the week, Soldiers of the battalion also had the honor and privilege of supporting Texas Christian University, holding the flag during the national anthem before a football game.
Lt. Col. Eric Kunak, battalion commander, along with 2nd Lt. Dylan Conover and Senior Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) Marco Pedroza of C Battery, 1-79th FA, got to hold the flag with other active-duty Soldiers and veterans in front of 50,000 people.
"I actually didn't know we were going to go on the field and hold the flag," said Pedroza. "However, it was a very cool experience. Hearing the crowd cheer like they did definitely gave me a lot of pride in my service."
Finally, members of 1-79th FA continued their support of Lincoln Elementary School and Tomlinson Middle School in Lawton. Both schools are partners with the battalion through the Army Partnership with Local Schools program. The schools celebrated Veterans Day by hosting plays, poetry performances, and speeches, honoring Soldiers past and present.
Staff Sgt. Walter Banks, said partnering with the schools is an important part of his job, and is something that gives his service in the Army a personal meaning.
"Being able to support our local schools such as Lincoln and Tomlinson has brought me a connection to the community around Fort Sill," said Banks. "Having the kids recognize me when I enter the school and high fiving me with a smile is something I really enjoy."
Kunak said battalion members wish the best for all veterans and pray for all who are deployed. As the battalion trains those who have large shoes to fill, it never forgets to honor those who made the greatest sacrifice for our country.