SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Derrick Arincorayan, a social worker and retired Army colonel, carries the unmistakable demeanor of someone molded by the rigors of military life. He speaks in short, straightforward sentences, rarely relying on polite small talk but rather, his dry wit. Those who have worked closely with Arincorayan describe his almost-superhuman work ethic and unrelenting drive to place the mission first. They also describe his compassion and unwavering dedication to caring for Soldiers as they struggle with the invisible wounds of traumatic experiences.
This combination of qualities was also observed by those who worked closely with Lt. Col. David Cabrera, a licensed clinical social worker, who had a chance encounter with Arincorayan at a conference in November 2010.
At the time, Cabrera was an assistant professor of family medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and Arincorayan was the social work consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army. One of Arincorayan’ s functions as consultant was managing the deployment of social work officers to combat units located throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Cabrera approached Arincorayan during a break to introduce himself and to seek assistance in fulfilling his aspiration to deploy for a full tour prior to retirement. Arincorayan was taken aback by his request.
“His position at USUHS was a plum job that most officers dream of having at the end of their career,” said Arincorayan.
Still, he admired and identified with Cabrera’s willingness to leave behind the comforts of his position at USUHS for the austerity of a deployed setting.
“He reminded me of myself, I wanted to be where the Soldiers were,” Arincorayan added.
The two exchanged information and went their separate ways after the conference, but they remained in contact by email. Arincorayan faced several hurdles securing a deployment assignment for Cabrera due to Cabrera’s non-deployable status as a professor. Finally, in the spring of 2011, Arincorayan provided Cabrera the news he was eager to hear: Cabrera would be deploying to Kabul, Afghanistan, in support of NATO, an assignment considered less dangerous than most.
Cabrera packed his bags and said good-bye to his wife, three sons, and daughter.
Around the same time, Staff Sgt. Christopher Newman, a behavioral health technician assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center, received notice that he would also be deploying to Afghanistan. He worked just two floors above Arincorayan in the inpatient psychiatric unit.
Once in Afghanistan, Newman functioned as Cabrera’s enlisted counterpart as they conducted battlefield circulation and treated Soldiers.
On Oct. 29, 2011, roughly one month into their deployment, Cabrera and Newman mounted a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle with 10 other Americans. As the MRAP made its way down a bustling four-lane highway in Kabul, a suicide bomber driving a sedan filled with explosives struck the MRAP, causing a blast that took the lives of 18 individuals, including Cabrera and Newman. They are believed to be the first behavioral health Soldiers to be killed in action.
Arincorayan experienced disbelief and guilt in the aftermath of the tragedy. He was especially pained by his mistaken notion that Cabrera would be relatively safe during his deployment.
Through these difficult emotions, Arincorayan recognized the importance of honoring Cabrera and Newman and ensuring their sacrifices were not in vain. Part of this process included attending Cabrera’s funeral and celebrating Cabrera and Newman’s lives during a wreath-laying ceremony at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in 2012.
Most significantly, Arincorayan worked to realize his vision of an annual memorial road march that would continue to pay homage to the two men and other fallen individuals. The first event was held in 2012 at Tripler Army Medical Center. Subsequent marches have been hosted by the Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic’s Department of Behavioral Health where Arincorayan completed his Army career. The event has expanded to include all other military specialties and civilian personnel who wish to memorialize an individual who passed away while serving the nation.
This year marks the ninth anniversary of the Lt. Col. Cabrera and Staff Sgt. Newman Memorial March.
A small ceremony will take place at Mokuleia Beach Park in Waialua at 6 a.m. Nov. 20. Unlike previous marches, in order to adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines, only a limited number of individuals will gather to honor the memories of the fallen. Others are encouraged to take part in the march on their own or in groups of five or less at alternate locations.
Despite the operational challenges posed by the pandemic, the event continues to serve as a reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of preserving the memory of those we have lost along the way.
“It is not only important that we memorialize our fallen but it is just as important to remember how they lived their lives - with courage and love,” said Arincorayan.