During the remembrance ceremony, held just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Col. Michael Kloepper, right, and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Chapin, the command team for the 173rd, unveiled a memorial stone from Afghanistan at Caserma Del Din.
During the remembrance ceremony, held just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Col. Michael Kloepper, right, and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Chapin, the command team for the 173rd, unveiled a memorial stone from Afghanistan at Caserma Del Din. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

VICENZA, Italy – Sunlight parted storm clouds as paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserma Del Din paused to remember their fallen.

During the ceremony, held just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Col. Michael Kloepper and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Chapin, the command team for the 173rd, unveiled a memorial stone from Afghanistan. Kloepper welcomed two Gold Star spouses, Italian mayors and several brigade veterans to the May 26 ceremony to remember those who died in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 and all Sky Soldiers killed in action.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants and in the eternal shadows of our fallen heroes, challenged every day to the expectation so clearly defined in our memorialized lineage,” Kloepper said.

Taking part in Memorial Day were Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 503trd Parachute Infantry Regiment, plus formations from the 54th Engineer Battalion, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and the 173 Brigade Support Battalion. Called to attention, the Soldiers rendered salutes for the playing of the Italian and U.S. national anthems.
Taking part in Memorial Day were Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 503trd Parachute Infantry Regiment, plus formations from the 54th Engineer Battalion, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and the 173 Brigade Support Battalion. Called to attention, the Soldiers rendered salutes for the playing of the Italian and U.S. national anthems. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Col. William Ostlund, a retired Army officer who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan, spoke of the Sky Soldiers lineage, in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – reminding listeners of the sacrifice their fellow paratroopers made.

“To be happy means to be free. To be free means to be brave,” said Ostlund, quoting Thucydides, a 5th century BC general and historian. “Therefore, do not take lightly the perils of war.”

For more than 400 days, starting in 2007, Soldiers from the 173rd faced some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan. Author Sebastian Junger detailed some of the brigade’s actions in his book “War” and in the documentary “Restrepo.”

Col. William Ostlund, right, a retired Army officer who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan and and Sgt. Maj. Sean Horval, place a wreath to the fallen 173rd Airborne Brigade Soldiers from the 2007-2008 tour.
Col. William Ostlund, right, a retired Army officer who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan and and Sgt. Maj. Sean Horval, place a wreath to the fallen 173rd Airborne Brigade Soldiers from the 2007-2008 tour. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Ostlund, then a 41-year-old lieutenant colonel, took command of 2/503, just as the unit was heading from Vicenza to Afghanistan. He shared a memory from the first day his battalion, known as “The Rock,” took over operations in Korengal Valley, part of Kunar Province. On June 5, 2007, just six hours into a 15-month deployment, they lost their newest and youngest paratrooper, Pfc. Timothy Vimoto, eldest son of the brigade’s senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia Vimoto.

“He was the first of 26 paratroopers I had killed under my command,” Ostlund said.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserma Del Din paused on May 26 to remember their fallen.
Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserma Del Din paused on May 26 to remember their fallen. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Listening to Ostlund were current 2nd Battalion paratroopers, plus formations from the 54th Engineer Battalion, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion. Called to attention, the Soldiers rendered salutes for the playing of the Italian and U.S. national anthems.

Wreaths were presented to honor Soldiers from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Jim Matchin, a Vietnam veteran presented a wreath to honor the 1,648 Sky Soldiers who died in that war. Mason Byrant, a retired command sergeant major who served in the brigade, presented a wreath for the 91 Sky Soldiers killed in the Global War on Terror.

Ostlund and Sgt. Maj. Sean Horval, placed a wreath beside the newly rededicated monument, raising a slow salute to their comrades.

Paratroopers, their dress uniform bloused into shiny jump boots, stepped forward a presented a single yellow rose for each of the 91 Soldiers from the brigade killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Paratroopers, their dress uniform bloused into shiny jump boots, stepped forward a presented a single yellow rose for each of the 91 Soldiers from the brigade killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Crafted in Afghanistan, the memorial traveled twice across the ocean and is now on display at Caserma Del Din to remember the sacrifice of the 43 Sky Soldiers who died during that tour, Operation Enduring Freedom 7/8. The granite stone – first unveiled at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad – was recovered in 2020 by 10th Mountain Division troops, who sent it from Afghanistan to Fort Drum, New York. In August 2021, they sent it to U.S. Army Garrison Italy. It’s now beside memorials for Sky Soldiers who died on earlier tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A community member at U.S. Army Garrison Italy pays respects at the newly unveiled monument to the Sky Soldiers at Caserma Del Din. The granite stone – first unveiled at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad – was recovered in 2020 by 10th Mountain Division troops, who sent it from Afghanistan to Fort Drum, New York. In August 2021, they sent it to U.S. Army Garrison Italy
A community member at U.S. Army Garrison Italy pays respects at the newly unveiled monument to the Sky Soldiers at Caserma Del Din. The granite stone – first unveiled at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad – was recovered in 2020 by 10th Mountain Division troops, who sent it from Afghanistan to Fort Drum, New York. In August 2021, they sent it to U.S. Army Garrison Italy (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“We are charged with remembering – and perhaps celebrating – our fallen paratroopers. Not just today, but every day the sun rises and every evening the sun sets,” Ostlund said.

Paratroopers, their dress uniforms bloused into shiny jump boots, stepped forward and presented a single yellow rose for each of the 91 comrades killed in 2007-2009. A firing detail, perched on nearby balcony rendered a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of Taps. A kilted bagpiper, Maj. Jesse Burnette, the brigade’s operations officer, played a solemn rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserma Del Din take part in a May 26 ceremony to honor the fallen.
Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserma Del Din take part in a May 26 ceremony to honor the fallen. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Two Gold Star spouses attended, Lynn Belcher, whose husband, Sgt. Jeffrey Mersman, was killed in November 2007 while on patrol near Aranas, Afghanistan and Lucia Curry, whose husband, 1st Sgt. Michael Curry Jr., died in July 2007. Soldiers at Caserma Ederle now eat at a dining facility named for Curry and Lucia works on post at the dental clinic.

Members of the Italian media interview Lucia Curry, whose husband, 1st Sgt. Michael Curry Jr., died in July 2007 while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. He is buried in an Italian town near Vicenza. Soldiers at Caserma Ederle now eat at a dining facility named for her husband and she works on post at the dental clinic.
Members of the Italian media interview Lucia Curry, whose husband, 1st Sgt. Michael Curry Jr., died in July 2007 while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. He is buried in an Italian town near Vicenza. Soldiers at Caserma Ederle now eat at a dining facility named for her husband and she works on post at the dental clinic. (Photo Credit: Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Italy) VIEW ORIGINAL

“This means a lot to us, for me,” Curry said. “To know that they are not forgotten and that we still have a sense of belonging.”