FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — For Lt. Col. Michael Harrell, the executive officer to the Director of Logistics for United States European Command, attending the Pre-Command Course at Fort Leavenworth was another opportunity to visit with the man he affectionately calls his “second father.” Harrell’s relationship with David Muhr is one they’ve had since Muhr’s son, Army Spc. Shawn Muhr, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 at the age of 26.
“Shawn was known by his physical stature and his infectious joy-for-life attitude,” said Harrell. “His fellow soldiers called him ‘Ox’ because of how hard he worked and his ability to lift heavy equipment. He could fix anything. He was a truck driver by trade but hung out with the mechanics a lot because they needed his help.”
Harrell was Muhr’s company commander at the 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade out of Fort Bragg when they deployed to Afghanistan in mid-2010.
“Shawn had volunteered for deployment because there was a need for more motor transport operators and he had previous experience in Iraq,” said Harrell.
Around 2 p.m. on January 29, 2011, shortly after returning from holiday leave, Muhr and another Soldier were killed after an improvised explosive device detonated under the Heavy Equipment Transporter System that Muhr was driving through Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The convoy came under enemy fire and Army Special Operations and Marine Expeditionary Forces responded with support. The convoy could not continue its mission until the following morning.
The unit held a memorial service about a week later at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
“Two other soldiers were killed later in the deployment and I contacted all the gold star families, but I’ve been able to maintain a relationship with Dave,” said Harrell. “It’s been a close relationship these last 12 years. I’ve visited him at his home in Iowa multiple times. He’s visited my family. He’s like a grandfather to my kids. I respect him so much. I ask him for advice. I talk to him regularly.”
Shawn Muhr was posthumously awarded as the 2011 North Carolina United Service Organization Soldier of the Year. From the Army, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Action Badge and Purple Heart.
David Muhr, or “Papa Ox,” picking up the moniker from his son, had received a Purple Heart himself decades earlier for being hit by grenade shrapnel in Vietnam while serving in the Army. In addition to owning his own business, Muhr was a long-time commander of the American Legion Post 357 in Coon Rapids, Iowa.
“Shawn was about as ornery, happy, joking and dry-humored as they ever get,” said David Muhr. “Shawn was a 2003 graduate of Coon Rapids-Bayard High School, where he wrestled and played football. He placed sixth in his weight class in the 2003 state wrestling tournament and he held a school record for pins.”
In the years since Shawn’s death, David has worked tirelessly through the years to make sure the small town of 1,300 people, about 90 minutes northwest of Des Moines, does not forget his son.
He worked with the state’s department of transportation to have a bridge renamed in Shawn’s honor. Additionally, Muhr and Harrell, along with help from the Combined Arms Center, worked to get a monument moved from Fort Hood.
“There was a monument to fallen soldiers at our battalion in Afghanistan,” said Harrell. “Eventually that monument was moved to Fort Hood. When I was a student here at Fort Leavenworth at the Command and General Staff College, I worked with multiple people at CAC to go over Army policy on how to acquire a monument. Dave really wanted that, and I wanted to help make it happen. We got it transferred Dave ended up driving a flatbed truck and moving it from Texas to Iowa. I spoke at the dedication up there.”
A friendship born out of the ultimate loss will now last a lifetime.