FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Nov. 10, 2009) -- Vice President Joe Biden joined the Fort Lewis community Tuesday to grieve the loss and honor the sacrifice of seven Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment. They comprised an entire squad of C Company - 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon.
All seven, along with their Afghan interpreter, lost their lives Oct. 27, in a massive improvised-explosive-device attack in the Arghandab River Valley in southern Afghanistan.
The 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, hosted the memorial at the North Fort Chapel for Staff Sgt. Luis M. Gonzalez, 27, of South Ozone Park, N.Y., Sgt. Fernando Delarosa, 24, of Alamo, Texas, Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, Ind., Sgt. Issac B. Jackson, 27, of Plattsburg, Mo., Sgt. Patrick O. Williamson, 24, of Broussard, La., Spc. Jared D. Stanker, 22, of Evergreen Park, Ill., and Pfc. Christopher I. Walz, 25, of Vancouver, Wash.
"They were our warriors," Biden said. "They were our heroes. They were all of our sons and they were all of our brothers. As a nation, as hollow as it sounds to say, we grieve with you."
"When I looked at the Soldiers of 2nd Squad, it was like taking a snapshot of a cross section of the company," said C Company Commander Capt. Joel Kassulke at a memorial ceremony last week in Afghanistan, "seven Soldiers from seven different states, with seven very different stories, all unique, all personal, all inspirational."
Despite the grave honor of the vice president's attendance at Tuesday's Fort Lewis memorial, Biden focused on the Fort Lewis-based Soldiers and their families.
"You are an amazing group of people," Biden said to the crowded chapel. "It's amazing how so few do so much for so many. The only sacred responsibility we have as a nation is to give all those we send all they need to care for them and their families when they come home. That's the only truly sacred obligation our government has."
Biden promised family members of the deceased that one day their memories would bring smiles without tears. "That day will come, I promise you," the vice president said.
Biden's alluded to his personal tragedy in which his wife, Neilia, and 18-month-old daughter, Amy, died in December 1972 in an automobile accident.
At the emotional memorial ceremony held last week in Afghanistan, friends eulogized their fellow Soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Danner spoke of the "personality, attitude and discipline" among the platoon, and praised squad leader Gonzalez's "invaluable daily leadership" and his squad's respect for him.
Sgt. Delbert Miller remembered Delarosa as "the type of guy you want at your side," someone who "lived for the joy in all moments seemingly never allowing the pressures get to him."
Sgt. Lawrence Guy said Griffin lived on the edge, skydiving, bridge jumping and climbing Mount Rainier during block leave before deploying.
Sgt. Brian Stroble shared the story of his instant friendship with Jackson, their good-natured arguments about football and life.
Staff Sgt, Matthew Sanders chose to focus on happy memories of Williamson, calling attention to "the crazy, ridiculous, silly, but always fun times we shared."
Sgt. Jacob Zimmerman recalled the natural charisma of his friend Stanker, the rabid Chicago sports fan who longed to settle down and start a family with his girlfriend, Abby.
Pfc. Brian Daley said he befriended Walz in basic training and joined 2nd Platoon together. He recalled Walz "always kept a smile and a positive attitude no matter how bad things got."
As their company commander, Kassulke said, "the 27th of October was the hardest day of my Army career to this point.
"(They were) a close knit band of brothers," he said, "a squad that could be counted on ... they were all dedicated, professional Soldiers, committed to improving the security situation for the people of the Arghandab district."
Gen. David Petraeus, commander in chief of Central Command, called 1-17 Inf. commander, Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann, to offer condolences and told him that four years before, he stood in Kandahar City.
"He was pointed toward the Arghandab River Valley and said that to really have security in the province, someone would have to deal with the challenges here," Neumann said.
The Buffaloes have lost 21 Soldiers in the Taliban hotbed.
On Oct. 26, elements of C Co. supported Afghan Army units and their Canadian mentors in clearing a village called Chahar Bagh near Kandahar.
Reuters correspondent Jonathon Burch embedded with C Co. and wrote the story of the operation.
Second Platoon spent a quiet night next to a dry riverbed along the village, answering no calls for assistance from the Afghans. As morning broke, C Co. Soldiers boarded their Stryker vehicles for the ride back to their forward operating base. The 2nd Squad's Stryker followed the riverbed until an enormous explosion ripped through it, touching off an ambush. The IED flipped the Stryker on its side in a cloud of sand and dirt, but not before driving the protective armor plate from beneath the vehicle straight through its roof, killing all inside but the driver.
A squad from 1st Platoon raced back to help, but there the eight men had died immediately.
The rest of the company recovered and returned fire at gunmen in a nearby orchard. They called for fire from two Kiowa helicopters, whose rockets helped stifle the ambush.
In the aftermath, C Co. Soldiers estimated the size of the bomb to be up to 2,000 pounds, the largest any of them had seen in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Kassulke spoke of the frustrating nature of combat in the Arghandab Valley.
"They were warriors who were taken from us before their time by a cowardly enemy who cannot and would not ever dare to stand and fight with a brave group of Soldiers like 2nd Squad had been," the company commander said.
It was bloodiest attack on a Stryker vehicle ever, worse even than the May 6, 2007 improvised explosive device that killed six 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers in Baqubah, Iraq.
(Don Kramer is a reporter for Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian)