By Mr. Lorin Smith (I Corps)June 14, 2010
Hundreds of Soldiers, civilians and Family members packed the Joint Base Lewis-McChord North Fort Chapel May 25 to pay their respects to Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Kurtz, the sergeant major of Madigan Healthcare System. Kurtz was with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Troop Command, Madigan Army Medical Center.
Kurtz, a Williamsport, Penn. native, passed away May 12, near the Deschutes River in Yelm, Wash. After Kurtz had been reported missing for a couple of days, Madigan and Joint Base Lewis-McChord deployed about 150 Soldiers throughout land near his home, and they found his body the evening of May 14. The cause of death is still under investigation. He was 52 years old. "We lost a great leader, a caretaker, we lost a father and we lost a friend," said Master Sgt. Robert Thoms, Radiology.
The actions of the Soldiers who searched for Kurtz held true to the Army's Warrior Ethos - the responsibility to never leave a fallen comrade, said Col. Jerry Penner III, Madigan commander, during the memorial ceremony.
Command sergeants major have a wreath around their rank denoting their leadership position. Kurtz, however, was promoted to the job of acting command sergeant major, but was not given the wreath. Penner said this was because he didn't need a wreath to remind him of the duties, position and responsibilities of which he held.
Beware the officer or enlisted Soldier who didn't render proper greetings to the flag at the morning reveille, or dropped cigarette butts around the Medical Mall entrance, Penner said. "Mike never wavered from the standards... and his purpose was to each another generation of Soldiers about pride, discipline, and the military bearing required to be a professional Soldier. It was Mike's purpose to remind us about friendship and taking care of Families while living the true meaning of care with compassion," Penner added.
Kurtz served as the Laboratory sergeant major from 2004 to 2009, when he took the reins as the hospital's top enlisted Soldier from Command Sgt. Maj. Billy King, now with the Western Regional Medical Command. "What I will miss most about Mike is that Mike was just a good guy," King said at the ceremony. "He loved his Soldiers at Madigan, and he loved his Family."
During his time in the lab, taking care of Soldiers was his first priority. Until the winter holidays came around, that is. Kurtz was the official Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey cooker. Kurtz would act upset and swear that year would be the last time he would do the cooking, but King said Kurtz would still bring in delicious turkeys for the lab to enjoy. "He would smile from ear-to-ear and say, 'That's what you want me to do, I'll do it'," King said.
Fixing Soldier issues was his specialty, said Master Sgt. Spencer Weaver, the current lab sergeant major. "His open door policy was just that - an open door," Weaver said. "He didn't sit in his office and wait to hear things; he heard issues from the source and they were addressed. The lab will miss Sgt. Maj. Kurtz."
The story of Kurtz extends beyond the uniform. When he was younger, he quit college for a year to drive a bread truck to help his paraplegic brother. When Kurtz was stationed in Korea, he used CPR to save a woman from drowning.
All four Soldiers spoke about Kurtz's love and compassion for fishing, hunting and the environment. His philosophy was illustrated by the quote "If I were any happier, I'd be fishing," remarked King. If he wasn't wearing a uniform leading Madigan Soldiers for the day, Kurtz could be found fishing on many of Washington's rivers and lakes, or traipsing through the backwoods near his Yelm house hunting for deer.
"As an outdoorsman, Mike had a profound respect for the environment, and he gave back to the community by educating people about conservation for future generations," Penner said. "He would prepare for the next hunting adventure with that childlike excitement that we all grew to love," King said. "Fishing was his passion and everyone knew that," Weaver added.
But his affection for water and trees never outshone the love he had for Nicole, his 11-year-old daughter, Penner said. Kurtz's favorite photo, the one that took center-stage, was when Nicole had caught her first fish. "Let me tell you, Nicole - he was very proud of you," the hospital commander said.
Those wishing to honor Kurtz can make a donation to Ducks Unlimited at www.ducks.org, click on "Support DU" and scroll down to "Memorials." For a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.WoundedWarriorProject.org and click on "Donations."
Kurtz served in the Army for 28 years. His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. He was a member of the Order of Military Medical Merit and was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit Award. He is survived by his wife Paula, his daughter Nicole, his mother Jackie, his brother Tom, and his sister Sue Stopper. "He truly did a superb job getting the mission done as Madigan's command sergeant major while exemplifying our spirit of caring with compassion," Penner said.