By Marcie C. Wright, Monitor StaffJuly 22, 2010
FORT BLISS, Texas -- The Joshua W. Soto Physical Fitness Facility at East Fort Bliss was dedicated to its namesake, Sgt. Joshua W. Soto, during the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the facility's indoor basketball courts July 7.
The $22 million fitness facility, housing 96,000 square feet, was named after Soto, a noncommissioned officer assigned to D Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while he was conducting Iraqi Security Forces assistance operations near Samawah, Iraq, in mid-June 2009.
After remarks from Fort Bliss Garrison Commander Col. Joseph Simonelli Jr., and Maj. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, Bliss' commanding general during the ceremony, the 1st Bn., 77th Armor Regt. commander, Lt. Col. James Gallivan, spoke proud words recognizing his fallen Soldier.
Gallivan said Soto understood what it meant to be an NCO and noted that NCOs are the cornerstone of the Army. In reflection, he called Soto "a young leader with remarkable talent." He also said the facility is appropriately named - after a noncommissioned officer. "I think it's great to see our nation honor a noncommissioned officer, and in particular Sergeant Soto," said Gallivan. "It's very special."
After Gallivan's remarks, he and Soto's wife, Thelma, revealed a plaque created to honor the memory of Soto. On the plaque is an inscription reminding observers of Soto's service with an engraved picture of the sergeant in uniform.
The sight of it left Thelma speechless, but for the purpose of the ceremony, she maintained her composure as her eyes scanned the 3-by-3-foot structure. She said she was filled with emotion at the detail and thoughtfulness of this plaque.
"It was really touching being up there, opening and seeing the plaque with his picture on it," said Thelma. "There are no words to [describe] it."
After the plaque was unveiled, the ribbon-cutting party, consisting of Bromberg, Fort Bliss Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, Simonelli, Gallivan, Thelma, Soto's son Jaden, and Eric Hildreth, East Fort Bliss community recreation director, made their way to the ribbon, staged at the entrance to the courts.
Under the watchful eyes of post leadership, the battalion Soldiers joined facility managers and other attendees of the event to see the ribbon cut by Thelma and Jaden.
Hildreth helped organized the event and expressed feelings of pride in the dedication to the "Long Knife" Soldier.
"I was so proud to be able to present this facility to the Soto family," said Hildreth. "I just hope that it eases a little of their pain of the ultimate sacrifice Joshua gave this community and the United States of America."
Thelma said this was a wonderful gesture and she is elated that they would do this in Soto's honor. Again, caught in emotion, she was unable to find the words to express her heartfelt appreciation.
Having never seen it before, Hildreth gave the Soto family a detailed tour of the gym, during which he noted their approval.
"They loved and were amazed by the facility," said Hildreth. "They hope to stop in from time to time and use it."
After the ceremony, Thelma and other relatives and friends of Soto, in a private moment, were found kneeling at the plaque in admiration, appreciation and sadness. Eyes welled with tears as they read the plaque and reflected on memories of a missed Soldier, husband, father and brother.
"It's overwhelming, and I'm just so thankful," said Thelma. "It's just wonderful. ... It's really awesome how they did this for him."