By Maj. Gen. Eddy M. Spurgin, Commander, 36th Inf. Div. / U.S. Div. - SouthMay 30, 2011
Good afternoon. Before I begin, I want to thank the chaplain’s office for hosting and organizing this event. I appreciate the great work they’re doing every day for the service members of U.S. Division " South, and for those Fallen Heroes who are no longer with us.
It is because of those Heroes that we are here today: to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation, and to honor their memory. Today their number stands at more than one million, three hundred thousand: men and women, of all services, and all colors, and all faiths, who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. They died on hundreds of different battlefields, as well as nameless places on the oceans and in the skies.
From the American Revolution to the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from the fertile fields of North America to the dark blue deep of the South Pacific, from the rugged mountains of the Korean Peninsula to the flak-filled skies over Germany, from the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam to the streets of Mogadishu, more than one million, three hundred thousand American service members have perished in battle.
While we pay tribute to all of them today, I want to say a few words about just five"five young men who came to Iraq not long before we did, full of life and devotion to the Army, and who returned home last month solemnly draped in American flags, to be laid to rest by grieving family members who will never see them again, who will never feel their touch or hear their voices, who will feel in their hearts for many years to come a painful void where once there was a father, a son, a brother, a husband, or a fiancée.
Staff Sergeant Christian A. Garcia was born in the Philippines and joined the U.S. Army in 1999. He came to Iraq as a gun truck commander with the 3rd Armored Maintenance Company of the 3rd ACR, and completed more than 30 mounted patrols. He always made sure his Soldiers were well prepared for their missions, and he loved challenging them on the basketball court. On or off duty, he always had a smile on his face, and was known among his peers as a loving husband and father. At just thirty years of age, Christian had a wife, two daughters, a stepdaughter, and two stepsons. He was fatally injured April second during an indirect fire attack on COS Kalsu.
The same attack also claimed the life of Staff Sergeant Quadi S. Hudgins. Just 26 years old, Quadi was serving on his third tour in Iraq. Born in New Orleans, he joined the U.S. Army in 2003. A tough and talented athlete, he was an All-Army boxer in 2008 and dreamed of competing in the 2012 Olympics. As a veteran of the convoy security platoon, Quadi was responsible for the security of the Regiment's logistical assets as they traveled hundreds of miles at a time throughout Southern Iraq. Sometimes he served as the truck commander for the squad's scout vehicle some 300 meters in front of the convoy, where the risks never seemed to phase him. When his fellow Soldiers were packing up his effects, they found a rare photo of him smiling. He was holding his baby girl. He is survived by his wife, daughter, and both of his parents.
First Lieutenant Omar J. Vazquez of F Troop, Second Squadron, 3rd ACR was born in New Jersey. An avid reader and scholar, he had an associate’s degree in Art, a bachelor’s degree in History, and a master’s in Liberal Studies. He was commissioned a field artillery officer in May 2009 and deployed to Operation New Dawn with Lion Battery, Second Squadron, but was given a platoon command in Fox Troop in February in recognition of his exceptional leadership qualities. His Soldiers admired his warm personality and the care that he showed for their well-being. Lieutenant Vazquez was fatally injured April twenty-second during an Improvised Explosive Device attack on his mounted convoy in Numaniyah. He was just 25 years old, and leaves behind a sister and both parents to mourn his passing.
Also killed in that attack was Lieutenant Vazquez’s gunner, Private First Class Antonio G. Stiggins. A native of A New Mexico, “Stiggy,” as his friends knew him, joined the U.S. Army in January of last year. He served with distinction as a Scout, and in July 2010 he was hand-selected by the Squadron Command Sergeant Major to serve as a member of the Personal Security Detachment. In January of this year, he became the gunner for his Platoon Leader’s vehicle. Antonio’s hobbies included hunting, fishing, camping and spending time with his friends. His fellow Soldiers remember him for his cheerful attitude and his concern for others. He was just 25 years old, and is survived by both of his parents.
Specialist Robert M. Friese of I Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd ACR was born in Michigan. After joining the Army, he distinguished himself as a Humvee driver as well as a platoon commo expert. Recognizing Robert’s potential for greater responsibility, his platoon leader made him a gunner. Some of his fellow Soldiers called him “Mama Friese” because he would remind them to tuck their shirts in, or not to swear when ladies were around, and whenever they needed something"a pair of socks, extra rank, anything"he would always give it to them. Robert died April 29 after a Rocket Propelled Grenade hit his vehicle during a convoy in Diwaniyah. He was just 21 years old and is survived by his parents, a brother, a sister, and a grieving fiancée.
Five young Soldiers, the oldest of them just thirty years of age. Five young Soldiers who came from places as diverse as New Orleans, New Jersey, New Mexico, Michigan, and even the Philippines; together, they embodied what is truly great about our Nation and our Armed Forces. In the United States of America, young men and women can aspire to be whatever they want to be, with few obstacles in their path that can’t be overcome by dedication, perseverance, and desire.
Each of the five young men who died in Southern Iraq last month chose to wear the uniform of an American Soldier. They were among the special few of their generation who chose to answer their Nation’s call to duty and to serve in harm’s way, wherever they were needed. Each of them died a hero.
Words alone cannot do justice to the memory of these five brave Soldiers, or to the deeper meaning of their sacrifice. Their actions in life spoke louder than any words of praise or thanks that we can offer here today. I believe this is what President Lincoln meant when he said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did.” Lincoln’s advice to that quiet crowd at Gettysburg in 1863 is worth repeating here.
He said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us"that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion"that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Staff Sergeant Garcia, Staff Sergeant Hudgins, Lieutenant Vazquez, Private First Class Stiggins, and Specialist Frieze died in support of a noble mission, to help the Iraqi people secure their own new birth of freedom for future generations, and to make our world a safer place in the process.
The best way that we can honor their sacrifice, and the sacrifices of the one million, three hundred thousand service members who came before them, is to resolve that we will finish their work with success and honor, in the same spirit of Selfless Service and devotion to duty that characterized their own courageous lives. They would expect no less of us. In honor of their memory, please join me in a moment of silence.
In closing, let me say what at an honor it is to serve with you on this historic mission. Take pride in what you do, do it to the best of your ability, and look out for one another as we would our own brothers and sisters, or sons and daughters. I couldn’t be more proud of the work you’re doing on behalf of the American people, and the people of Iraq.