By Staff Sgt. Joel PenaJanuary 10, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Amid a full house of Soldiers, friends and Fort Drum community members, an emotional Jack and Elaine Atkins on Wednesday witnessed the dedication of the Atkins Functional Fitness Facility, named after their son, a 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq.
The AFFF, formerly known as the Mountain Functional Fitness Facility, is a 22,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that provides training opportunities for the mind and body -- strength, agility and self-defense -- to prepare Soldiers for the physical demands of the battlefield.
The building was dedicated to the life and memory of Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. On June 1, 2007, Atkins distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry at the cost of his life in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While conducting route security in the town of Abu Sarnak, Iraq, Atkins apprehended and began to search a group of suspected insurgents. However, one insurgent resisted and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat.
As he attempted to subdue the man, Atkins realized the insurgent was attempting to trigger a suicide vest, which he wore under his clothing. Despite his efforts, the insurgent finally succeeded in reaching his vest.
Atkins selflessly tackled the suicide bomber, pinning him to the ground and shielding his Soldiers from the imminent explosion. In this critical and selfless act of valor in which he was mortally wounded, Atkins saved the lives of three other Soldiers who were with him and gallantly offered his life for his friends and country.
During the ceremony, the first speaker was Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Guardarrama, Light Fighters School Pre-Ranger course NCOIC and Atkins' former platoon sergeant.
"This facility has such an appropriate name, which ties directly to Travis," Guardarrama said. "Travis was a hard-charging individual (who) created a competitive atmosphere that made Soldiers want to exceed to the next level."
When Soldiers walk through the doors of this facility to train, if they leave with a little of Atkins' character and attitude, they will always honor him, he added.
After a round of applause, Sgt. Aaron Hall, Atkins' battle buddy, took the podium and addressed the crowd.
"Though I knew Travis for only a year before his ultimate sacrifice, it was enough to have a significant impact on my life, both professionally and personally," Hall said. "Travis always personalized the term 'quiet professional,' and because of this, he was always respected by all subordinates, peers and supervisors alike. He was a leader in the truest sense of the word."
"When my 4-year-old son Travis tells me his favorite super hero is Captain America and asks me who my favorite super hero is, my reply always has and will be Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins," he continued.
Hall concluded by thanking all present and by saying, "To Staff Sgt. Atkins, I would like to thank you so much for your inspiration and sacrifice. You are gone but not forgotten."
After a vociferous round of applause, a somber stillness filled the facility as Atkins' father, Jack Atkins Sr., addressed the crowd.
"On behalf of my wife, me and Travis' son Trevor, we want to thank you for the honor that you have bestowed upon our son," Atkins said.
Visibly emotional, Atkins concluded by thanking everyone present and saying that he was immensely proud of his son.
To conclude the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, joined Jack and Elaine Atkins in unveiling a plaque dedicating the facility with its new name, the Atkins Functional Fitness Facility.
Immediately afterwards, they all walked outside to unveil Atkins' name on the front of the facility. The dedication ceremony concluded with an invitation for everyone to share refreshments in the reception room.