Five soldiers assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were honored Thursday morning with a tree-dedication ceremony at Fort Stewart’s Warriors Walk.
With the dedication of these new trees, a total of 466 eastern redbud trees now memorialize the sacrifice of 466 Marne Division soldiers who’ve given their all since the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began 10 years ago.
The youngest of these Vanguard Brigade soldiers was only 22, but the oldest was only 26. Three of the five soldiers were members of the same platoon with the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. A fourth man was also assigned to the 3/15th Inf. The fifth soldier was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Soldiers honored in Thursday’s memorial ceremony included:
First Lt. Jonam Russell was a 25-year-old platoon leader with only two years active service. Guest speaker Maj. Gen. John Murray, commander of the 3rd ID and Stewart-Hunter, called Russell a born leader. Russell was from Cornville, Arizona. Several members of Russell’s family attended the ceremony.
Sgt. Stefan Marc Smith was a 24-year-old junior noncommissioned officer with three years active service. Murray referred to as a “good old boy” from Valley, Ala., who was a big fan of the Georgia Bulldogs and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Smith was a husband and a father of three. His wife Kristi, two of his children and several other family members attended the memorial.
Spc. Rob Lee Nichols was a 24-year-old infantryman from Rapid City, South Dakota with two years of active service. He was described by his fellow soldiers as “a guy who always had your back.” Nichols family members also attended the ceremony.
Spc. Nickolas Shane Welch was a 26-year-old infantryman from Klamath Falls, Ore. Murray said Welch is remembered for his 80-inch, flat-screen television he had in his barracks room. Many of Welch’s friends and family were there to honor him.
Russell, Smith, Nichols and Welch died as a result of wounds sustained from an enemy improvised explosive attack on July 23 in Soltan Kheyl, Afghanistan. Though his comrades died on the day of the attack, Welch survived until Aug. 6, dying in Bethesda, Md. as a result of his wounds.
Spc. Nicholas Brian Burley was a 22-year-old cavalry scout from Auburn, Calif. Family members and his fellow soldiers remember him for the love he expressed for riding anything, especially snowmobiles. His family and friends also came to the memorial service.
In fact, there were so many family members, it took eight full-size vans to bring the family members to Warriors Walk. Groups of family members were escorted to their reserved seats by members of their soldier’s unit. Murray began his comments by welcoming and thanking them for coming.
“There is no way we can completely understand your loss,” he told family members then focused his comments on the significance of Warriors Walk as a memorial to their soldier. “Every single person memorialized along this Walk is indeed an American hero.”
Murray also recognized three wounded warriors attending the ceremony. Staff Sgt. Michael Mosley, Cpl. Luis Ponce and Spc. Michael Andrade were wounded during the same July 23 attack that killed four of their comrades.