Four more eastern redbud trees have been planted at Fort Stewart’s Warriors Walk, bringing the total number of living monuments to 457. The newly planted trees memorialize the service of four 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, who were honored in a formal ceremony Thursday morning.
Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Cpl. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, of Juncos, Puerto Rico; and Sgt. Delfin M. Santos Jr., 24, of San Jose, Calif., died April 6 from wounds suffered when their 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device in Zabul, Afghanistan.
Warrant Officer 5 Curtis S. Reagan, 43, of Summerville, S.C., died March 29 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from a non-combat-related illness. He was a pilot assigned to the 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade at Hunter Army Airfield.
Twenty-nine family members, scores of friends and hundreds of fellow soldiers attended the somber ceremony, along with a surprise guest. Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, 3rd ID commander, who was home on leave from Afghanistan’s Regional Command-South, also attended the ceremony but not as the guest speaker. Wearing his “multi-cam” duty uniform, the Marne Division leader sat near the back row of guest seats, where he honored the soldiers as their fellow soldier and commander.
Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd ID commanding general-rear, gave opening remarks after first welcoming the family members and guests. Calling Warriors Walk a “walk of remembrance,” Hort said the 457 trees represent those Dogface soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
He told guests that Reagan wanted nothing more than to be a pilot, but he left behind a wife and two children. He talked about Ward’s “unique” sense of humor and love for the Atlanta Braves. He said Santos joined the Army to fulfill one of his father’s last wishes just before he passed away. Robles-Santa was a sports fanatic with a black belt in Taekwondo, but he also leaves behind a wife and two children. Hort said Robles-Santa only wanted to live the American dream; he died defending it for everyone else.
Staff Sgt. Jason W. Baxley, a friend of Ward, talked about the importance of Warriors Walk and how much he’ll miss his Army buddy.
“Since I came here in March 2008, I’ve attended every tree ceremony,” said Baxley, admitting he missed the ceremonies while he was himself deployed. “This one is special because I was a good friend of Staff Sgt. Christopher Ward. It’s a sad day for the 5/7th Cav.
“I want (people) to remember that the life in these trees is fueled by the souls of these soldiers. There is just something special about this place. If you’ve never loved or lost a soldier, to come to this place and see all these trees and think about these forgotten soldiers and families ... It’s an amazing feeling,” he said.
Baxley said he and Ward had served in Iraq. This time, however, he was chosen to be a rear-detachment noncommissioned officer. He said that as a leader, he had lost soldiers before. Though it was tough to lose a soldier, he said it was even harder to lose a friend. He noted, however, he has since grown closer to Ward’s family, if only because he shares their loss.