Before its redeployment from Afghanistan last month, the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team lost two more soldiers.
On Thursday, soldiers, friends and 21 family members braved an icy cold morning to honor their fallen heroes in a tree dedication ceremony at Warriors Walk.
Two eastern redbud trees and granite memorials now mark the service and sacrifice of Sgt. 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson and Spc. James T. Wickliff. The total number of redbud trees on Warriors Walk is now 468.
Wickliff was an infantryman assigned to the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. He had three years in the Army and a previous deployment to Iraq under his belt.
On Aug. 12, 2013, an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol near Pul-e-Alam. The 22-year-old from Edmond, Okla., died Sept. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Wickliff’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device, Good Conduct Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Robertson was a 35-year-old cavalry scout platoon sergeant from Wamego, Kan., who was also assigned to the 6/8th Cav. Regt. Robertson had 17 years in the Army and four previous combat tours.
He died Nov. 3, 2013, in Pul-e-Alam when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He left behind his wife, Marcia, and three daughters.
Robertson’s awards were numerous. They included the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device, the Bronze Star Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters, two Meritorious Service Medals, six Army Commendation Medals, five Good Conduct Medals and the Combat Action Badge.
During his remarks, Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd ID and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, said it was important that these soldiers’ entire chain of command — from the division level to brigade to battalion to company and to platoon level — were able to attend the ceremony.
He noted that a spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, fellow soldiers and civilian friends were also there to honor Robertson and Wickliff.
“Each of (these men) was a patriotic American,” said Murray, who then directed his comments to the families. “There is no way we can completely understand the depth of your loss.”
Murray described Robertson as a man “full of life,” who could be counted on for a smile or a joke. He noted that Wickliff had been awarded an ARCOM with V-device during his previous deployment.
He said Wickliff assisted a combat medic in moving wounded soldiers to cover while they were under enemy fire. “Wicky,” as his friends called him, was always concerned about others, he said.
Wickliff’s father, Thomas Wickliff, talked with reporters after the ceremony. In broken English, he expressed the sorrow of a grieving father.
He stressed that his son did not die from his combat wounds but from an infection in those wounds, an infection he got while still in Afghanistan.
A friend of Robertson, Master Sgt. John Foster, and Capt. William Gillespie, former company commander of both men, also took time to speak to news media.
Gillespie spoke highly of both soldiers, calling Wickliff the “epitome” of a good soldier. He called Robertson a great leader who was capable of taking charge and successfully completing any mission.
“Sgt. Robertson was the kind of person, if you met him one time, he made an impression on you,” said Foster, who said he’d known Robertson for about four years. “He was a loving father and a loving husband.”
He said Robertson had talked about possibly retiring when he completed 20 years of service. Foster sighed a little as he stared down a row of bare eastern redbud trees.
Robertson was killed in action three years before he was eligible for retirement and only weeks before he redeployed from his fifth and possibly last combat deployment.