Family and friends of fallen soldiers Sgt. Aaron M. Arthur and Spc. Lakeshia M. Bailey made their way down Warriors Walk Thursday under clear blue skies, past eastern Redbud trees that recently flowered at the end of a wet, cold winter.
The two young soldiers were assigned to the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, attached to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, at Fort Benning. They died on March 8 north of Al Kut, Iraq, of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over.
It seemed apparent during the ceremony those who loved Arthur and Bailey best must muster the strength to go on living despite their lifelong loss. The soldiers were said to be close friends in life. Their memorial trees now face each other on Warriors Walk.
Bobby Jean Arthur of Lake City, S.C., Arthur’s mother, said the Warriors Walk ceremony was a “wonderful” tribute to her son, and nodded yes when asked if the tree dedication brought her some measure of comfort. She blew a kiss to her son’s marble plaque as she left Warriors Walk.
Arthur graduated from Lake City High School in 2003. He joined the Army in November of that year. He was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Army Good Conduct Medal.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, 3rd ID deputy commander general-rear, said Arthur played baseball and football and was in Junior ROTC in high school.
Phillips said, as a soldier, Arthur “preferred a life on the road.”
“He loved vehicles,” the general said. “He could drive anything and tell you about any vehicle.”
Phillips said Arthur was a dedicated soldier who “made a difference.”
He then spoke about Arthur’s friend, Bailey, saying they were like “brother and sister.”
The general said Bailey followed in her father’s footsteps by joining the military. The young woman easily won people over by “sheer force of personality,” he said.
Bailey’s parents, Tony and Phyliss Bailey of Phoenix City, Ala., were not able to attend the tree dedication. But several of her family’s friends did.
“I remember her wonderful smile,” Patsy Blidge of Savannah said. “Lakeshia never knew an enemy.”
Blidge said Bailey never uttered a hurtful word about anyone, and practiced the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Blidge said her granddaughter, Corneshia Whitacker, and Bailey were friends since high school. Blidge was not able to attend Bailey’s funeral in March, but when she heard about the tree dedication at Fort Stewart she said “I stopped everything I was doing and came.”
Chantay Griswold, another Bailey family friend, said she first met Bailey in El Paso, Texas. Bailey’s father was in the Army and the family moved frequently.
“Lakeshia was just 3 years old when I met her,” Griswold said. “She was a sweet little girl. She used to come to my house all the time to swim.”
Bailey and Arthur’s company commander, Capt. Matthew Jones, said he was “humbled and honored” by the double tree dedication. The ceremony at Fort Stewart helps illustrate on a national level, as well as a local level, the ultimate sacrifice the two soldiers made, Jones said.
The captain described Arthur and Bailey as “consummate professionals every single day.”
He said Arthur was known for being “a funny guy” and Bailey had “an infectious attitude.”
“They were just bang-up NCOs,” Jones said. “They’ll definitely be missed.”