Blog written by: Brandon Young; Team RWB Director of Development
I remember them, all of them. Every day. I don’t live for them, I could never do this justice. I cannot hold myself to any expectation worthy of their sacrifice because I could never earn what they willingly gave. Nobody can. Nobody ever could.
We cannot live for them. But we can live.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13 ESV. These words, spoken millennia ago by Jesus of Nazareth are often echoed when we recall the memories of our fallen. When we recount their sacrifices. A powerful statement that projects what they gave, born of love in the purest. The part we routinely forget, though, is the preceding statement delivering the most powerful, actionable and clear sentiment in the very same scripture.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12.
I will not live for my fallen brothers, I will live with them. I will love others, as I have been loved. Give an empathetic ear to the hurting, walk with the lost, care for the needy and act for the marginalized. As best I can in my limited capacity. I will not drown myself in alcohol, isolate myself from my family and my community or punish myself for not following them into eternity too soon. How could I remember them so? That is not the love they gave for me. Nor is it the love Jesus displayed in His often-quoted sentiment.
I could never forget them, they are my friends, they are my brothers.
Dave McDowell and his Ranger Buddy, Jake, welcomed me, always. I came home to A Co. 2/75 from Ranger School 155 lbs. soaking wet in 1999. Before my week of rest and recovery, I was required to zero my M240B and qualify, so I met the C Co. maggots in the parking lot at dusk, ready to jump on the trucks and head out. Even though I was an “A Co. guy”, Dave welcomed me with that big smile and I rolled out with new brothers. Years later, he would meet me at the C Co. CQ desk and welcome me, again. I was a new Madslasher, the platoon he grew up in. Open arms, warmly embracing his brother.
He used to laugh, but he used to make us all laugh. When we were Pre-Ranger Cadre together out at Cole Range, he’d zip around on the quad, smiling. A mountain of a man with his little MICH helmet and Oakley’s, we likened him to a circus bear on a tricycle. When I committed to the Best Ranger Competition (BRC), he was there for us. Any range, any training, anything we needed to be successful, that’s the kind of man Dave was. He used to say, “I’m not doing Best Ranger, but you guys are and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help you be successful!” To date, it was the best showing of any 75th Ranger Regiment BRC team, placing 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th and 9th out of 15 finishing teams. I remember Dave. Man, how we laughed together.
Lance Vogeler was on that very same 2006 75th Ranger Regiment BRC team. He was so upset when he didn’t finish, having sustained an injury during training that forced him to withdraw from the road march. His laughter filled the vans during our months of train up. It never mattered that Lance didn’t finish that year. Lance had the courage to toe the line to begin with. His attempt was a success at its’ onset.
Jay Blessing was an incredibly talented artist. He went to Ranger School, as we all did, and found himself struggling in the Mountains, refusing to ever give up. He finally buckled and they discovered that he had been suffering from pneumonia and a collapsed lung. Back home at Ft. Lewis, Jay recovered slowly under the mentorship of Battalion legend and retired Marine, Mr. Ray Fuller, in the Battalion Arms Room. Jay was exceptional at the task and a sponge. He soaked up every drop of knowledge he could gather from the Legendary Marine and kept the Battalion heavy guns operational.
Jay would not accept defeat and returned to Ranger School, grinding through the suck to reach the “Ranger objective”. His body once again rejected the circumstances, but his resolve rejected failure. Jay limped into graduation with yet another case of pneumonia and lung complications and earned his tab. Mission Complete. He was on his way to the Special Forces Qualification Course when we got alerted for the Winter Strike of 2003. Committed to his brothers, Jay deployed becoming the first casualty of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in the Global War on Terror.
Casey Casavant was hysterical. The man with a smile and personality as large as the Big Sky of his home Montana was incapable of a straight face. He was full of belly laughs and cheer. You could always pick out Casey on an airfield or any other objective. He was the one with a 1-Liter bottle of Mountain Dew in his hand. He used to stuff at least two or three into his assault pack or ruck. When Casey and I attended the Primary Leadership Development Course (NCO Education System 1) with our Ranger Buddies, we felt like strangers in a strange land.
The cadre determined that the Rangers needed to allow our fellow “soon to be Sergeants” the opportunity to lead in the field, un-hindered by our experience or personalities. This was a good call. The solution was each of us “Batt. Boys” would serve as the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) for every platoon in the field for the whole training exercise. This was a bad call. I cannot recall the specifics of the hilarity that ensued each night, but of one thing I am certain: the evenings full of Batt. Boy Radio hour, verbally thrashing each other and our fellow students and hitting pre-determined bump frequencies so as not to be detected by our instructors, was definitely Casey’s idea! I can hear him laughing from the other side of the Company bivouac now.
James Nehl was simply one of my heroes. When I arrived at the Blacksheep, he was the 1st Squad Leader and I was a Maggot under the leadership of his brother-in-law, Daryl. I was always at a slight distance, but James was quiet and strong; the kind of silent confidence that made you want to be better and win his respect. Growing up 3 squads down the hallways I always took notice to James because he was confident, intentional and innovative.
His squad always seemed to be doing something different, trying something new. In hindsight he struck me as a bit shy, but when he laughed, his smile would light up his face and quickly enlist the entire room in the joke. After becoming a young Ranger Leader, my M240B team was attached to James squad, “The Deer Hunters” and I couldn’t have been more elated. Being let into his circle was an honor. I forever wanted to make him proud.
Kris Domeij was one of the most confident young Rangers I had the pleasure to serve with. As his Squad Leader in charge of the maneuver section he was attached to at the beginning of the war he was always technically and tactically proficient. A Forward Observer to be counted on regardless of the circumstance, but more than this, one of the boys regardless of his youth in rank. You couldn’t dislike Kris, he was awesome. During our first deployment, I recall a long patrol in the Lwara Dasta, which left the section completely out of water and burning up in the heat of the dessert. The conditions were so bad that one of our Rangers had to be extracted due to severe heat casualty.
Kris would finish the mission. I looked over during a halt to see him finishing off the last drops of his saline I.V. bag. He looked over at me with that rueful smile and big cheeks and merely offered, “I was thirsty, Sergeant”.
“Domeij, you know you just basically downed a canteen of salt water, right?”
His shoulders shrugged off the matter. I shook my head and we moved on. Sometime later, Kris approached me and said, “Uh, can I have a sip of your water, Sergeant, my mouth is like a dry salt lick!?” Later that mission in a hide site, Kris asked me if he could take off his boots to cool down his feet. “Charlie is doing it…” Our Air Force Enlisted Tactical Air Controller (ETAC). I always see Kris and Charlie in that site together, two larger than life personalities and a combined force to be reckoned with. Exceptional. So talented.
Josh Wheeler had another smile that could light up the darkness. We met during Advance Special Operations Training course held by the Battalion. All of the Squad Leaders from the Battalion rallied for two weeks during one of the most memorable and constructive training session I experienced in the Army. We were, essentially, unleashed in small teams of SSG’s across a myriad of missions. Josh was so humble, so curious. He didn’t care what company anyone was from, he only cared about being better. I admired him so much.
Brian Bradshaw was so similar. I met this young man as his Platoon Instructor during Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course (IBOLC) at Ft. Benning in 2008. IBOLC is a 13-week cycle to prepare newly commissioned Lieutenants to serve as Platoon Leaders in the Army. Each of my 40-man platoon would leave at the end of our cycle, go to Ranger School and then immediately deploy to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. I cannot imagine how this must have felt. Brian was sharp, quick and intelligent. He cracked me up with his silly throwback Oakley Razors that I was certain were created before even he was.
My time with these young men was a capstone to my military service and one of the most special experiences I had in the Army. Amongst a platoon of focused, young leaders, Brian was always one of the platoon mates who would tarry the longest, ask the last questions, gather the last pearls of wisdom from my training partner, Bryan Hart, and me. Only Brian would crack that last joke to cut the atmosphere. He would exhaust me with questions and I loved every minute of it. I just loved that guy.
Love brings us back. Back to the start, back to today. The smiles we see in the dark. The little chuckles and moments we carry to the end. More names pour out in the silence for me: Damian Ficek, Steve Langmack, Ed Homeyer, Ricardo Barrazza. Men I served with and respected. These names, these people and the thousands of others that will not be lost on my heart.
Today is Memorial Day. A Day to remember and for those of us able, a day to live. Perhaps a day to hike with the family, visit with our neighbors, reconnect with old buddies and remember. Hopefully, we remember with a smile, but I respect that some may do so with the bitter sting of a loss on such a deeply personal level that Gold Star Mother, Scoti Domeij captures in “Dreading Memorial Day”. I simply cannot imagine the loss of a child or a spouse. I also respect that Memorial Day may hold a completely different kind of sting to those who bare the pain of such traumatic loss experienced before their very eyes. Memories of loss seen under violent circumstances.
My heart is with you. Truly.
Wherever you are today, however you remember, please do not remember alone. Call a friend, call your family or a neighbor. Draw close to someone who loves you, please. If you feel the weight of your loss today in such a way that is so heavy, so profound that it chokes out the love that our brothers and sisters displayed in their sacrifice, please call one of the resources below.
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
“One for the Airborne Ranger in the Sky”
Read more on the Havok Journal.