U.S. soldiers serving in the city of Hit, Iraq, gathered to pay final respects to two fallen comrades who were killed in action just one day apart.
More than 100 soldiers gathered in separate ceremonies Oct. 4 and 6, 2006, along with Marines, sailors and airmen, to honor Spc. Luis Enrique Tejeda, a 20-year-old from Lynwood, Calif., and Army Sgt. Mario Nelson, a 26-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., respectively.
Both soldiers were killed during combat operations in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province – Tejeda Sept. 30, Nelson Oct. 1.
Both soldiers were assigned to the Friedburg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, which has provided security here since February.
The battalion is attached to Regimental Combat Team 7, the Marine Corps command responsible for providing security to more than 30,000 square miles of Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.
Both soldiers were members of 1-36’s Alpha Company.
Tejeda and Nelson were the battalion’s fourth and fifth soldiers killed in action since the unit arrived in Iraq earlier this year.
Nelson was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in January 1999. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, he joined the Army’s active duty ranks.
“Sgt. Nelson excelled at everything he did in life,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell Brown, Nelson’s platoon sergeant, during Nelson’s memorial service. “He was an amazing soldier, a superb (noncommissioned officer), a true warrior, and a great man. He died guarding the soldiers he loved.”
Tejeda was a graduate of Bell Senior High School and joined the Army in July 2004 when he was 18.
“Spc. Tejeda was an outstanding soldier; (he) was always motivated and willing to do whatever it took to get the job done, said Army Capt. Thomas Kucik, Tejeda’s company commander. “He was loved and respected by every soldier in this company.”
The fallen soldiers’ memories were represented during the hour-long ceremonies with Kevlar helmets set atop rifles stuck bayonet-first into a wooden pedestal and adorned with dog tags, combat boots, personal medals and a folded American flag.
A portrait of each fallen soldier was featured on their respective memorials.
A bullet-pocked wall provided a background behind the memorials. Soldiers stood beside the pedestal and recounted personal memories of their fallen comrades.
Both were remembered for their bravery on the battlefield and selfless service.
Nelson spotted most of the roadside bombs in the platoon and saved the lives of the soldiers by doing so, said Brown.
“His dedication to duty was something all here should aspire to,” said Brown during the memorial. “I have never met a better NCO or soldier. His soldiers knew that when Sgt. Nelson was there, everything would be OK.”
Spc. Rodrigo Gomez with Alpha Company attended middle school with Tejeda, affectionately known as “T.J.,” and recounted how Tejeda always made his fellow soldiers laugh.
“Today we are not only here to remember T.J. as a hard-working and motivated soldier, we are also here to remember him as a friend,” said Gomez during Tejeda’s memorial service. “He was loved by everybody.”
During each ceremony, the fallen were honored with a 21-gun salute. Army 1st Sgt. Flynn Broady, Alpha Company’s senior enlisted advisor, gave the final role, reading off last names of the company’s soldiers.
When he called out the fallen soldiers’ names, there was no response. Fellow soldiers fought back tears as Broady called out “Nelson!” and “Tejeda!” at their respective memorial service.
Since December of last year, 1-36 has provided security in Hit, a city of 50,000 in the western Al Anbar Province, where arguably some of the fiercest fighting takes place. The soldiers face small-arms fire and IED attacks daily.
After the playing of “Taps,” every soldier, Marine, airman and sailor stood in line to stand in front of the pedestal and pay final respects to the fallen soldiers. Many kneeled before the pedestal and shed tears while touching the pair of boots or dog tags.
The battalion, also known as “Task Force 1-36,” was recently extended for six more weeks of duty in Iraq.
E-mail Sgt. Seigle at firstname.lastname@example.org