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Iraq-deployed U.S. Army unit pays last respects to one of their own;

7 Apr 2006 | Capt. Mike Alvarez

U.S. soldiers paid their final respects to one of their fallen here during an early morning memorial service today.

Pfc. Jeremy Wayne Ehle, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Va., died April 2, 2006, as a result of a wound received during combat operations on March 28, 2006 in the city of Hit, Iraq.

Ehle was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Freidburg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, which is currently attached to Regimental Combat Team 7 in western Al Anbar Province.

Ehle, an infantryman with the battalion’s 3rd Platoon, Company A, also known as “Apache Company,” was on a dismounted foot patrol when he was shot by enemy fire. He died four days later at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

His death was felt throughout the unit.

“He was always excited about doing his job,” said Ehle’s squad leader, Staff Sgt. Barry A. Nickerson, from Woonsocket, R.I., minutes before the memorial service, as he reflected on the enthusiasm the young soldier brought to the squad.  “He was a soldier destined to do great things.”

The company, in formation, assembled on a blacktop surface just outside of an old single-leveled structure, occupied by the Iraqi Army soldiers who are currently partnered with the unit.  Directly opposite the formation, stood Ehle’s memorial, which was displayed in the traditional fashion — A Kevlar helmet carefully balanced on the butt stock of an M-16A2 service rifle, which stood upright with its muzzle pointed down, its bayonet firmly holding it in place. 

Hanging from the rifle’s pistol grip, the clinking sound of dog tags resonated as they swayed in the persistent, chilly breeze everyone felt as they silently awaited the ceremony’s commencement. 

The American flag, crisply folded into a tight triangle, rested at the base of the rifle’s barrel and was flanked by three of Ehle’s most recent awards — Bronze Star on the left — Purple Heart on the right — Combat Infantryman’s Badge on the bottom.

The empty boots, resting at the base of the display were positioned, heels together, toes pointed outward at a 45 degree angle, which resembled the position of attention Ehle learned to assume approximately six months ago at his first duty assignment, where he underwent U.S. Army basic training.

Ehle’s portrait, which was prominently placed in front of the memorial was flanked by two flags — one represented the nation he gave his life for — the other, the unit he gave his life for.

As the Company stood quietly in remembrance of their fallen brother, Lt. Col. Thomas Graves, battalion commander, was the first to pay his respects at the podium.

“We have gathered to honor a soldier who died doing what he pledged to do — to support and defend the constitution,” said Graves, from Killeen, Texas.  “The best way we could thank Pfc. Ehle is to complete our mission.”

Several of Ehle’s fellow “Spartans” – the battalion’s nickname – followed suit and spoke of Ehle as a soldier who was friendly and capable beyond his rank.

“Every time I saw him working, he had a smile,” said Capt. Eric Stainbrook, Spokane, Wash. native and commander for Company A. “Pfc. Ehle…I’m proud to have served with you.”

“He was disciplined and intelligent beyond his rank”, accounted Capt. Carl Bjork, from Stone Mountain, Ga. and platoon leader for the 3rd Platoon.

Speaking over the faint noise of a military jet flying in the distance, which served as a sobering reminder that the Spartans still have a mission to accomplish ahead of them, the Battalion Chaplain, Capt. Masaki Nakazono, from Turlock, Calif., delivered the final meditation – “Confronting evil is what a warrior does. The Lord uses soldiers like Pfc. Ehle to inspire us.”

Following Nakazono’s remarks and a brief moment of silence, the unit was called to attention by the Company First Sergeant — “Company! Attention!” — all who were present snapped to the position of attention and stood in unison.

The company’s senior enlisted soldier, 1st. Sgt. David Sapp, from Metter, Ga., read a final company role call. Each soldier responded with “Here, first sergeant!” when their name was called.

But when Sapp called for Ehle, a grim silence hung over the gathering of soldiers. Silence was broken by the playing of Taps, as the seven-man rifle-detail rendered a 21-gun salute with the loud crackle of gunfire. 

Soldiers, sailors and Marines filed off their ranks toward the memorial to pay their final respects to Ehle. 

Ehle began active duty on Aug. 25, 2005. He reported to Company A on Dec. 29, 2005 where he served for approximately three months.

Ehle is survived by his two brothers, Corey and Elliot, his aunt, Lisa Meade, and his uncle, Vern Petty.