By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff
LATHAM, N.Y. – It was a mournful gathering.
At the podium, New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Van Pelt spoke the name of each Soldier three times consecutively, a brass Navy bell clanged, and a white candle was lit upon the final echo of each. When all names were read, 11 flames were aglow — illuminating the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.
Soldiers and civilians from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs gathered here Dec. 20 to honor the lives of 11 New York Army National Guard Soldiers who died supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom: Sgt. Heath A. McMillin; Spc. Michael L. Williams; Spc. Nathan Brown; Sgt. Michael A. Uvanni; Spc. Segun Akintade; Sgt. David L. Roustum; Staff Sgt. Philip Engeldrum; Spc. Wilfredo F. Urbina; Sgt. David M. Fisher; Staff Sgt. Henry E. Irizarry; and Sgt. Joseph O. Behnke.
“There is a diversity in those names,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas P. MaGuire, Jr., Adjutant General. He explained that, aside from their ethnic diversities, the Soldiers hailed from diverse communities across New York.
In a symbolic gesture, members of the State Military Forces Honor Guard unfolded the flag, holding it’s stars and stripes in full view before refolding it into a tight triangle and sharply presenting it to the command sergeant major.
Speaking of the mission in Iraq, New York Army National Guard Chaplain, Maj. Anthony Diacetis said, “there is no one who doubts those men and women who have died in the sands of Iraq … and there is no one who doubts our prayer for them.”
These are tremendous Americans, New Yorkers, and tremendous words have been said about these young men over the past three years — not just in the past week or two, said the Adjutant General. “It’s a litany what they have done for us and a litany in what their families have done for us.”
“Please recommit yourselves to that litany … it’s the best way we can honor these 11 Soldiers.”