This past weekend was packed full of emotional
experiences that just renewed my allegiance to our United States of
The highlight of the weekend was an Independence Day
picnic with 18 family members and 27 friends in Hickory, N.C. Each year,
worn out flags are retired, with the proper disposal, and a ceremony is
held around the burning fire. This year, an essay was read to focus on
members of the Armed Services and their feelings when a comrade is lost
in battle. Our feelings were of pride and gratitude for the sacrifices
they have made for us.
“Benjamin J. Slaven, age 22. Have you ever heard the
name? Me neither. I learned his name June 14, 2006, here at Base Camp
Adder, Iraq. Specialist Slaven was a member of the 308th Transportation
Company, an Army Reserve unit from Nebraska. Ben Slaven lost his life to
an improvised explosive device detonated on June 9, 2006, while
conducting a combat logistic patrol escorting water, food and fuel
supplies in support of coalition forces.
According to his brothers-in-arms, he was a little
brother that everyone loved having around. He could have easily been our
brother, cousin or neighbor. His friends called him Superman; not
because he felt he was invincible, but because of a small tattoo on his
shoulder. A young man known for striving to be the best at all he did,
he was admired by everyone in his unit. He was known for his propensity
to go out of his way to help others and to bring a smile to the face of
another, no matter the situation. During the eulogy, a friend noted that
he liked to sneak around the living area meowing like a cat. The nutty
actions of Ben Slaven still made people smile, even at the end of his
Back home in Nebraska, Ben Slaven worked with mentally
disabled people in a developmental center. His primary goal in life was
to find the love of his life and settle down with a small family. Not
unlike the hopes and dreams of many young Americans today. Instead of
going home with more life experience and perhaps the love of his life he
dreamed of, Ben went home in a casket.
The story of Benjamin Slaven has affected many souls
here at Base Camp Adder. During the memorial service, the life of Ben
Slaven affected my life. Never before has a service touched me as deep
as this one did. I can’t seem to explain it, but the events of June 14,
2006, made me reflect on my 20 years of service and 39 years of life.
I’ve seen and done many things, never really thinking about the ultimate
price we are asked to pay.
I will tell you that I was not the
only soldier affected by the service. A soldier most of us never knew
brought all of us to tears multiple times. The story told by his battle
buddy could easily have been the story of any one of us. No matter how
different each one of us are, we are bound by the common cause of
spreading freedom to the world. Yes, it is a
cliché, but it is so true. We believe whole-heartedly in what we do. We
love the freedoms so evident in the United States that we are willing to
pay the price for others to share in that wonderful part of our lives.
We take so much for granted in our daily lives that most of us cannot
even fathom the oppression in the world. We still have much to learn
about life outside our little comfort zone.
There were several key points to the service that I’d
like to point out. First, the memorial box itself. A single weapon,
muzzle down with bayonet attached, a single helmet perched on the butt
stock and a pair of boots at the base. A picture of our fallen comrade
in arms leaned against the weapon. The memorial box was shadowed by the
American Flag and the Army Flag crossed with the unit guidon placed
between the two. The second key part of the service was the final roll
call by the Company First Sergeant. He called the names of Slaven’s
squad. Johnson, Overby, Slaven. He called Slaven’s name three times.
Slaven . . . Benjamin Slaven . . . Specialist Benjamin James Slaven.
My hair stood on end. Chill bumps. More silence. In the
distance I heard, “Port, Arms!” “Ready, Aim, Fire!” BAM “Ready, Aim,
Fire!” BAM “Ready, Aim, Fire!” BAM. Silence. The bugler began to play
taps. Tears leaked from our eyes.
The service concluded with everyone moving to the
memorial box, first as command teams, then as individuals. Each soldier
stopped in front of the memorial, executed a right face and saluted. A
solemn final act of respect paid to our brother.
I’ve experienced many funerals with military honors in
my life, even participated as a part of a burial team. I have never been
moved like I was in this service. Chill bumps, hair standing on end and
tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. No amount of self-control
could overcome the emotions of the day.
I will never forget the events of June 14, 2006, and I
hope I never have to experience another memorial service while I am here
in Iraq. Ours is a dangerous job, but we are well prepared and well
equipped to do our jobs. We can only be diligent in our daily duties and
execute our mission with professionalism beyond reproach. We are
American Soldiers proudly protecting our way of life, eagerly giving
what we have so that others may experience the true joy of freedom and
all it has to offer.”
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United
States and live the Army values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and
mentally tough, trained and
proficient in my Warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain
my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and
destroy the enemies of the
United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the
American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.