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Fort Lewis Community Pays Tribute to Fallen Stryker Brigade Soldiers

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT LEWIS, Wash., Aug. 30, 2007 – Members of the Fort Lewis community paid a somber tribute yesterday to two of their own killed in recent combat operations in Iraq.

About 250 friends and family, fellow soldiers and community members gathered in the base’s Evergreen Chapel to honor Cpl. Shawn D. Hensel and Cpl. Willard M. Powell. Both soldiers were members of the 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s 4th Brigade, both hailed from the Hoosier state and both were buried Aug. 25 near their respective hometowns.

Hensel, 20, of Logansport, Ind., was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, and died Aug. 14 in Baghdad. The cause of his death remains under investigation, but officials here said initial signs indicate he may have been caught in crossfire.

Powell, 21, of Evansville, Ind., died Aug. 16 in Balad after being wounded by enemy small-arms fire in Taramiyah. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.

Two weeks after their deaths, after they were honored by their deployed units in Iraq, after their remains were returned home to their loved ones and laid to rest, the Fort Lewis community got its opportunity yesterday to bid farewell to its fallen comrades.

Army Maj. Chad Sundem, the brigade’s rear detachment commander, took the pulpit alongside two memorial stands, each with a pair of combat boots, Kevlar helmet, goggles and an M4-A1 rifle, to honor the soldiers who put their country above themselves.

Both were teenagers when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and both had many choices about how they would spend their lives, Sundem noted. “But ultimately, both chose the most honorable and selfless profession in this world, which is to serve your nation,” he said.

Hensel and Powell answered their country’s call in its time of need, recognizing the near-certainty that they’d end up in harm’s way to face a ruthless enemy, Sundem said.

“I think they opted to influence change in the world and preserve our foundations,” he said. “I think they stood professionally and silently as their nation’s sentries,” guarding it against people intent on harming it, and protecting freedom for future generations.”

Capt. Andrew Marsh, rear detachment commander for 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry, called Hensel a “true hero” who quietly and unassumingly demonstrated principles of duty, sacrifice and selflessness.

Fellow soldier Staff Sgt. Jonathon Taylor, who attended the memorial wearing his Purple Heart medal dangling on his chest, remembered Hensel’s ability to lighten the mood in the worst of situations by cracking a joke and flashing a winning smile.

Capt. Ellis Summer, rear detachment commander for 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, remembered Powell as an expert marksman who was active in his hometown church and loved playing the prankster.

Spc. Shawn Morgan shared memories of the day the Stryker vehicle he and Powell were riding came under attack, and how Powell rushed to his aid when he was wounded. Without skipping a beat, and with little regard for his own safety, Powell moved into Morgan’s place and laid suppressive fire against the enemy.

“At my time of need, he was next to me, trying to keep a smile on my face,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he’ll always remember Powell for making the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed in. He was “a man who, no matter what, could always be counted on as a friend and a soldier,” he said. “But most of all, I will always remember him as one of my heroes.”

After personal remembrances came to a close and 1st Sgt. Matthew Conway from the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry rear detachment read the 23rd Psalm, bagpipers from the Tacoma (Wash.) Fire Department played a haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Next followed the final roll call, as Conway read Hensel’s and Powell’s names aloud three times, each time followed by a chilling silence. It lingered over the chapel, broken only by the call of “Present Arms!” as the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team honor guard rendered a three-volley rifle salute to its fallen soldiers.

Muffled sniffles gave way to the wail of “Taps,” played by a bugler from the 56th Army Band.

As the ceremony ended, the group filed row by row, beginning with family members in the first row, to pay personal tribute to the soldiers at the memorial stands in the front of the chapel.

Soldiers, many with reddened eyes, approached the memorial, snapping crisp salutes to their fallen comrades. They filed silently out the doors of the chapel, into the bright sunshine and back to duty.

Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Barnhard, a chaplain’s assistant at Evergreen Chapel, called the memorial ceremonies held here every Wednesday for units that have suffered losses an important part of the healing process.

Barnhard called it a time for soldiers who served with the fallen to join together with the rest of the Fort Lewis community, including the public, to remember troops who have made the final sacrifice.

“It gives them a chance to come together, honor their fellow soldiers and say goodbye,” he said.

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