219 Name Tags
In 2015 after the tragic loss of a friend, Army Ranger Veteran George Eshleman decided to hike the Appalachian Trail carrying the name tags of 218 veterans who ended their own lives. Much like many veterans, George has also fought the temptations of suicide.
George, like SailAhead, is focused on spreading PTSD and Veteran Suicide awareness in order to work towards healing veterans and decreasing the number of suicides, which is currently at least 22 a day!
With the approval of the families, SailAhead has duplicated the 218 tags and added one more for our own friend, USMC - LCpl Michael E Blanco who ended his life on Monday, February 15, 2010 at the young age of 19.
219 and Our Mates
Technically, at least 22 a day translates to at least 220 veteran suicides every 10 days. So why does SailAhead have 219 tags? And what does it mean?|
“2” represents the 2 brothers, Kilian Duclay and Sean Duclay, who took on this fight to change the 22 per day statistic and "19" represents the young age of our USMC friend Michael Blanco when he ended his life.
"219" has become the symbol of our fight as every 10 days America loses the equivalent of one USMC Company at home. SailAhead aims to make a difference in the lives of local PTSD suffering veterans and their families. 219 is 1 less than 220, this 1 less is the symbol of the life we are working so hard to save.
The white of our flag represents the color of the ocean and more specifically the breaking waves when at sea in a really bad storm. The "219" is in black representing the color of the threatening clouds during that same storm. Black represents the mourning for our lost friends.
When dealing with PTSD and depressions, our veterans are facing too often such storms in their heads.
SailAhead’s mission is to do whatever it takes to throw in a monkey wrench, and to disturb that vicious and saddening cycle of 22 a day. SailAhead exists to be a disruptor and restorer. A disruptor of the statistics established by the VA, while restoring peace, purpose and camaraderie to the minds and souls of countless veterans. Each sail gives us the opportunity to make this reality wrong.
The spirit of the 219 veterans will live through their name tags and will accompany SailAhead’s veterans each time our boats go out to sea. This is our humble way of honoring them, they have become Our Mates, our compass and they uplift us with strength!
Our MatesSGT Ryan Baker, USMC | SGT Wade A Baker, ARMY | LCpl Michael E Blanco, USMC | SGT Sophie Champoux, ARMY | SPC Ryan J Day, ARMY
SGT Jacob M Gray, USMC | SGT Christopher Henze, ARMY | SSG Robert W Ira Hinton, ARMY | SGT Shawn M Reilly, ARMY | LCpl Brandon W Robinson, USMC
SrA Tyler J Rutter, AIR FORCE | SPC Andrew J Smith, ARMY | SPC Tyler J Springstead, ARMY | SGT Timothy Defoix Stalter, ARMY | SFC Michael W Strand, ARMY
SPC David P. Swenson, ARMY | CPL Vincent Taaffe, USMC | SPC Mathew D Taylor, ARMY | SSgt Eric R Turner, AIR FORCE | SSG Peter Y Turner II, ARMY
SSgt Tanner Volkers, AIR FORCE | CPL Dustin B Woods, ARMY
SGT Ryan Baker
By Malissa, Ryan's Mom
Ryan was born on January 4, 1989 – he ended his life on August 6, 2015.
Until June 2001, Ryan grew up mainly in East Springfield and Amsterdam, Ohio. He played Little League baseball and hung out with his friends like all kids. In 2001, he moved to the San Antonio, Texas area, but returned several times a year to visit relatives and friends. After graduating high school in 2007, Ryan joined the Marines, without his parent’s prior knowledge. Ryan proudly served his country in the Marine Corps from August 2007 through August 2011. He continued to serve in the inactive reserves, until his death. While on active duty, he served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ryan’s life-long dream was to become a pediatric dentist, which he started pursuing from the time his active duty commitment expired. When he returned home, he attended San Antonio College for 2 ½ years.
Throughout his life, Ryan always was the type of person that always wanted to help others. While still in high school, he volunteered as a junior firefighter at two local fire departments, then as a volunteer firefighter once he turned 18. He even volunteered while home on leave from the Marines. His heart was so big; his love for the elderly and children was the hallmark of his life. He would mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn then sit and talk with her for hours. He would gather his nieces and nephews on the spur of the moment and take them to the park and then for ice cream. Numerous neighbors always sought after Ryan to baby sit because of the trust they had and the love their children had for him.
When Ryan returned home, and began college, he joined several charities, to include The Proof Project and Habitat for Humanity. He donated blood and plasma regularly. He began working at South Eastern Freight Lines, where he quickly became a night shift supervisor. Unfortunately, when Ryan returned home from the Marines, he also brought home some additional baggage, in the form of PTSD. Nightmares increased in severity and frequency and he would thrash about, swinging his arms and kicking his legs violently. Ryan began living on Red Bull at night, just to stay awake to ward off the nightmares. Numerous family members and close friends spent countless hours talking with Ryan, trying to convince him to seek counseling. Ryan constantly refused, feeling that if he sought counseling, it would be viewed negatively on the career he was pursuing. No amount of discussion would convince him otherwise. Finally, Ryan did see a physician about his fear of going to sleep. The doctor prescribed him Ambien. He tried the Ambien for a few days, but then stopped taking it because, as Ryan put it, the medicine made him unable to wake up from his night terrors.
In April 2014, Ryan met the love of his life, Alisha (Ally). Along with Ally’s six year old daughter, Alana, they became inseparable. Ryan took on the role of a doting father, a role for which God had prepared him. On December 13, 2014, Ryan and Ally exchanged vows in a beautiful Texas Hill Country wedding. After the wedding, everyone was hopeful that the demons that haunted Ryan would be dismissed by the love and happiness he found. However, the nightmares continued to increase and become more severe. The PTSD, adjustment to married life, financial setbacks and other stressors began to escalate. Although he was coaxed by many to seek help he always refused, wanting to fight his battles on his own, on his own terms.
On August 5, 2015, Ryan and Ally were asleep in bed. Since they had been together, they kept the same sleep schedule, since Ryan worked nights, so they could spend more time together. During the early hours of that morning, Ryan had his most severe nightmare. While in a deep sleep, he began kicking Ally in the ribs and put his hands around her throat and squeezed. She managed to break away and eventually wake Ryan.
Ryan went to work that evening with a very heavy heart, constantly texting and calling to repeatedly apologize. Around midnight on August 6th, he tried calling Ally while on a break. Ally had fallen asleep and did not hear her phone ringing. Worried that she was hurt or possibly leaving him over what happened, Ryan left work and went home to check on Ally. Once, home they both went for a walk, during which they discussed the incident and Ally begged him to get help for the PTSD. Ryan told her he had all the help he needed right there. He then took her hand and placed it on his hip. She felt the butt of a pistol. Ally pulled away from him and began crying and begging him not to do anything. She told him they had Alana to think about. Being in shock of what was going on in front of her Ally closed her eyes, not knowing whether he was going to shoot her, himself or both of them. She then heard a loud snap, which she described as the sound made when someone is snapping the heels of their shoes together in a military formation. She then heard a single gunshot. She opened her eyes and Ryan was laying on the ground with a gunshot wound through his temple. Ally ran, screaming to a nearby apartment to have them call 911. The police and paramedics arrived and began caring for Ryan. But, it was too late. Ryan’s demons had won.
For anyone who may know someone or even are contemplating suicide themselves, this is not the answer. Ryan’s death killed his demons, but it unleashed others on his entire family and close friends. Every member of his family has experienced the agony of being notified of his death, which is relived constantly, not only in dreams, but in thoughts throughout every single day. His daughter sits and stares at his picture and talks to him just the same as if he was standing next to her. His nieces and nephews still talk about the things Uncle Ryan did with them and how much they wish he was here to do it again. His cousins still talk about him, have broken down in tears, and have said how he affected their lives in such a positive way. His brother is struggling in college due to a lack of focus caused by the loss of his brother. His other brother, a firefighter/EMT has not been sleeping because he feels guilt for not being there for Ryan, even though his job is to save lives.
As his Mother, I live with the thought everyday of losing a baby I brought into the world. I feel like a failure as a parent. Ryan’s death has caused me and my husband to seek counseling. Although I encouraged Ryan numerous times to get help for his PTSD, I feel I should have forced him to go, although I know he would have fought me on the issue. Anyone that knew Ryan understands he would never in a million years have done this if it hadn’t been for the contributing factors. He was the best uncle to my grandkids. Hide and go seek, Nerf guns, taking them to the park, waking them up to sneak a peek of the gifts Santa brought, waking them to watch a movie with him or play video games. These are just a few of the things he did to make us a family. They all loved him so much and this is why he became such a great dad to Alana. He would go out of his way to help family, friends and even strangers. Everyone says the one thing they remember most about Ryan was the huge smile he always had on his face. This is how I remember him; the best son, husband, father, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew cousin, friend, co-worker and Marine.
Ryan was a 2007 graduate of Wagner High School in Converse, Texas. Ryan honorably served his country in the United States Marine Corps, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan eras, where he attained the rank of Sergeant. He also attended college for dentistry in San Antonio, Texas. He gave back always in service of volunteering with local shelters and is missed and loved by so many.
SGT Wade A Baker
PTSD stole a loving son, brother, father, grandfather, grandson and ex-husband from our family.
Wade Baker was born November 12, 1970 in a small town in central Iowa to Darrell and Candy Baker. He was welcomed home by a 4 year old sister, Laura. Their childhood was the American dream. A loving family that was there every night, playing with friends until the street lights came on and never anything that Mom or Dad could not fix. Summers were filled with friendly games of baseball in the Baker yard and exploring the town and surrounding areas on the backs of the ponies. Winters were a time for sledding, building snow forts and racing electric cars in the basement. Wade was always very active in sports. Wade started wrestling when he was in second grade and the family travelled to many tournaments over the next 11 years. He also competed in football, baseball and track all through high school. He also showed horses with his sister and enjoyed hunting with his Dad. The family home was always filled with friends and laughter. They enjoyed many wonderful family vacations with the best one being a trip to Hawaii for 2 weeks.
He graduated from high school in the spring of 1989. That August, he joined the Army and went to basic training in Fort Benning, Ga. The family drove down to watch him graduate. He was then stationed in Fort Riley, Ks. Wade married his high school sweetheart, Diane, on May 26, 1990 in Melbourne, Iowa. They were stationed in Fort Riley where Wade was deployed to Saudi Arabia in December, 1990 and returned home in May of 1991. This was one of many deployments he would face in his military career. In February 1993 he was sent to Baumholder, Germany. Diane moved to the base in Germany that June. On October 2, 1993 Wade and Diane welcomed their first child, a daughter, Dana Jolene. Dana welcomed a little sister, Kayla Jeanne on January 24, 1996. The family returned to the United States later that same year, and joined their new station at Fort Hood, Texas.
Wade’s daughters were a source of great joy for him. He loved taking them fishing and hunting. He coached their t-ball teams and shared with them his love of the Iowa Hawkeyes. One year for Halloween, Wade spent weeks making Dana a gilly suit to wear. They painted her face in camouflage, and set her in the front yard to scare the kids that came to the door. Dana got scared pretending to be a pile of leaves and decided that she did not want to do it. Wade took her in, cleaned the camo off of her face and dressed her as a princess to take her trick-or-treating.
Wade had a welcoming smile and an infectious laugh. He was always the life of the party and was his happiest when he was surrounded by friends. Wade loved pulling pranks and telling jokes. He was always telling stories and enjoyed sharing them with anyone that would listen. This was a trait that he inherited from his Dad.
PTSD slowly distanced Wade from his family. His parents, grandparents, sister, wife and daughters were lost to the turmoil Wade endured in his mind. His marriage failed and he withdrew himself from his entire family and the friends that cared about him. He started making very poor decisions and needing to find adrenaline rushes in places that were not safe or smart. He missed out on both of his daughter’s high school graduations and the birth of his first granddaughter, Madelyn Grace, who was born October 5, 2014.
Wade had 4 more children, twin boys Mason and Nick on October 15, 2003 and a second set of twin boys, Jackson and Jakobi on January 13, 2006. They knew a totally different Wade than his daughters or the rest of his family knew. The two “parts” of his family were never allowed to become close.
In 2013 Wade moved to North Carolina further distancing himself from his daughters and family in Iowa. It seemed for a time that Wade was improving after his move and he started contacting his family again. Then his young sons and their mother moved down to North Carolina and things quickly took a wrong turn.
Before his life fell apart, before suicide began to sound like a sweet release, Wade Baker was a tough, spirited and proud Military man who loved his country and his family. Wade was an Army veteran. He served in the U.S. Army from August 1989 through November 1998. Wade made it home from multiple deployments, but he was never able to leave the memories behind. He struggled with the demons and monsters in his mind. 22 different medications, numerous types of treatments, frequent trips to the VA and the help of his loyal service dog, Honor, could only suppress the PTSD for so long.
Statistics say that 22 Veterans lose the battle to suicide every day. This time it was my brother, Wade Baker. He left us on August 19, 2015........ He could not take the daily pressure of living with PTSD. He fought for our Country, he fought for our Freedom. He just could not fight the battle within himself. PTSD stole a loving son, brother, father, grandfather, grandson and ex-husband from our family. Sadly, Wade never did have the chance to walk his daughters down the aisle or to meet his granddaughter. His family is anxiously awaiting the birth of his second granddaughter in April 2017.
LCpl Michael Edward Blanco
Michael was very adventurous and thrived on adrenaline! He was the protector of anyone in need.
Michael was born May 7, 1991. He ended his life on Monday, February 15, 2010 at almost 19 years of age.
Michael was the proverbial sheepdog always protecting the sheep from the wolves. Michael was always the person standing up for anyone and he lived his life always doing the right thing. These were some of his most admirable qualities. But what stands out most to all of us who knew him best and loved him most, was his amazing energy and infectious smile. Michael was that person who lit up every room as soon as he walked in and he somehow managed to make every person feel so special and loved. Michael's motto was to live life to the fullest and even though his life may have been cut short far too soon, he definitely lived every day with love, light, happiness and friends and family. His love of God, country and family resonated in everything he did. The stories are endless on how he would choose to help others. His family and friends knew Michael would always be there for them. Michael lived to serve. Michael frequently gave to people in need, never asking to be identified or ask for any acknowledgement. Even after Michael's death we learned from numerous people that Michael always went above and beyond to help everyone that he could.
Michael mastered every sport he tried but soon found a passion for extreme sports, mainly BMX trick riding, skateboarding, snowboarding and just about anything that challenged him! It was this passion for challenge, his love of God and country and his deep need to protect, that brought Michael to the United States Marine Corps.
Michael had experienced more in his brief 19 years than most others will ever do.
"I learned so much about love and life from my son. I strive to be as kind, generous and giving as he was. And I hope to always keep his legacy alive. My son, Lance Corporal Michael Edward Blanco, will always be my Hero." Bruce, Michael's Dad.
SGT Sophie Champoux
Called Poo by her battle buddies, Peanut by Suzie, her Mom.
Sophie was born July 5, 1986 in Orlando, Florida. She lost her battle with MST/PTSD at the age of 25 years old on September 30, 2011.
SGT. Sophie Champoux was a combat medic deployed with the 92nd Engineering Battalion the Black Diamonds.
Sophie had always wanted to be a soldier. She scored in the 98th percentile on her Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). She was well on her way to success when she decided to join the United States Army. Sophie Champoux was an American sweetheart if ever there was one.
She excelled in boot camp, then became an Army Medic. Sophie even considered becoming a doctor or a Physician Assistant.
Sophie was deployed to FOB Sharana, Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sophie loved her duties and was enamored of the Afghani children. She was full of pranks and readily pulled them on her buddies.
Sophie excelled at pretty much any sports she tried, she played softball; practiced Taeqwando, played both guitar and drums and was amazing with her beloved unicycle. She participated in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school. Sophie went to a local technical college and earned a degree in Graphic Arts - She was quite an artist.
Sophie rests in the Oak Hill Cemetery where she used to play kickball and wiffle ball with her brothers Ian and Noah and all the neighbourhood kids. She is surrounded by friends and loved ones.
SPC Ryan James Day
By Jim, Ryan's Dad
This is not your typical story of PTSD and depression. This is a story of a young man’s unrelenting pursuit to take on and overcome every challenge he could face. It is also a story of a soldier’s activation without deactivation, where the mind is turned on to a heightened sense of stimulation and readiness with no off switch. No methodology to provide relief when you’re no longer in training or on the battlefield. A manifestation of PTSD I wasn’t aware even existed.
Ryan’s life was full of self-imposed challenges. Things he just had to prove to himself he could accomplish. Some ordinary and some extraordinary. Ordinary things like sports; including soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, where he learned to use his physical strength and determination to overcome his lack of “finesse” on the field. Basically…he would just run people over. That’s it. Even in baseball where that really isn’t part of the sport at all. He even played a couple of high school lacrosse games with a broken leg.
When the idea of joining the military came up, Ryan’s interest peaks and he sums up everything in one sentence…” OK, but I will only join if I can be a part of Special Forces”. Average was not in his vocabulary. He chose the Army Rangers as his goal. He began working out immediately, laser focused on strengthening his body and mind. He takes the AFSAB and scores 129 out of 140.
He whizzed through the 15 weeks of basic training and “turns blue” the day before his 18th birthday. Two weeks after that graduation, he heads over to Airborne School. He sustains a pretty bad shoulder injury on one jump, but he refuses to stop him from graduating with his class and we pin on his wings 4 weeks later at an awesome ceremony. Next was the Ranger Assessment and Selection Process or RASP. RASP is basically controlled torture geared towards testing the fortitude of a man to the extreme limits. He tells us stories of sleep deprivation, sheer exhaustion, flash grenades, flashing lights, all designed to make you accomplish a mission under the most stressful conditions. He explains that he just kept telling himself…”they can do anything they want, but they can’t stop time”. Pretty insightful for an 18 year old.
Eight weeks later and only 8 months after starting basic training, Ryan earns his tan beret and 75th Ranger Regiment scroll. He is exhausted, but flushed with pride. We are overwhelmed. He has become 1 of only 3500 active duty Rangers in the WORLD in a military of over 1.3 million soldiers. Truly extraordinary.
Ryan would deploy twice to Afghanistan. The first time fittingly on the 4th of July in 2012. We were terrified. About 6 weeks into the tour, our phone rings at 3:00AM. Our hearts sink. Every parent knows that 3AM calls are never about good things. I answer and hear a fast message from Ryan “I can’t talk, but I am ok in case you hear anything. I love you…click”. We feel helpless. I panic and run down to the computer and start searching. Around 5AM a story pops up on the BBC news page. Ryan’s FOB had been attacked by a suicide truck bomb, but thankfully no coalition forces were killed and he was proud he did his job to defend their position. More extraordinary stuff to us. He calls it doing his job.
Shortly after his return from deployment, Ryan earns his Ranger tab in the summer of 2013 after attending the leadership school that imposes 12 weeks of the most challenging training in 3 phases across rugged terrain. He sails through Phase 1 and 2 and almost makes it through phase 3 for a clean sweep. Unfortunately, he needed to repeat Phase 3 with the next class along with several of his colleagues. This causes him to miss his deployment to Afghanistan, which doesn’t make him happy. Another missed chance to relieve that pressure.
From there, being a Ranger becomes just a job for Ryan. He deploys one more time in 2014 and is upset that they didn’t get to engage in any real missions. Again, no way to release that pent up energy.
Here is the part we didn’t understand until it was too late. These men train all the time for the opportunity to fight. Without the adrenalin rush of defending something, their minds wander. Idle time is not their friend. With 2 years to go before he gets out, Ryan set his energy and laser focus on planning his exit strategy. He reads books on finance and economics and decides he wants to work on Wall Street. He plans to enrol at Rutgers University back in NJ, use his GI Bill to get his degree, and move on with his life.
When you consider the extraordinary things I’ve outlined above as routine, the mundane everyday world cannot keep up. Nothing can stop that insatiable need for the extremes an “activated” mind has been programmed to feed off. There are no outlets to otherwise channel this energy. No means to siphon off the desire for dopamine-based rewards. In another fit of boredom and attempt to feel that rush, Ryan picks up his weapon and decides to take the ultimate gamble…a 17% chance with his life, and he loses. Who knows what would have happened if he was on the 83% side of that equation. The fact is we will never know.
We miss you son.
SGT Jacob Mally Gray
Called Mally by Brenda, his Mom.
Jacob was born on December 3rd, 1986 in Alexandria, Louisiana, the 3rd son of Brenda & Chris Gray. Jacob was a twin and the "baby" of the family (by 4 minutes). Ever since age 10 all Jacob talked about was becoming a Marine. He actually took summer courses so he could graduate 1 year early at the age of 17. Jacob went to MRCD Parris Island on Nov 15, 2004 and graduated on Feb 11, 2005. He then did 6 weeks participating in the Permissive Recruiter Assistance program prior to attending School of Infantry where he graduated May 2005. Jacob was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Lima Company in June 2005 stationed at Camp Lejuene, NC his whole career. Jacob had done 4 deployments prior to his death on June 4, 2015, Jacob was almost 29. Operation Iraqi Freedom (8/25/05-3/20/06, 1/19/07-8/9/07, 4/5/08-10/25/08 he re-enlisted while in Iraq). Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (1/9/10-8/17/10) where while in Marjah he stepped on a IED and suffered knee damage. That didn't stop my son, he was back on duty within 36hours because he had to protect and be there for his men. Jacob' integrity and fighting spirit had earned him the respect of his soldiers. To his men he was known as the "Legend of 3/6" because of his reputation for running toward a fight & gun fire especially to save his men.
Jacob enjoyed hunting, fishing and being in the great outdoors. You would always catch him on down time reading a book or on his kindle reading. He loved spending time with his family and friends. Jacob was a kind, giving and extremely intelligent person who always was looking for ways to better himself and those around him. Many men are alive today because my son was an outstanding leader and did everything in his power to make sure his men made it home. May we always remember him for his dedication, service and his honor to this country, his men, the USMC. Jacob will be loved and missed by all who knew him. My Hero, My Son!!
Jacob was laid to rest on June 13th, 2015 at Hazard Cemetery in West Salem, Ohio.
SGT Christopher Henze
By Renae, Chris' Wife
Christopher Henze was born September 23, 1975 in Milbank, SD and took his own life in Austin, TX on March 25th, 2013.
Chris grew up in Milbank, SD and went to Milbank High School. He graduated in 1994 and joined the Army with his lifelong friend Chris Berg (who is now an SF Major). Chris was an accomplished musician, he played guitar, bass, upright bass, drums and pretty much anything you put in front of him.
Chris had a lust for life and didn't let the grass grow when it came to looking for his next adventure. He joined the Army as an infantryman in 1994. He was deployed from Germany to Kosovo in 1999. In 2002 he separated from the Army and did many other things such as, welding, blacksmithing, rodeoing, he played Rugby. He worked in Qatar as private armed security and also in Galveston after Hurricane Ike. In 2009 he joined 19th Group Special Forces in Colorado. He loved to train and to shoot and was an expert marksman. He had a way of bringing his ideas to life. When he was a kid, he acted out the movie "The Temple of Doom" with the neighborhood kids one afternoon. They ended up playing it for days and still talk about it now.
One Saturday afternoon he had a "Tournament of Machismo" in our front yard with his rugby team. It included an anvil run, anvil toss, sword fighting, and a little beer drinking. He loved to invent games to play with his sons Dakota (born in 1996) and Dustin (2005) and loved them more than anything.
He was quick with a joke and everyone who knew him loved his quick wit. He was wildly intelligent and seemed to know everything about everything.
SGT Christopher Henze is still loved and missed beyond comprehension.
SSG Robert Willis Ira Hinton
By Amber, Bobby's Wife
Robert “Bobby” Willis Ira Hinton, was born 12/19/85. Bobby graduated from Douglas High School in Douglas, WY in 2004 and was the youngest of three brothers Michael and Christopher.
While in high school, Bobby was very active in sports and enjoyed playing soccer and basketball. He was also a state swimmer in Utah and a state diver in Wyoming. Bobby enjoyed drawing and had won a national award, which is still hanging in the hallway of Wagon Wheel School in Gillette, WY.
Bobby met me, his wife - Amber Marie (Goodell) Hinton - in high school. Upon graduation in 2004 he joined the Army and we went our separate ways. In 2005, after basic training in Fort Jackson, SC, Bobby and I reconnected and started dating. During his first deployment I was still in high school, my grandma and I baked so many home-made cookies and brownies and mailed them to him! Bobby proposed to marry me upon his return from his 1st deployment to Afghanistan. We got married on January 16th, 2007 and moved from Fort Bragg, NC to Fayetteville, NC to start our lives together.
In 2007 he received his Airborne Wings. While stationed at Fort Bragg, he was assigned to the 18th Field Artillery Brigade. After re-enlisting in 2010 his desire was to go to Officer School... Bobby wanted to lead and teach soldiers to be the best.
The day after Bobby ended his life, he received a letter of acceptance to Officer School.
Bobby loved the outdoors, hunting, camping, fishing and hiking. He also enjoyed cooking, which didn’t always turn out for the best. He would do the grilling for our family and one time Bobby was at my Mom's home grilling steaks for dinner and he burnt my moms house! The grill was to close and melted the siding. The fire damages were never fixed because it's a great story to tell about my husband. He would always laugh about it every time we grilled. Another time Bobby put cookies in the oven, which he forgot about just before we left ... sure enough when we came back to our smelly house we found burnt cookies!
Few months after Bobby's second deployment to Afghanistan our daughter, Bailee Nicole Hinton, was born on December 14th, 2008. Bailee made her daddy's world, I saw how Bobby looked at his baby girl - it was love at first sight.
Soon after, Bobby got put on orders for Korea, but a month before his scheduled departure he was reassigned to Helena, MT. This assignment allowed him to watch his little girl grow up.
While in Helena our son, Tavin Robert Eugene Hinton, was born two months prematurely on August 3, 2010. Bobby helped me through this difficult time, he was my rock. The way he looked at our son the day Tavin was released from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it was yet again love and first sight. Bobby knew that his son, just like him, was going to be a fighter!
Bobby suffered from PTSD and was searching for help through counselling. Unfortunately, even though Bobby was a fighter and adored his family the stresses and demons of PTSD is what ultimately lead him to end his life on September 10, 2011.
His two children were 1 and 2 at the time and they will never have their own memories of their father, that is why I find it an honor to be able to keep Bobby’s memory alive and not to be forgotten.
SGT Shawn Michael Reilly
Called RANGERSMURF by his battle buddies, and Pookie by Carrie, his Wife.
Shawn was born on May 8, 1967 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he ended his life on October 16, 2011 at the age of 44. Shawn was suffering from PTSD and TBI.
SGT Shawn Michael Reilly was part of Panama Operation Just Cause parachuting with the 75th Ranger Battalion in 1989. He was deployed in 2005 to Operation Iraqi Freedom and in 2007 was deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom with the 181st Engineer Company.
In Ranger school in 1988, Shawn was awarded a trophy for most motivated soldier. He was the proud recipient of Combat Jump Wings for jumping into Panama with the 75th Ranger Battalion during Operation Just Cause.
SGT Shawn Michael Reilly received the Purple Heart Medal for injuries sustained in Iraq. Shawn also had Three Campaign Stars, the U.S. Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
When deployed in Iraq Shawn would call his wife Carrie, and would talk for hours in his minimal free time.
SGT Reilly was an exemplary soldier and loved by many. He was a character, so full of life and jokes. Everyone loved him and his spunky personality. The boys in his unit nicknamed him RANGERSMURF because he was only 5’5". He would do anything for anyone that needed help. He loved football especially the Vikings, his favorite team. He loved music, spaghetti and Thanksgiving dinner!
Shawn was an avid hunter and enjoyed everything to do with the outdoors. His favorite place was in his tree stand in the woods. Shawn loved being a Ranger and as he called it “Playing Army”. He loved his job serving his country.
In April 2015, four years after Shawn's death, Carrie found the strength to lay his ashes at Arlington National Cemetery. She was afraid of letting him go, but Shawn had to rest with the heroes and it was time for Carrie to work on her own healing!
LCpl Brandon Wayne Robinson
In Memory of LCpl Brandon Wayne Robinson, USMC 12/14/83 – 12/05/13 2/1 Fox Co Camp Pendleton, CA
“Brandon was born in Virginia Beach, VA. We moved to Moyock, NC when he was 10. Brandon wanted to join the Marines when he learned of the Marine Barracks Bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.
Brandon loved motocross, starting from age 6. He loved the outdoors - his true love was fishing. Brandon was a thrill seeker; I think that's why he joined the Marines.
He was honorably discharged in October 2011. We were so happy when Brandon came home; we felt he was safe. Little did we know our Brandon never came home… not our Brandon… I believe an empty shell come home. I see it so clearly now! I now want to do all I can to share Brandon’s story in this FIGHT for our 22 vets we are losing on a daily basis. His death was ruled service related / PTSD.”
--Shared by his mother, Stephanie.
Brandon was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was a proud member of the color guard.
Brandon was a student at Elizabeth City State University where he was nearing his degree in Industrial Engineering with a minor in Mechanical Engineering. He graduated from Kinston Aviation School and had obtained his private pilot's license.
Brandon was a hard worker who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed fishing, motor cross, being outdoors and spending time with his family who loved him deeply.
Brandon was an honorable Marine and had a great love for his country and the brothers he found along his journey. He was a dependable and responsible father and loved his daughter wholeheartedly. His beautiful spirit will live and remain in the hearts of all who knew and loved him.
Brandon, we will be lost without you. We will miss you every minute of every day.
Rest in peace - until we meet again.
SrA Tyler John Rutter
Called Ty Ty by his family and Rutter by his friends.
Tyler was born June 24, 1984 in the small town of Klamath Falls Oregon. Shortly after birth he moved with his parents Tabitha and Neal to Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson Arizona where he lived until 1989. After his parents divorced he relocated with his mother to Medford Oregon where he lived with his mother Tabitha and stepfather John Zuck (a Vietnam war veteran.)
He graduated in 2002 from North Medford high school. A year after the attacks of September 11, 2001 he and two of his closest friends each joined the service in hopes of being able to make a difference in our world. Tyler chose the Air Force, following in his father's foot steps.
He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom serving in Kuwait for almost a year. Once returning to the states he was stationed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. He was sent to New Orleans to assist after the tragedy of hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2006, he moved back to his home town of Medford where he married his high school sweetheart. He rejoined the Air National Guard in Klamath Falls Oregon where his father was active duty and he soon also went back into active duty along side his father.
Tyler loved his family and was extremely close to his four younger brothers Ryan, Adam, Broc and Jason and his step sisters Necia and Carissa. He loved his nieces and nephews and was the guy who would do anything he could to help.
His passions were football and cooking. He was an unconditional fan of the Green Bay Packers. He loved to cook and had plans to go to Culinary school once his enlistment was complete. Tyler suffered from PTSD as well as stress fractures in both hips. He reached out for help but unfortunately the help never came. Tyler ended his life July 10th 2008 at the age of 24 and 5 days away from completing his enlistment.
His life meant so much to those who loved him, at his funeral it was standing room only in the chapel that held 500 people. Tyler's mom, Tabitha, said it best "I never realized how many lives my son touched and feel so blessed and honored to call him my son."
Since Tyler's death his mother Tabitha has become a suicide outreach member with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in hopes of helping others who have lost loved ones.
SPC Andrew J Smith
Called AJ by his family and dear friends
SPC Andrew J Smith was born in Pittsburgh PA on July 31st, 1987 and ended his life at the age of 28 years old on February 21st, 2016.
Andrew served in Iraq in the Army reserve from 2006 until 2010 as an Infantry E-4 specialist, in the 56th Stryker Unit.
Andrew's lifelong dream was to become a professional fire-fighter which he became in 2013 for the city of Columbia, SC, after working very hard. Being a fire-fighter was Andrew's dream job, he simply loved it.
Andrew's unconditional passions were the Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey team and Ghostbuster, the movie! He first watched the movie at the age of 4 years old and this had a long lasting effect on Andrew! So much that Andrew would even collect Ghostbuster tattoo’s! He had so many Ghostbuster tattoo’s that after he passed, his Dad and sister, Heather, each got a Ghostbuster tattoo in his memory! Deb, his mom, settled for a Ghostbuster necklace!
Andrew was the uncle of Lexi, Emma & Tay Tay. He loved his nieces, loved teasing them and making them Laugh so much. He loved playing Hockey, and he loved playing practical jokes on everyone. He was never afraid to try anything and always had a huge grin on his face !!!
He was so loved by all! Fire-fighters from many states came to honor their brother when he was laid to rest at the English Lutheran Church Cemetery, Zelienople PA.
SPC Tyler Jay Springstead
Remembered for his witty personality and for his kind and sensitive ways
Tyler Jay Springstead had a sweet loving spirit and a dry quirky sense of humor. He never had to look for friends, people gravitated to him. He kept his friendships for life. Tyler had many artistic talents; woodworking, drawing, writing, and playing several musical instruments. He was a good athlete and enjoyed skateboarding and surfing. He loved camping and fishing. Animals bonded with Tyler. He nearly always had a dog or cat.
Tyler was born October 11,1982 and ended his life on March 14,2013 at the age of 30. He grew up in Bismarck and Farmington Missouri. Tyler expressed an interest early on in the military. Like his father and older brother he enlisted in the army. He chose infantry following in his father's footsteps. Tyler was 17 years old. He requested the 101st Airborne Division stationed in Fort Campbell, KY, so he could be stationed with his brother. While not in the same specialty, they, nevertheless, went to Iraq at the same time with the first surge in 2003. Tyler was awarded many honors including the Expert Infantryman, and Combat Infantry Badge. He participated in the raid on Hussein's sons and was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor. Tyler was proud of his service but he paid a heavy price.
Tyler was vulnerable when he left for Iraq but he came back broken. He received a 100% service disability for PTSD. He fought a long hard battle trying to overcome his demons and addictions. He survived the war but couldn't survive the peace. May he RIP knowing he fought the good fight.
SGT Timothy Defoix Stalter
By Melissa, Tim's Mom
SGT Timothy Defoix Stalter was born on July 15, 1984, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Tim ended his pain on February 4th, 2013.
From a very young age he always dreamed of joining the Army. He was an exceptionally gifted student throughout his school career. There were many paths he could have chosen for a career, however he wanted to serve his country. Upon graduation from high school he entered the U.S. Army and did basic training at Fort Benning's infantry school.
Upon graduation from basic training he was assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, 10th mountain division out of Fort Drum, New York. Tim was an exceptional soldier and moved up the ranks quite quickly to an Infantry Squad Leader-E-5. He was an infantry squad leader in a light infantry company with the mission to deploy worldwide and conduct combat missions upon arrival.
He deployed to Afghanistan twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. SGT Stalter awards include 2 Purple Hearts for injuries received in Afghanistan, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars. He received the coveted Ranger tab for completing the Ranger course.
SGT Stalter was an exceptional leader within his unit. He loved his brothers very much & they looked up to him for his leadership abilities. His unit was infamous in that he served with "Outlaw Platoon" of which a book was written by his commanding Lieutenant, Sean Parnell. He saved Sean's life, as RPG's were being fired at their platoon. He gave no thought to his own personal safety. To him, his brothers always came first. He was an exemplary Squad Leader.
Although his life was short, he achieved all of his dreams. However, the war followed him home & he was not the same young man when he returned from his deployments. Tim suffered with PTSD, anxiety, & depression. He fought daily to keep his demons at bay. But soon it became too much for him to bear. Tim ended his pain on February 4th 2013.
There isn't a day when I don't think of him. He touched so many lives in so many ways. He had a heart of gold & he will always be missed.
SFC Michael W Strand
By Ann, Michael's Wife
Michael was born August 8, 1965. He ended his life January 30, 2013.
Michael and I were actually born in same small town in Wisconsin. Die hard Green Bay Packers Fans. I moved away when I was about 8. Came back at 21 and met him. Love at first sight. We got married 2 years later and lived in Kentucky. He had been prior service before we met. I never thought I'd be married to military. But then Desert Storm broke out. The Army called him up and ordered him back into service. He then was sent to Germany. I joined him about 9 months later.
Michael loved being a Soldier. Total rule follower and organized beyond belief. He was the perfect visual of a Soldier. Tall, broad shoulders and always chest out. We spent 5 years in Germany, then to Ft Sill, then on to recruiting. We thought we would retire out there.
We had made a great life. We had our first born son in Germany. We had been foster parents there too. 18 to be exact. He adored the little ones. We then had our boy/girl twins at Ft. Sill. Michael supported me in everything I did. I was able to be a Pampered Chef Consultant and get to be military wife and work at home mom. While in Recruiting we lived in Oklahoma City. We were very happy and loving raising our family. But then Iraqi Freedom.
Michael was ordered back to Lawton and August 2005 left for Iraq. Within 4 months I sensed he changed. He would say words such as "I don't care or it doesn't matter". Mike always cared everything military. He became even quieter. He came home 13 months later. I saw he tried hard to fit in. He struggled with our noise, our active lifestyle and being a family. We then moved to Kentucky. He got the assignment to teach guard and reservist in demo settings. He would be gone 3 months at a time. He became more a more isolated. He finally couldn't handle any more and retired. Michael barely ever spoke much to us, preferred to be alone. The tension grew, things were so different. He wasn't happy any more. Through many incidences I discovered he was using drugs. He had not smoked, drank or even took Tylenol in last 18 years. We fought, I begged, I cried. He just went further into his PTSD. I finally said, "Go in house treatment or move out". Sadly he choice move out. I kept praying he'd hit rock bottom and come home. He lost job after job, he was so not him any more. Then my worst nightmare, he ended his battle with PTSD on Jan 30, 2013. Since that day, not a moment do my children and I not miss him, the old him.
We honor who he was and how he lived his life, not how it ended. I use our experience to help others. My children and I started a gratitude program on Facebook, called “meals from mike”. We want people to thank vets and soldiers with a meal to thank them. This we do to do something to remember his love of military. We miss him and know he's proud of all of us, as we are of him.
SPC David P Swenson, Jr.
By Judi, David's Mom
My son, Active Duty Army ( E Co 704 FSC 4ID), SPC David P. Swenson, Jr. was born in Teheran, Iran, on July 23, 1978 and ended his life at Ft. Hood, Texas on June 16, 2005. He will be 26 forever. He will be loved forever. He will be missed forever. He will be our hero forever.
My son, SPC David Swenson, Jr. sought help. He knew he was struggling. I knew it too. He was strong enough to ask for help. He was keeping his mental health appointments. He was trying. But, he couldn't stay in the fight. Davey died after being transported to Darnall Army Medical Center on June 16, 2005.
Davey was born in Teheran 10 weeks premature; he came home from the hospital at a whopping 3 pounds. But he was strong. The Dr. said he'll grow, and he'll be fine, and the Dr. was right. Needless to say, Davey was our world. After being evacuated from Iran during an evolving revolution, we took our one year old on another adventure, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. When Davey was starting school, he asked for a dog. We figured, it was time to set down some roots, buy a house, have a yard that wasn't sand, and get our beloved boy a dog. We still live in that house, in Humble, Texas. Davey's dog, an Old English sheepdog named Beaureguarde, died of old age the same month Davey met his future wife, Tim's mom.
Davey first went into the Texas National Guard, but as he and his wife separated soon after Timmy's arrival, Davey decided the Regular Army was the place for him.
My son was a compassionate, giving human being. He put others first. He worked hard. But, he didn't party hard. He felt like he finally had the role of a big brother. He was the one who got called when the car wouldn't start, or no gas money. He covered CQ when a buddy needed that time. He bought many a pack of diapers, and even a crib once. He stood up at weddings, and tried to talk sense when a young couple had problems. He was a great 'big brother'.
But, that was his role. When his problems got the best of him, he couldn't and wouldn't 'burden' his friends. He sought help on his own. But, it wasn't enough. He lost his battle. If only he had had the strength to fight long enough. Davey quit fighting when he was 26. At 28, he may have found happiness again. He may have found a great career, life and lived to be loved for many, many years. His friends were shocked. Dave?, they said. No, not Dave! Anybody but Dave. He was the dependable one! He was the responsible one! He took care of them! Who would be there to help them get through this? They needed him.
Davey deployed to Iraq as a heavy vehicle mechanic in 2003. He was with his beloved 4ID, in 2/4 Aviation support. He returned in '04, and they were scheduled to redeploy in July of '05. But, since Davey had reenlisted, he was assigned to a new unit, just being formed. He wouldn't be going back with his guys. In his mind, he was not only letting them down, (his new unit wasn't scheduled to leave until November), but he was letting down their families. The young new mothers were depending on him to have their fellas’ backs, like he did last time. His two best friends both had new babies at his funeral. Booker's little boy was 4 weeks, and Jays' was 6 weeks old.
He fought to hold on, so that he wouldn't let them down just as much as he fought to hold on for his kids and his family. He just couldn't hold on any longer. In Iraq he saw the effects of war. He drove past Pepsi cans that could detonate and destroy a Humvee and the lives it contained. His job was to keep these vehicles running, so they could carry soldiers to battle, and possibly their deaths. When I drove him to get his license renewed, I saw firsthand the emotions this caused. It brought me to tears. My brave, compassionate son, was broken.
Davey's funeral was at the Houston National Cemetery. The funeral home could hardly hold all the soldiers who drove down. The next day, a Memorial Service was held for him in the Palmer Theater on Ft Hood. I never felt any stigma or slight from any military member for the way my son died.
We miss Davey every day. He will be our Hero always.
And, Soldiers, please stay strong and get the help you or your buddy need. The help is out there. Stay strong and go get it! HOOAH!
(Persevere--to persist in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement)
Oh! And call your Mama.
CPL Vincent Taaffe
USMC... Camp Pendleton, California... Crash Rescue/Firefighter... 1st MEF Operation Iraqi Freedom
Born - February 8, 1982... Emancipated - August 17, 2012
From the day Vincent was born, there was never a dull moment! He viewed life through a different set of lenses, and his brilliant, creative mind gave birth to some very unique ways to shock people out of their comfort zone... He was like an explosive bucket of worms, a colorful frenzy of activity, whose zany antics had the power to diffuse intensely difficult moments and make people smile!
Everyone who has had the privilege of knowing Vince can testify to his kindness, extreme generosity, his loyalty, his sensitive, tender heart, his courage (even when deeply afraid), and his ability to savor life. (He lived more life in 30 short years, than most people do in a lifetime!)... And he loved... Deeply... There was a depth to him that I have rarely seen, and it was that very same spirit that ministered to, and touched so many, many lives.
From a very young age (3 years old), Vincent had two passions... Military service, and fishing... And his life was dominated by both!
Becoming a Marine was one of the proudest moments of his life! It is what he lived for! Even after returning from Iraq with severe PTSD, he chose to return, as an independent contractor. He loved serving his country, and he gave his best! Sadly, PTSD dominated and tormented him in his post war life, and he had to fight tooth and nail for any help he received. Finding a new normal proved to be elusive.
He loved nature, camping, history, music, hunting, and adventures of all kinds! He was a surprisingly good cook!... Not surprisingly, he found respite on the water. With a fishing pole, he could find moments of peace... and fish! His last day on this earth, was spent fishing.
SPC Mathew D Taylor
By Patty, Mathew's Mom
Mathew was born on July 7, 1986 in Carmichael, California. When he was 6 and his sister was 12 we moved to Cameron Park, California.
As his Mom and Dad we wanted to raise our children in a smaller community in the Sierra foothills. His Dad was a pilot and had rebuild 2 antique airplane and Cameron Park had their own small airport, but that had nothing to with the decision of moving there, LOL!!
Family and friends remembered Mathew as honest and giving. With spiky blonde hair, he enjoyed playing paint ball and video games and later dedicated himself to martial arts. He loved the outdoors and playing his guitar which he taught himself.
He enlisted in the Army partly to Honor his father, who died in a car accident when Mathew was 16. His father had served in the Army. I was supportive: "How could I not support him when he wanted to do something as honorable as that?" As his Mom I was so scared, no words can express just how scared I was. I asked him what he wanted to do and when he said he wanted to jump out of planes I asked him why he couldn't do something that wasn't so dangerous, but he wanted to do something that he could overcome a fear he had.
He joined the U.S. Army in April 2006, and completed basic training and Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA. In October 2006 he was assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503 Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy. He was a gunner on the M 50cal machine gun, which went along with his extreme interest in heavy weapons systems. He was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom to the Sarobi District, Afghanistan in May 2007.
SPC Taylor's unit was attacked by an IED near his vehicle on July 23, 2007. Four Soldiers were killed in the incident. After a long and courageous battle SPC Taylor succumbed to his wounds September 26, 2007 at the Brooke Army Medical Center, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, Mathew was 21.
He loved the military and the bond of friendship that developed with his fellow soldiers.
After he passed we found out that there were several of his battle buddies who named their babies after him.
SPC Mathew Taylor was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery to be with his other comrades.
SSgt Eric Ryan Turner
Eric's nickname is "Manny".
SSgt Eric Ryan Turner was born November 3, 1984 in McKean Pennsylvania, and ended his life September 25, 2009 at the young age of 24.
Eric was a General McLane High School graduate, class of 2003.
In November 2004 Eric joined the United States Air Force Reserves and served proudly as a fire-fighter stationed at Youngstown–Warren Air Reserve Station, Ohio. He was deployed for Operation Iraq in January 2009.
Upon his return home Eric said, "You all stayed the same, but I changed". Eric was a devoted soldier and was liked by all.
Eric was also a volunteer fire-fighter at the McKean Hose Company. He brought them home a flag that was flown at the base in Kirkuk, Iraq.
He enjoyed hunting, fishing, golfing and riding his ATV. Eric especially enjoyed spending time with his family and friends. His favourite meal was his mom's, Helen, enchiladas!
SSG Peter Y Turner II
Called "Pappy Pete" by people dear to him.
SSG Peter Y Turner II, ACE, was born June 29, 1968 and died by suicide July 7, 2012 at the age of 44. Pete was diagnosed with PTSD.
Pete grew up in Fairmont WV and joined the Army after graduation and served as a computer programmer at Fort Lee, Virginia. He also worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Virginia and for the Department of the Navy in Louisiana. He joined the WV National Guard in 1993 and served with the 152nd MP Detachment in Moundsville WV. He deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovinia as a section in Operation Joint Endeavor.
He was deeply involved in service to his community. He was a member of Acacia Lodge 157 AF&AM, Scottish Rite 32nd degree KCCH, Orient Chapter 9 RAM, Osiris Shrine of Wheeling WV, Fort Henry York Rite College #61, WV Council #7 Knight Masons, WV College Masonic Rosicrucians, Fairmont Chapter #34 Order of the Eastern Star, Royal Order of Scotland, Fairmont VFW, and Valley Chapel UM Church. He was a founding member of the West Virginia Jeep Club, where loved going off-road in his Jeep named "Sarge". He was an avid hunter and fishermen and loved spending time at hunting camp, his family camp at Big Bear Lake and travelling. He loved all things WVU (West Virginia University), Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although he never had children of his own, he loved his step children and all 7 grandchildren. He loved spending time with his wife Judy and husky Maxime. He loved all of his grandchildren, but Mallori stole his heart. He loved watching her grow and the milestones that she reached. They spent one of his last days picking "wishes" in the yard. They will forever share a special bond. He ended his life on her third birthday.
Pete is buried at the WV National Cemetery Grafton with his fallen brothers and sisters. Judy visits him often and has formed TEAM TURNER, a fund-raising group, in his honor that supports Wreaths Across America specifically for the cemetery where he is buried.
SSgt Tanner Volkers
By Melissa, Tanner's Mother
From the very start, everyone, including strangers, would always comment on what a happy and beautiful baby I had. Tanner’s smile lit up this world for almost 23 years. I know he was the light of mine.
Tanner was born on March 6, 1991 in Nampa, Idaho. He graduated from high school in 2009. He left for boot camp 21 days after he graduated in 2009. Right after boot camp he went to the firefighting school and left to his station in Alaska on January 1, 2010 where he stayed until he died.
Tanner had a love for firefighting and for his country as well. This started early on and continued until his death. He always loved the sounds of sirens and seeing the fire trucks. Growing up, Tanner was an active member in FFA, and an Eagle Scout. He was Smokey The Bear for fire prevention throughout the fair, something he loved doing!
When Tanner was 14 he decorated the entire house for the 4th of July and the local TV station came out to interview him and that’s when Tanner told everyone that he wanted to serve his country and couldn’t wait to do that. They asked him if he was afraid to die for his country and he said “no”. That was a sacrifice that he was willing to make.
When I was an EMT, I brought an EMS radio home to the house and Tanner would carry that around with him everywhere. It was on 24/7. You couldn’t pry that thing away from him!
Tanner was deployed to Qatar for a period of time in 2012. Upon returning from deployment, he flew into Idaho to surprise our family at the Meridian Raceway one Saturday night during Military Appreciation Night. They had paged me to the booth to ask me to present trophies to the racecar drivers in honor of Tanner’s service to our Country. While this was happening, Tanner came up behind me and stood right beside me until I realized he was there. What a gift!
Tanner was a member of the Explores Program and was a Fire Academy graduate and a Staff Sargent in the United States Air Force. He was assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tanner volunteered a great deal in Alaska. He was a Boy Scout Leader, Relay for Life volunteer, and a volunteer for anything where he was needed really. There wasn’t anyone or anything that Tanner did not want to help. Tanner excelled through his training, earning the chance to attend an Alaska Emergency Medical Technician III, normally reserved for far more experienced first responders. He excelled! After earning his Alaska EMT-III certification, Tanner found himself with even greater opportunities to help those around him. Something he always wanted to do and was so gifted at. Utilizing his training, he was able to care for, treat and comfort hundreds of people in the JBER community in their time of need. Over 1/3 of his calls were suicide calls and it really got to him. He promised me he would never do anything like that to himself or to his family. We had many talks about how we might be able to do something together to help get the word out about military suicide and the horrible effects that it has on survivors. Never in a million years did we think it would ever happen to us. Unfortunately, Tanner was not able to keep his promise or save himself.
In the summer of 2013, my husband and I went to stay with Tanner for two weeks. On the last day of our visit, Tanner became very irritable and grouchy. We thought he was just ready for us to go. The day after we left, Tanner phoned to let us know that he was checking himself into the military hospital because he was having thoughts of hurting himself. However, the hospital released him a couple of hours later feeling he was not a threat to himself or others. Someone from the Fire Dept. went to his home and removed all of his guns at the military’s request. They suggested he not be alone that evening and stay with a friend, which he did.
About this time, Tanner was struggling with his duties as Staff Sergeant because he felt like he was failing and that his unit had no respect for him because he was a 22 year old kid. Over the course of several months of discussing this with Tanner, we thought he was doing better. However, the Christmas holiday was looming and Tanner did not want to be alone over the holiday. He desperately wanted to be at home with his family.
On December 7th, Tanner had spoken to his Aunt in the morning and had called home three times that day to talk to me. That early evening, Tanner took a hike on one of his favorite trails and took his own life.
Tanner embodied the Air Force core values of Service, Integrity, and Excellence. He was a hard worker, selfless volunteer, and a true friend. He is deeply missed by his family and friends. Suicide is a decision made out of desperations, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. I will not allow my son to die in vain. Tanner will never be forgotten.
We must continue to practice empathy and kindness. That’s what Tanner did and that’s what we will do. Not just for Tanner but for all of humanity if we are truly going to make a change in this world. I miss my son.
CPL Dustin B Woods
By Alicia, Dustin's Wife
Dustin Blake Woods was born November 18, 1985. Dustin was a decorated Army Ranger who served two deployments supporting the Global War on Terrorism.
Dustin attended South Mecklenburg High School and Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina before joining the United States Army in September 2005.
He completed basic training and advanced individual training in the military occupational specialty of Infantryman (11B) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Dustin continued his military training and graduated Airborne School and the Ranger Indoctrination Program. He was then assigned to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in March 2006.
He went on to graduate as Distinguished Honor Graduate from Ranger School and obtained the rank of Corporal.
His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Parachutist Badge and the Ranger Tab.
Most importantly, Dustin was an amazing husband and father and loved by so many. He was always the guy that could make the whole room smile and laugh from his silly jokes. Dustin loved taking his wife Alicia and son Brayden camping and adored his son. He used to make up excuses so that he could bring him to work with him. Dustin loved football and baseball. He also loved being a Ranger. Dustin was full of life and love.
After his 2nd tour overseas he came home with invisible wounds that ultimately would be the cause of his death on June 23, 2008. He is missed everyday but thankfully Brayden is his 'mini me.