12 Army Special Operations Soldiers Honored in Fort Bragg Memorial

A Special Forces Soldier touches the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Memorial Wall, during the Fallen Warrior Memorial Ceremony, May 24, 2018 at Fort Bragg. (U.S. Army photo/Dillon Heyliger)
A Special Forces Soldier touches the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Memorial Wall, during the Fallen Warrior Memorial Ceremony, May 24, 2018 at Fort Bragg. (U.S. Army photo/Dillon Heyliger)

Hank Black leaned forward and touched his son's name with the tip of a finger as the rest of the family huddled around him.

Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black died months ago, one of four 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers killed amid an ambush near Tongo Tongo, Niger in October.

But on Thursday, the Army special operations community at Fort Bragg promised the Black family that he would be remembered forever.

Black was one of a dozen soldiers added to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Memorial Wall, his name listed alongside the soldiers who fought and died with him in Niger -- Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright and Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

Other soldiers honored included Staff Sgt. Mark R. de Alencar of the 7th Special Forces Group, Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar of the 3rd Special Forces Group, Staff Sgt. Aaron R. Butler of the 19th Special Forces Group, Sgt. 1st Class Stephen B. Cribben of the 10th Special Forces Group, Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin of the 10th Special Forces Group, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jacob M. Sims of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, each of the 75th Ranger Regiment.

The wall, which includes combat deaths from as far back as World War II, now includes the names of 1,218 soldiers from Special Forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, Rangers and other special operations units.

Each and every one of them, Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo said, were exceptional Americans who left behind a legacy of valor, professionalism and selfless service.

Tovo, the commanding general of USASOC, said Thursday's memorial ceremony was the command's best attempt to honor those the command has lost in the past year.

"Neither the words nor the deeds of the living can adequately honor the actions and commitment of those who gave the last full measure of devotion for the nation," he said.

But Tovo said the command and its soldiers must try. They must gather to remember the lives of those fallen troops "to honor their sacrifice and to renew our promise to take care of those that they left behind."

Thursday's ceremony marked the end of a week dedicated to honoring fallen troops at Fort Bragg.

The Black family and others have attended multiple memorial ceremonies for various commands at Fort Bragg. Before they approached the USASOC Memorial Wall, the family had knelt before a memorial stone outside the 3rd Special Forces Group and had seen a photograph of Black placed in the group's Hall of Heroes.

At the end of it all, Hank Black said the family didn't need the stone, or the wall, or anything else to ensure Black's memory.

"If none of this was here, we'd remember him just as much knowing who he was and what he did," he said.

But it's reassuring, he added, to know that soldiers will know his son's name for years to come.

"They're going to remember his name," Hank Black said. "They'll remember what he did and how he died. And I think that is a crucial thing."

"As a father, it's important to me to see him remembered here," he added.

Michelle Black, who lost her husband in Niger, said she couldn't begin to describe the emotions that have flowed through her this week.

But she said she's enjoyed hearing the stories from Black's teammates about all of the soldiers lost in Niger.

At Fort Bragg, Michelle Black said the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger have found a common bond that is helping each of them heal.

"More than anything, we've spent time with the families of the other fallen soldiers," she said. "That's probably been one of the most important things for me... to be able to connect and gain support with each other as we go through the same things."

While Black, Jeremiah Johnson, Wright and La David Johnson were killed on Oct. 4, the families -- who are strewn from Florida to Washington -- had not previously gathered in one place.

But at Fort Bragg, spouses, children and even grandparents were able to embrace, Michelle Black said.

Hank Black said it was important to see the soldiers remembered together.

"We're just pleased that they're honored for who they were: really exceptional people who did heroic things," he said.

The families are forever bonded in their loss and the intense scrutiny that has followed the investigation into the ambush.

"There's been so many questions, wanting to know details about so much of it," Michelle Black said.

Many of the reports about the ambush are nothing more than hearsay, she said. And she's writing a book about her husband, their life together, his death and "what exactly happened over there on the ground."

"Hopefully that will answer a lot of questions people have," she said.

Earlier this month, Army investigators said the ambush was an attack unlike anything American troops had seen in Niger in the past, with a well-trained enemy force outnumbering the Americans and their allies three-to-one.

While some questions remain, Hank Black said one thing is clear: The Special Forces team performed amazingly against tremendous odds.

"We've looked very closely at what happened and we are humbled at how they fought, how they looked out for each other," he said. "It's a humbling experience to know these kinds of people and who was surrounding Bryan when he died."

"He couldn't have been in better company," Hank Black said.

On Thursday, officials read the names of each of the 12 fallen soldiers, tolling a bell along with each.

De Alencar died on April 8, 2017, in Afghanistan.

Rodgers and Thomas died on April 27, 2017, in Afghanistan.

Melgar died June 4 in Mali.

Butler died on Aug. 16 in Afghanistan.

Black, Johnson, Johnson and Wright died on Oct. 4 in Niger.

Sims died on Oct. 27 in Afghanistan.

Cribben died on Nov. 4 in Afghanistan.

And Golin died on Jan. 1 in Afghanistan.

Commanders from USASOC and its subordinate organizations laid wreaths next to the wall. And two MH-47 Chinook helicopters flew low overhead in honor of those being remembered.

Afterwards, families and soldiers approached the wall in small groups, paying respects and placing roses at the wall's base.

One widow kissed the name of her husband. Another placed her young daughter's hand on the name and pressed her fingers against the letters.

In each case, soldiers stood by, ready to offer a hand or a shoulder.

Tovo, the commanding general of USASOC, said the ceremony was an opportunity to reflect on the lives, the service and the sacrifices of those lost.

The wall's roll of honor barely scratches the surface of the sacrifices the soldiers honored and others across Army special operations, have paid as a result of their dedication to serve.

"No honor or recognition is a fitting substitute for those we have lost," Tovo said.

For those still serving, the general said the ceremony was an opportunity to rededicate a commitment to defend the principles and ideals for which soldiers have fought and fell.

The fallen soldiers came from different backgrounds, hometowns and upbringings, Tovo added. But they all shared a tough and deliberate path into special operations and a desire to volunteer for the most challenging assignments and missions, often in the most hostile environments.

"They were exceptional because of their willingness to fight and sacrifice," Tovo said.

But they were not alone, he added.

Army special operations soldiers continue to serve in harm's way, in "combat, conflict and competition" in 70 countries around the world, Tovo said.

"We remain engaged in conflict with adversaries that threaten the principals on which our nation was founded as well as the freedom that our nation, our allies and our partners enjoy," he said.

This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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