The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division (2/28 BCT), Pennsylvania Army National Guard was mobilized in January 2005 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Known as the “IRON BRIGADE,” it marked the division’s largest mobilization for combat since World War II. The 2/28 BCT consisted of National Guard Soldiers from 30 states, more than 4,100 members strong, of which approximately 2,100 were members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Once deployed to Iraq, the 2/28 BCT was further task organized with one Marine and one active duty Army battalion and other combat and combat support elements bringing the brigade to over 5,400 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Air Force personnel. Iraqi Army units were also attached to 2/28 BCT and by the time 2/28 BCT left Iraq in June 2006, 3 Iraqi Army brigades consisting of approximately 5,000 Iraqi Soldiers were task organized to 2/28 BCT. The 2/28 BCT conducted counterinsurgency operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq from July 2005 to June 2006 under the command and control of the 2nd Marine Division and then the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
The 2/28 BCT Fallen Warrior Memorial was originally designed and constructed in Ramadi, Iraq by the Soldiers who served there. By the end of December 2005, in the midst of significant fighting, the 2/28 BCT had 48 Warriors killed in action in operations in Ramadi and Habiniya. It was at that time that the leadership of 2/28 BCT decided a memorial to pay tribute to those Fallen Warriors should be erected in Ramadi. A call went out throughout the brigade for Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen to submit concepts for the design of the memorial. 2LT Colleen McGarry & SPC Raul Gomez presented a concept to the Brigade Commander, COL John Gronski, the Brigade Command Sergeant Major, CSM Chad Pysher, and The Brigade Executive Officer, LTC Christopher Yeakle. LT McGarry and SPC Gomez gave a moving presentation complete with a sketch and a small model and their concept was unanimously approved. LT McGarry was able to bring special skills to the brigade above and beyond her competence as a medical platoon leader assigned to Charlie Medical Company of the 228th Forward Support Battalion. LT McGarry was a traditional Pennsylvania National Guardsman and she was an art teacher as a civilian. She was able to harness that talent to lead the effort in designing great symbolism into the memorial.
Once the brigade leadership approved the design, it was time to construct the memorial. The maintenance team assigned to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ramadi worked with a special sense of duty and honor to construct the memorial. The Soldiers constructing the memorial were not building a memorial to honor Warriors unknown to them. They knew that they were building the memorial to honor Fallen Warriors they had trained with, fought with, shared chow with, cried with, laughed with, shared family memories with, attended solemn memorial services with, and although unspoken, they Soldiers constructing the memorial knew deep down that their names might end up on that very memorial before 2/28’s mission was complete.
The memorial was erected in front of the 2/28 BCT headquarters at FOB Ramadi and dedicated on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006. 75 Fallen Warriors were honored at the ceremony. If you look back at the program printed in observance of that ceremony, the keen observer will notice that two Warriors were killed in action as recently as the day before the ceremony took place – SPC Mark Melcher and LCpl Justin Sims were both killed in action on 15 April 2006. The ceremony was honorable and solemn, yet brief. Mortar and rocket fire was a threat at FOB Ramadi and it was not wise to assemble a large group for an extended period of time. Leaders from all of the maneuver battalions of the brigade combat team attended the ceremony and 2nd Marine Division Assistant Division Commander, BrigGen James Williams also attended.
By the time the 2/28 BCT left Ramadi, Iraq in June 2006, 81 Fallen Warriors would be represented on the memorial. Once the 2/28 BCT arrived home in the United States, even one more name was added. On 10 July 2006, SSG Duane Dreasky died of wounds suffered in a roadside bomb attack in Habiniya in November 2005. SSG Dreasky remained courageous and was an inspiration to others until the end. Just a few weeks before he died a photographer captured SSG Dreasky saluting his Commander-in-Chief when President Bush paid a visit to SSG Dreasky at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
The memorial was disassembled and shipped from Iraq to the United States and was rededicated at Ft Indiantown Gap, PA on 21 October 2006, to honor 82 Fallen Warriors who gave their last full measure of devotion. There may not be another Fallen Warrior Memorial in the history of the United States Military that was designed, fabricated and constructed by the hands of the Soldiers of that unit as they fought in combat in a foreign country, and then taken down and reconstructed in the United States.
Following is a description of the significance and symbolism of the 2/28 BCT Fallen Warriors Memorial, as provided by the designers, LT McGarry and SPC Gomez.
The history of the obelisk began over 5,000 years ago, in Egypt where it was built to protect and defend temples. The obelisk represents the Soldier’s efforts to protect and defend freedom.
The 2/28 BCT Memorial is made of iron, symbolizing Iron Soldiers from the Iron Brigade. Additionally, it represents the history of Pennsylvania’s iron and steel industry. Iron is also the most abundant element in blood, symbolizing the blood shed by our Fallen Warriors.
The obelisk stands 21-feet tall, echoing the 21-gun salute. The damaged steel represents the unique war the living fight and the fallen leave behind. Steel plates cover all four sides of the pedestal, acting like armor, and hold the names of the fallen. Keystones, made from different elements, rest above the plates. One is polished steel and when one sees their reflection it represents the fallen warrior inside all of us. Another is ballistic glass that has been shattered to represent the conflict in which we were engaged. One is red stained wood to represent the blood we have shed. Another is marble to represent the strength, resolve and steady purpose of the 2/28 BCT.
Inside the obelisk, dog tags for each fallen comrade are suspended from chains. A light shines on them from the base of the structure skyward through the obelisk cap. The cap is made of shattered vehicle glass and acts as a window through which their souls will shine for eternity. As the wind passes through the structure the dog tags move with a wind chime suspended below them, creating a subtle sound, like the quiet whispers of the fallen as they continue to speak to us.
Along with honoring our fallen warriors, this memorial is also a reminder that our country is the beacon of liberty that shines throughout the world and that we must stay strong.
Since the 2/28 BCT Fallen Warriors Memorial was first dedicated in Ramadi, it has touched the hearts of many family members, friends, and comrades of the Fallen Warriors. In May 2006, while 2/28 BCT still served in Ramadi, the wife of a Fallen Warrior wrote a letter to the Soldiers of 2/28 BCT. A portion of her letter read, “The Memorial you informed me about, that the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade of the 28th Infantry Division built, touched me to the core of my soul. No thank you could express the depth my heart holds for all of your Soldiers. My husband told me, ‘Soldiers believe, no Soldier left behind’; your monument, there in Camp Ramadi, screamed out to me, ‘No Soldier left behind nor forgotten.”
The 2 /28 BCT is currently raising funds to construct a similar memorial at the 28th Infantry Division Shrine and Museum grounds in Boalsburg, PA (near Penn State University). Warrior tradition is to build obelisks to honor Fallen Warriors in pairs. To contribute, send donations to PNG Foundation, Inc, 2-28 BCT memorial, Building S-O-47, Ft Indiantown Gap, PA 17003. Visit the website at www.2-28bctmemorial.org. Make checks payable to PNG Foundation Inc.