By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Spc. Michael Watson, Cpl. James E. Summers III and Sgt. Anthony D. Ewing were best friends, roommates and Army brothers.
While deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division's Alpha Company, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, they talked about a lot, even what would happen if one of them didn't make it back. The other two would be able to comfort each other, they thought.
But the three cavalry scouts never imagined that two of them wouldn't make it back, Watson said Thursday afternoon after the division's monthly memorial ceremony at Fort Hood.
Summers, Ewing, 1st Lt. Kile G. West, Cpl. Zachary D. Baker and Spc. Alexandre A. Alexeev died May 28 in Abu Sayda, Iraq, when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. They were five of 19 soldiers honored at the ceremony Thursday.
Watson gave eulogies for Summers and Ewing, telling funny stories and reminding people about the men they were. Summers was the first person to talk to Watson when he arrived at the unit.
"Jimmy" could always cheer Watson up, he said, by simply putting his arm around his shoulder and asking, "What's wrong, brother?"
The two sat next to each other during their flight to the Middle East in October 2006, and when Watson woke up at one point, his blanket and pillow were gone. He woke Summers up and asked if he took them.
"Nope, you gave them to me in your sleep," Summers joked.
Watson considered Summers the best friend he has ever had.
"Jimmy did a lot of things for a lot of people, and he meant the world to a lot of people," he said.
Although Ewing and Watson had nothing in common, they were like brothers. Actually, they were more like an old married couple, Watson said. They would bicker and then get in trouble for bickering and then bicker about who got who in trouble while serving punishment.
Watson said he never met someone who had such an impact on his life as Ewing.
Ewing was named "Baby" by Iraqi children because he looked so young. Watson's nickname became "Dad," and Summers was "Uncle Jimmy." Soon, members of the whole platoon had nicknames and were part of the "family."
The three planned on spending time together once they returned from Iraq, and Watson said after the ceremony that there isn't anything to describe what it is like to lose his two closest friends.
It is an empty feeling, he said, and he is still trying to make sense of it. It helped to meet Summers' and Ewing's families because they could share funny memories and laugh instead of cry.
The hardest part about losing his buddies is just dealing with and accepting it, Watson said. It will be difficult when the unit returns from Iraq and those soldiers file off the plane because he knows that Summers and Ewing won't be there.
"They were always there when I needed them," Watson said. "I never had friends like that before."
Other soldiers honored in the ceremony were:
Baker, who Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Allbee said was quiet, but profound and touched the lives of everyone he knew. He was a consistent team player who was a soccer player in high school. Allbee and Baker served together in Iraq in 2004-05, and Baker always made sure that every Iraqi child received something when they went on missions to hand out toys and school supplies.
West joined the Texas National Guard in 2004 and rose to the rank of sergeant before he joined the ROTC program at Stephen F. Austin State University. He was the type of lieutenant who a troop commander wanted in his troop, Capt. Christopher Wooldridge said. He was tough as nails and was a godsend when the troop needed it the most. Wooldridge said West was the best officer he ever worked with.
Alexeev, "Triple X," was born in Moscow and moved with his family to the United States when he was 14 years old. He was very confident, very physically fit and there was an ever-present mischievous grin on his face, Staff Sgt. Christopher Nix said. He was a fun-loving guy who no one wanted to leave home without because it just wasn't any fun without him. He excelled in the field and had a range of knowledge on everything from foreign weapons tactics to U.S. military history.
Sgt. Jonathan A. Markham was dedicated to the Army, and he was dedicated to his family and friends, Staff Sgt. Robert Jones said. He always placed his soldiers' needs before his own and spoke his mind, even if it resulted in punishment. Markham and Jones were roommates in Iraq and Markham wanted to learn how to dance so he could impress his wife, Stacy, and take her out when he returned home. Jones admitted that he and Markham would dance in their room together. The sergeant would hold back tears when looking at photos of his wife and son, Daniel, every night. Markham died May 28 while serving with Alpha Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Spc. Doonewey White was proud of his Filipino heritage, said Staff Sgt. James Erwin, and joked about how fast he could climb a tree to get a coconut. White was hardworking and watched over his fellow soldiers like they were brothers. White died May 29 while protecting his brothers. He fired his .50-caliber machine gun at an oncoming dump truck filled with explosives until it detonated. "He gave his life so that others may live,' Ewing said. White served with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
"Find Out Who Your Friends Are" by country singer Tracy Lawrence is the perfect song to describe Sgt. Derek E. Dehn, Cpl. Daniel Wockasen said. The sergeant was a man and soldier who others strove to emulate. Wockasen said he couldn't ask for a better soldier or friend. He was a high school baseball player who was a member of his school's 1992 state championship team. He was also trained as a carpenter and electrician. Dehn died June 2 while serving with Charlie Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Soldiers looked up to Sgt. Caleb P. Christopher and followed him without question, Sgt. Keith Reed said. The two were roommates in Iraq, and Reed remembered that Christopher would stay up late at night, studying for his staff sergeant board. Reed nicknamed his friend "Blade" because he wore his shotgun in a holster strapped to his back and dark sunglasses, like the movie character. They were on a mission once and Christopher forgot his shotgun, missing a rare chance to use it. He vowed never to forget it again. Christopher died June 3 while serving with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Cpl. Josiah W. Hollopeter was a natural-born leader and fierce warrior, Spc. Joe Jenkins said. He was very competitive and kept Jenkins up late one night playing ping pong until his wins outnumbered Jenkins. Hollopeter, who had a passion for the outdoors, was a friend and brother to all who served with him. He was serving with Charlie Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment when he died on June 14.
Pfc. Jacob T. Tracy was proud to be a soldier and stood tall whenever he wore the uniform, Sgt. Mack Butler said. He was committed to accomplishing any mission, was competitive and always strove for perfection. The private prided himself on the ability to quickly master new tasks under stressful conditions. Tracy died June 18 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Raised in the mountains of North Carolina, Cpl. Darryl "Ward" Linder served in the Marine Corps for four years and finished a tour to Afghanistan before enlisting in the Army. He exemplified the phrase, "Once a Marine, always a Marine," Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hamilton said. The Bradley fighting vehicle driver died June 19 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Staff Sgt. Michael J. Montpetit was a leader all soldiers should emulate, Chief Warrant Officer-3 Audie Taylor said. He held soldiers to the highest of standards and had an astute attention to detail. He was a New England Patriots fan who often would give Taylor a hard time because he liked the Dallas Cowboys. Montpetit died June 22 while serving his third tour to Iraq. He served with Bravo Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Spc. Dominic N. Rodriguez, or "Rod," was an outstanding husband, loving father and a friend one could count on in any situation, Staff Sgt. Joseph Hyatt said. He didn't say much, but his demeanor said it all. Hyatt said Rod was one of the hardest-working mechanics he has ever known and he will remember him as a grimy, grease-covered mechanic. He died June 22 while serving with Charlie Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Cpl. Derek A. Calhoun was a quiet man; one could tell if he was enjoying himself only by looking for a small smile, Staff Sgt. Cedric Fraiser said. He was always in the motor pool taking care of his equipment. He always tried to put his best foot forward and be a responsible soldier and was proof that it was possible to be a quiet leader from the front. Calhoun died June 23 while serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Before transitioning to the Army prior to commissioning, 1st Lt. Daniel P. Riordan participated in Southeast Missouri State University's Air Force ROTC. He never put himself before any of his men, said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Tobey, and he never asked anything of them that he wouldn't do. Riordan was selfless and took time during his rest and recuperation leave to visit Tobey, who had been injured. He died June 23 while serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Staff Sgt. Jimy Malone wanted to become a drill sergeant so he could mentor future soldiers. He was playful, mischievous and always volunteered for the hard missions because he knew he could accomplish them, Capt. Mark Weaver said. He grew up in the tiny town of Wills Point, where he met his wife, Leslie. Though he was short in stature, his will, desire and heart far exceeded those around him. Malone died June 23 while serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Sgt. Joel A. House was a quiet, humble man who didn't brag because he didn't need to, 1st Sgt. Steven Burke said. He and his crew earned the "Top Gun" title during the battalion's pre-deployment gunnery and House displayed a quiet confidence in everything he did. "He didn't take, he gave," Burke said. House died June 23 while serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Staff Sgt. Jack Schnackenberg had one thought when he heard Staff Sgt. Daniel A. Newsome was moving to his unit: "Oh, great, we're getting the loud guy." But Schnackenberg soon discovered that Newsome was the best Bradley fighting vehicle commander in the platoon, though he hadn't touched one in five years. Newsome had a loud personality and a joke for every occasion. He died June 27 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.