By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Hours after a memorial service at Fort Hood that honored 18 1st Cavalry Division soldiers who died in Iraq ended, the widow of one, Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Kiernan, told her story to Brian Williams on "NBC Nightly News."
The 37-year-old sergeant served with the 1st Cavalry Divisions Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He was the first Fort Hood soldier killed in action whose body was flown directly to Fort Hood following a January policy change where soldiers' remains are to be delivered to regional airports nearest the family's home.
Kiernan was buried May 17 at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. He was one of 11 soldiers from the battalion honored at the memorial service Thursday afternoon.
Donna Kiernan, who works for a contract company on post, has been vocal since her husband's death. She has been critical of politicians, both American and Iraqi, and the way the American media has handled war coverage. She said in May that the media needs to stop wasting people's time by covering the tribulations of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, Britney Spears and Rosie ODonnell, and focus on more relevant issues affecting the world.
Chris' death means it's time for politicians to stop taking vacations and get to work, Donna said. They need to work 18-hour days, sleep four hours and then go back out for another day like the soldiers are doing in Iraq, she added.
Donna said that she wanted to get Chris' story out because she didn't want his death to be just another number.
"I can't let Chris' story stop right here," she said. "I can't let his death mean nothing."
She said in May that she wanted to tell her story to NBC's Brian Williams because she felt that he cared and she thought he spoke well of soldiers. That statement ran in a May 20 article in the Killeen Daily Herald.
Shortly after, Williams' wife was searching for her husbands name on the search engine, Google.com, when she ran across the article, Donna said.
An NBC crew spent Tuesday at Donnas home in Killeen and she traveled to El Paso Wednesday to sit down with Williams. The segment aired Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on NBC. The episode is also available online at www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619. Williams also wrote about Donna on his blog at dailynightly.msnbc.com.
Donna said Thursday that they discussed what military families go through and what it means to lose a soldier. They also talked about who Chris was as a husband and soldier and Donna played a phone message he left her.
Williams decided to interview Donna because she has an important story to tell and, sadly, she is not alone, said Subrata De, a producer with NBC.
"Her message as the widow of a fallen soldier is an important reminder of what the families of those in service endure daily," she said.
Donna and her family and friends, including her brother, Warren East, attended the memorial service Thursday. He said it was difficult because it "stirred everything back up again." The hardest part was watching his sister suffer. She is "all tore up inside," he said.
Donna is getting Chris' message out and telling people just what soldiers go through and how hard it is.
"I know Chris would be proud," East said, because she does it for his sake.
If he could tell the soldiers one thing, it would be to "take every chance you have to tell everybody you love them.
"Always love your family," he said.
Other 1st Cavalry soldiers honored at the service follow.
Sgt. Andrew "Drew" Weiss was an avid sports fan who liked action movies, said Capt. Craig Casey. He was a Chicago Cubs fan, but not one of those loud, obnoxious ones. The 28-year-old had an inner strength and desire that cannot be taught and his positive personality and get-it-done attitude made him a dedicated and devoted soldier. Weiss died May 3 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Before Spc. Steven Flippen met Spc. Jerome Potter, he heard of the skinny kid who thought he was a ninja. Turns out Potter loved anything that had to do with martial arts and he also had the ability to make anyone laugh, Flippen said. Potter was certified as a wildland firefirefighter and the outdoors was one of his passions. Potter was serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
No one was more professional than Staff Sgt. Christopher Hamlin, a by-the-book noncommissioned officer who had a flawless reputation among other leaders, said Sgt. 1st Class Blaine Dowell. Hamlin asked to go to a line unit after he was promoted and was always honest with his soldiers and never left them in the dark. The 24-year-old died May 4 while serving with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
There was nothing Pfc. Larry Isaiah Guyton couldn't do, Capt. Craig Casey said. Guyton preferred to go by "Isaiah" rather than "Larry." He was a man of many talents, excelling in football and track in high school. He was also a bull rider and made his own music and CDs. Guyton was as well-rounded as an infantryman could be, Casey said. Guyton was 23 when he died on May 5 while serving with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Cpl. Dan Ngyuen's parents fled the communists in Vietnam before coming to America. They taught him the true meaning of duty and honor, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hamilton said. He was a consummate professional and a "damn good medic," Hamilton said. He was the epitome of what the Army expects of a medic and his conversation and medical skills were his strong suits. Ngyuen died May 8 at the age of 24 while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
First Lt. Andrew Bacevich had an infectious smile and gregarious personality that could change the atmosphere, no matter how bad the mood, like a light switch, Capt. David Clay Jr. said. Bacevich was on the fast track to political stardom, having served as a clerk for Mitt Romney and Strom Thurmond. Bacevich had to leave his college's ROTC program because he had asthma, but later enlisted and graduated from Officer Candidate School. Bacevich, 27, died May 13 while serving with Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Quiet, humble and shy, Cpl. Joshua G. Romero was always thinking of ways to improve his unit. The 19-year-old would always rise to the occasion and perform above and beyond expectation, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Reynolds said. Romero had a great sense of humor, a can-do attitude and always thought positive. Romero died May 18 while serving with Bravo Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Sgt. Anselmo Martinez III was such a competent and reliable gunner that everybody wanted him on their crews, 1st Lt. Jason Brinkley said. He dedicated every waking moment to his crew and his vehicle. He served as a gunner for Headquarters Platoon's executive officer in Bravo Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, a job reserved for the top gunners in the company. Martinez died May 18 at the age of 26.
Sgt. Casey Nash was a "silent giant" and go-to guy every commander wanted in his combat formation, Capt. Gregory Royse said. Nash was a decent and considerate person who was close to the other soldiers in his unit. He died May 18 while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Pfc. Alexander Varela had only been in the Army a year when he was killed May 19, but he was proud to be a soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Dixon said. Dixon said he will always admire and respect Varela, who was a man of principle. The 19-year-old served with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Sgt. Jean P. Medlin was proud of his former service as a Marine sniper, Sgt. 1st Class Scotty Franks said. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1998 and served a brief hiatus as a civilian before joining the Army. The 27-year-old was soft-spoken with a Southern drawl and had a willingness to help anyone. He was a diehard University of Alabama fan. Medlin died May 19 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Pfc. Travis F. Haslip was young, eager and dedicated, Staff Sgt. Richard Maryon said. The 20-year-old rifleman and M-249 squad automatic weapon gunner was always ready and prepared for a mission. He died May 19 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
It was no surprise that Spc. David Behrle was from a small town. He was caring, polite and hard-working, said Sgt. 1st Class Scotty Franks. Raised in Tipton, Iowa, the 20-year-old was president of his high school class and was on the wrestling and football teams. Behrle died May 19 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Moore was always there for his men, Staff Sgt. Richard Maryon said. He lived by the phrase, "others before yourself." Moore is survived by his daughters, Ashlyn, Kailyn and Taylor. "You were always in your daddy's heart and mind," Maryon said. The 28-year-old sergeant died May 19 while serving with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Spc. Joseph Gilmore could and would do anything asked of him, Sgt. 1st Class Monte Hayden said. The 26-year-old was fearless, energetic, compassionate and had an unyielding determination to help others. He was a combat medic and was always willing to lend a helping hand. If he could be remembered for anything, Gilmore would have wanted to be remembered for his sense of humor. He died May 19 while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
No one in Spc. Mark Ryan C. Caguioa's family can talk about him without smiles on their faces, Sgt. 1st Class Blaine Dowell said. Caguioa had an infectious smile and was mischievous, but also didn't like upsetting people. When he found out he was deploying with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, he asked his aunt to tell his mother so he wouldn't upset her. Caguioa died May 25. He was 21.
Cpl. Francis Trussel Jr. was a "scrapper" who knew what it took to survive, Pfc. Glen Leach said. He loved his country and was proud of his service. The 21-year-old always had a positive attitude, a genuine smile and a good sense of humor. He was a conversationalist who enjoyed talking about anything and everything. Trussel died May 26 while serving with Delta Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547