3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment honors its three fallen
By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Lt. Col. Terry Cook offered the families of Sgt. 1st Class "Smoke" Johnny Polk, Staff Sgt. LeRoy Webster and Sgt. Christopher Kurth a nation's thanks Thursday evening.
The 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, hosted a memorial dedication ceremony in honor of the three fallen soldiers the night before the division's memorial rededication ceremony at Cooper Field.
Solders, loved ones and others will gather this morning at 10 to remember those who served and died during three deployments to Iraq with the division as it headed Multinational Division-Baghdad. Sixty-nine names of fallen service members – including Polk, Webster and Kurth – from the division's latest deployment were added to the memorial, located at the end of Cooper Field, in front of the 1st Cavalry's headquarters.
Families and loved ones of the three fallen 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery soldiers and more than 250 soldiers attended Thursday evening's ceremony at the Phantom Warrior Center.
The memorial, a soldier's cross, will be placed at the 1st Cavalry's memorial park near the division's museum. The museum is on post at the intersection of 56th Street and 761st Tank Battalion Avenue in Building 2218.
Polk, Webster and Kurth died while serving with the "Red Dragon" battalion in Kirkuk, Iraq. The brigade returned to Fort Hood in December.
"Thank you for allowing your husband, your son, your father, your battle buddy, your sergeant, your friend to serve this great nation of ours and thank you for supporting his sense of patriotism that made him desire to serve others," Cook said to those in attendance.
Praise for soldiers
Cook praised the three soldiers, saying they were physically and morally strong.
"They set aside self-interest to benefit the whole," he went on to say. "They were calm and competent under pressure. They were willing to do the hard, but necessary, jobs most Americans are very happy to avoid. They cared about something larger than themselves. Their work was not about profit, but about duty and freedom. Not about popularity, but about the honor and security of America and in our latest battle in this war on terror, the citizens of Iraq."
Polk died July 25 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade two days earlier in Kirkuk. He was 39 and was serving his third deployment.
Polk was a sort of hopeless romantic when it came to his love of the Army, said his friend, Sgt. Thomas Lathrop.
"He wouldn't completely admit his passion, but you could see it in his eyes that he loved his job and everything he did with his soldiers," Lathrop added.
Polk was a man of unbelievable ability and heart, was keen as well as humble and had a swagger about him that separated him from the rest, Lathrop said.
Polk is survived by his wife, Janise; four sons, Kenney, Deandra, Alvin and Xavier; and daughter, Mary.
Webster, a former National Guard soldier who served in Afghanistan, died April 25 after being shot while on a dismounted patrol. He was 28.
Webster was the big brother Sgt. Kodey Welch looked up to and wanted to be just like.
"I remember he would always say that I reminded him of himself when he was my age," he added.
Webster was one of the greatest men Welch said he ever had the pleasure to have as a friend and leader.
Webster is survived by his wife, Jessica, and their daughters, Natasha, Kaydence and Jadyn, and his parents, Donald and Crystal.
Kurth was 23 when he died June 4 of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade.
He taught Sgt. Antoine Evans a lot about the military, Evans said Thursday evening. He was passionate about doing his duty to the highest standard, and lost his life doing the job he loved and was damn good at, Evans said.
"Sgt. Kurth was not defined simply as a soldier, but defined being a soldier," he said.
Kurth is survived by his wife, Robin.
Polk, Webster and Kurth were titans, their faces marred by dust, sweat and blood, Cook said. They carried a tremendous burden – one they understood and accepted.
"Red Dragons," Cook said later. "Let us not fear death, but face it. Let us not cower before the future, but walk boldly into it as Sgt. Christopher Kurth, Staff Sgt. LeRoy Webster and Smoke Johnny Polk have already done. And finally remember, a Red Dragon soldier has fallen and the line holds steady."
Rededication ceremony today
Those attending today's ceremony are encouraged to arrive at 9 a.m. and enter Fort Hood through either the Main Gate or the Clear Creek Gate, according to information from the 1st Cavalry.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on the division's Web site, www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv, starting at 10 a.m.
To read more about the 1st Cavalry Division's memorial rededication, see Saturday's Killeen Daily Herald.