KANDAHAR, Afghanistan The men and women of the 7th Special Forces Group don’t wait for Memorial Day to remember fellow commandos killed in action.
The names are always on their minds. What’s more, there’s a daily reminder in the hallway leading to the headquarters of the outfit that this Florida-based group is assigned to – Special Forces Task Force South at Kandahar Air Field.
A year ago, the task force created Memorial Hall, its walls and floor lined with plaques bearing the names of 63 commandos and support personnel killed in the southern region of Afghanistan since U.S. troops arrived in 2001. Craftsmen create more plaques as the ranks of the fallen grow.
“It’s not by accident that we put this here,” says the task force commander, whose name like the names of all commandos in the field is kept secret by the military. “We put it there so we trip on it every day. We pass by it and honor the memories of the fallen. They are living memories.”
There are no barbecues planned for Memorial Day, no three-day weekend trip to the beach. Talk to troops here and the answer, almost to a man and woman, is this: “It’s Memorial Day on Monday?”
They are too busy in the routines of 18-hour days, one running into the next.
Still, once this day finally arrives, it will be a special one here.
Monday morning, the Special Forces task force will hold its own Memorial Day ceremony followed by another staged by the regional command of the military’s conventional forces here, known as RC-South.
“In the past year, two soldiers from the south were killed here,” says the task force commander. “Sometimes guys come and forget that it is Memorial Day. It is import to take time out and pause for a moment and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The commander will lay two wreaths at a flagpole outside headquarters.
One is for Navy Chief Cryptologist Christian Pike, 31, of Peoria, Ariz., killed March 12 while assigned to a Navy SEAL team. The other is for Army Spc. David Proctor of Hickory, N.C., who was 26 when he died March 13.
The names of the dead are no longer secret. Here are some who will be remembered Monday by the 7th Special Forces Group, based at Eglin Air Force base in the Florida Panhandle, whose members were interviewed last week by the Tribune.
A 47-year-old chief warrant officer from Puerto Rico, 20 years in the military and working as a battalion maintenance officer.
“Sgt. Alberto D. Montrond was my mechanic. He was a great guy, a great friend and a great dad. This guy loved maintenance. All the time, he would try to figure out how to fix stuff. He was very passionate.
“He loved his family and kids, one girl and a boy. The boy was 2, the girl was 7, when Montrond was killed Feb. 13, 2006. I was here (the airfield), he was (at another base). I was supposed to link up with him.
“I always remember this kid every Memorial Day. For some reason, he comes to my head. I keep in communications with his wife. We send messages through Facebook. After all these years, we keep in touch.
“A couple of years after Montrond was killed, I was cleaning out my laptop and found some pictures of him, when we stopped in Turkey at a Burger King. I asked his wife if she wanted them and she said yes. She has an album that she shows to the kids. His son looks just like his dad.
“The day we flew out of Fort Bragg (N.C.) to come here, we were at the green ramps at Pope Air Force Base. That was the last time he saw his family.”
Montrond, 27, of Suffolk, Mass., was a 7th Special Forces Group sergeant when he was killed by an improvised explosive device that detonated near his Humvee north of Deh Rawod in central Afghanistan.
A 33-year-old chief warrant officer from Hartford, Conn., 15 years in the military and working as assistant detachment commander.
“I buried most of the guys on that wall. I am thinking about three special people.
“Captain Charles Robinson was the team leader at the time. A Christian man, loved his faith, loved the Bible, loved Jesus. He was one of those individuals. Soft spoken. He was married, had no children. He was a great leader and had this thing about him.
“He was always a happy dude and had a calm aura. Fifteen days prior to his redeployment, a command-detonated IED took his life. In that vehicle was Christopher Piper, from Marblehead, Massachusetts. He was a very strong old Marine sniper. He transitioned because he wanted to be the best of the best, so be became Special Forces and ended up on my team.
“He just married three months prior to deployment. He was the oldest gentleman on the team, but had the strength of five of us put together. He was a huge motivator, a very serious character. He knew his job as a communications sergeant. He was definitely the best of the best.
“The gunner for the truck was Leroy Alexander. He was the team engineer sergeant. His wife was pregnant with twins. He too was killed 15 days prior to redeployment, leaving behind his wife and unborn twins. Leroy was my best friend. That one really hurts.”
Robinson, 29, of Haddon Heights, N.J.; Staff Sgt. Alexander, 27, of Dale City, Va.; and Staff Sgt. Piper, 43, of Marblehead, Mass. – all members of the 7th Special Forces Group – died after their ground mobility vehicle was hit by an IED on June 2, 2005.
A 43-year-old first sergeant from Brooklyn, 24 years in the military.
“The first two guys I am thinking about are an Air Force combat controller, Jacob Frazier, killed here in 2003. Him and Orlando Morales, a Special Forces weapons sergeant, were both caught in the same firefight.
“They were really young. I was on my second rotation … at the time. It was truly what you expect in a war zone. We were roughing it as hard as we could, with the bare minimums available. They were really good guys. We were rotating back when those guys got ambushed. Another good friend, Tommy Douglas, survived the ambush.
“Jake was pretty reserved around the team. Orlando was a goofball – one of those guys who you generally like being around. If you are having a bad day, he made it a point not to let it be a bad day.
“Then there was Christian Longsworth and Eric Caban. Those guys were my students when I was an instructor in the states. Throughout the course, they were very professional, always trying to do more with the minimum amount of time. My task was to make sure they were ready to take the Spanish language test early.
“Longsworth passed and graduated in the accelerated rated program. He got here and was killed in a firefight in Helmand in 2006. Eric graduated, replaced Chris on the same team and he got killed in a firefight. They were both weapons sergeants.
“On Memorial Day, I will reflect. At 11 a.m., I will peel away and do it on my own. It’s a personal thing, because it is a hard thing. I was there for their graduation and saw their parents, then I turned around and saw their parents again at the memorial.”
Frazier, 24, an Air National Guard Staff Sgt. from Chicago and Morales, 33, of Manati, Puerto Rico, a sergeant with the 7th Special Forces Group, were killed on March 29, 2003. Longsworth, 26, of Newark, NJ, was a 7th Special Forces Group staff sergeant when he was killed by small arms fire on May 19, 2006. Caban, 28, of Fort Worth, Texas, was a 7th Special Forces Group staff sergeant when he died July 19, 2006, a day after being shot in a firefight.
A 37-year-old sergeant major from Virginia Beach, Va., 18 years in the military and working as an engineer.
“Sergeant Timothy Padgett was my medic in 2007. Tim was young. It was his first trip with the team. He deployed in March 2007, and it was his first trip with Special Forces. He just finished up his combat driver qualification course.
“He was good. Kind of na´ve to the evils in the world. He had a very positive outlook on life. He was very, very friendly. A great medic. A trusting person. He was killed May 8, 2007. We were ambushed by a pretty significant force and he was shot through the left shoulder.
“Sergeant 1st Class Gary Vasquez was a very outgoing. He was an experienced Special Forces engineer. Always the first to volunteer for whatever mission the guys had to go on. He was killed Sept. 29, 2008, along the Helmand River on Highway 1 in an IED strike. Gary was always involved – the go-to guy. As an engineer, he was supposed to have whatever you need.
“Sgt. 1st Class Pedro Munoz – everyone knew him, he was around for a while. He was in his mid-40s. He was in phenomenal shape for his age, always working out. A very, very athletic guy. … He was a Golden Knight (Army parachute team). He was probably the most sincere guy you would meet. A super hard worker. He was shot and killed on Jan. 2, 2005.
“Major Bob Lindenau was killed on Oct. 20, 2008. He was a civil affairs officer. What I remember is that he was very granola. He always talked about converting french fry oil into biodiesel for his car. He had books about adobe huts and wanted to live off the grid and build a self-sustained community.
“He always played his guitar every night. When we came back from missions, he would always break out his acoustic guitar and start singing. He liked classic rock like the Grateful Dead.
“He was killed by a recoilless rifle rocket that his truck. It struck the turret, ricocheted down, then hit the floor and shot him. He was a good dude. There is a painting of him holding a little Afghan girl at the Host Nation Clinic at a firebase in Gereshk.”
Padget, 28, of DeFuniak Springs; Vasquez, 33, of Round Lake, Ill.; and Munoz, 47, of Aquada, Puerto Rico, were members of 7th Special Forces Group. Lindenau, 39, of Camano Island, Wash, was assigned to the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade.
Information from the Military Times’ “Honor the Fallen” database was used in this story.