At first I wasn't sure what was coming, especially when 1SG Jon Hill began with, "I know you're probably going to cry when I tell you this story." At the moment I didn't realize the excitement in his voice so I braced for the worst.
Before I get to the content of the phone call I probably should back up a few years. During OEF XIII the 173rd, 1-91 Cavalry out of Schweinfurt, Germany was deployed to eastern Afghanistan. A part of the Cavalry unit was assigned to an area near the village of Kamu in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. While on a patrol on 27 July 2007 men of the 1-91 came under attack by the enemy. SSG Ryan Fritsche and MAJ Thomas G Bostick, Jr were killed by enemy fire.
FOB Naray was renamed FOB Bostick in honor and memory of MAJ Bostick. OP (Observation Post) Fritsche was named in honor and memory of SSG Fritsche.
After a 15 month deployment the 173rd was replaced by 4th BDE, 4th ID out of Fort Carson, CO. 3-61 Cavalry (of 4-4) replaced 1-91 (of the 173rd) Cavalry in the AO. Parts of 3-61 Cavalry were sent to COP Keating and OP Fritsche which over looked COP Keating. 1SG Hill and his men wanted to know about the Heros for whom OP Fritsche and COP Keating were named. They did as much research as they could and one day made contact via email with SSG Fritsche's mother, Volitta. As it turns out she had written a book about her son and sent them a copy to read. Volitta has a website here.
On October 3, 2009 many of you will remember when an estimated 300 or more of the enemy attacked COP Keating and OP Fritsche in the early morning hours. Eight Americans lost their lives that day and many other's lives were changed forever. Many of you who read this blog came together in a matter of a couple of days to donate personal items such as socks, pillows, running shoes, toiletries, t shirts, etc. because all 56 survivors of the battle, known to the Army as the Battle of Kamdesh but to most of us as the Battle of COP Keating, lost all of their belongings as a result of most of the buildings burning.
The battle raged throughout the day. Buildings caught on fire one after another. Men were volunteering to give blood on the battle field so that the wounded could survive until they were medevaced. Because of the intensity of the battle and the smoke from all of the fires it was impossible for medevac helicopters to arrive until night fell.
Now back to the phone call I received from 1SG Hill today. 1SG Hill was SFC Hill during OEF IX. He and his men were assigned to COP Keating and OP Fritsche. One day after they arrived another Soldier, SSG John Francis, of 3-61 Cavalry was looking through a building and discovered this:
A beautiful white marble Memorial Stone that had been carefully wrapped in paper but, somehow, seemed to have been accidentally left behind when 1-91 left. That would be understandable since the only access to OP Fritsche was on foot through high altitude and rough mountain terrain or via insertion by helicopter. 1SG Hill estimates the stone weights between 50 and 60 pounds. SSG Francis called the discovery to the attention of 1SG Hill and others. They agreed to place the stone at the entrance to the upper OP where the American's came and went.
After the fighting had subsided on 3-4 October 2009, 1SG Hill was at COP Keating. He tells me that he cannot explain why but something kept pulling him back to the building that used to be the barracks for his platoon and him at COP Keating. Although, as he described it, the building (made of mud) was like a furnace because of the intense heat from the fire that destroyed all of the contents, he continued to do a "walk through" of the building. The roof was about to cave in, but 1SG Hill decided to enter the building and check for anything that may have made it through the fire that should not be left behind for the enemy. He walked in the darkness of the building moving his foot from side to side "feeling" through the ashes for anything that might be there.
Suddenly 1SG Hill felt his boot hit something. With his light source he bent down, reached into the ashes and pulled out a Memorial bracelet with SSG Fritsche's name on it. (Yeah, that's when the hairs stood up on my arms, too). 1SG Hill exited the building and radioed up to OP Fritsche to ask the men who were up there searching and destroying any information that didn't need to be in the hands of the enemy to be sure and extract the marble Memorial Stone. As 1SG Hill told me today, there was no way he was leaving that stone behind for the enemy to deface and flaunt on the internet.
The survivor's of 3-61 Cavalry were taken back to FOB Bostick. The marble stone was taken with them. Once at FOB Bostick the stone was carefully wrapped in layers of bubble wrap and placed in a Conex for shipment back to Fort Carson.
I'm not really clear why it took so long for the rest of this story to pan out. I know the Conex's can take months to return to a unit's home base but....
The Conex arrived and SSG Francis retrieved SSG Fritsche's Memorial stone. Again, I'm not really sure about the timeline on that. 1SG Hill told me today that for the past several months SSG Francis has been working diligently to get the Memorial stone in the hands of SSG Fritsche's widow and his mother who live in Indiana.
Not long before 1SG Hill called me today he received this email from SSG Fritsche's mother:
"Thanks to a soldier at Ft. Carson, Colorado named John Francis and the US Army, this 55/60lb marble memorial stone that was created by an unknown person or entity to mark the entrance of OP Fritsche in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border has arrived at the post office in Martinsville to find its final resting place in Ryan’s home town.
John’s (SSG Francis) scout unit was sent to OP Fritsche in 2009 to search for enemy Taliban. The soldiers found this stone wrapped up laying in a building in a place that you can only be air dropped in or fight your way on foot up the rugged mountain side. They had no idea who had it made or how it found its way to such a remote place but they cleaned and mounted it at the entrance of OP Fritsche in honor of a fallen brother that they had never met.
In 2009 OP Fritsche and Camp Keating were both brutally attacked and the US lost 8 young men that day. Both bases were ultimately destroyed and abandon, but John’s First Sgt ask that the stone be brought back to safety with his unit.
July 27th marks the 4th anniversary of Ryan’s death. John has made it possible for the stone to arrive in Martinsville in memory and honor of that day.
Roger Coffin of Martinsville who is charge of the Morgan County War Memorial Park said it would be an honor for the stone which has traveled so far to find a permanent home in the War Memorial Park.
We invite anyone who would like to share this moment in memory of Ryan to meet with us at the Post Office at 1pm when we pick it up. Bette Nunn from the Reporter-Times and Roger Coffin will also be there.
Thank you and God Bless you John (SSG Francis) and First Sgt Hill for making this possible."
I just spoke with Volitta Fritsche, SSG Fritsche's mother. I wanted to ask her if there was anything she would like for me to add to this story. She said she wanted SSG Francis, 1SG Hill and all those involved in this to know how much she and her family appreciate them. She looks forward to the day she will finally get to meet these men - strangers - who told her they brought the Memorial stone home because it was in honor of one of their brothers.
So today the memory of a fallen brother they didn't even know came full circle in Martinsville, Indiana thanks to the men of 3-61 Cavalry. What I find even more interesting is that July 27th (just 2 days from now) is the day that Ryan's family was told. back in 2007, that he had been killed in action. Mrs, Fritsche told me that the Army considers his "anniversary" to be July 29th because that is the day he was recovered but to the family July 27th will always be the day they remember as the day the husband, son and brother they loved so much was taken from them. Way too soon. Way too soon.
If anyone reading this knows men from 1-91 who served at OP Fritsche during OEF VIII please contact me. I want to help Mrs. Fritsche and Ryan's widow, Brandi, find out who had the stone made in honor and memory of her son.
Brandi (Ryan's widow), TJ (Ryan's brother) and Volitta outside the Post Office today
Please take a minute to remember and honor Ryan. Then do it again on Wednesday the 27th. It is the very least we can do.
10 February 1984 – 27 July 2007
Bravo Troop , 1st Squadron (Airborne), 91st Cavalry Regiment
From the 173rd Airborne Fallen Heroes site:
SSG Ryan Fritsche was born on February 10, 1984 in Martinsville, Indiana. He entered into the U.S. Army on June 13, 2002 as an 11B. After basic training he was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Meyer where he served in the ‘OLD GUARD’ as a fire team leader. He was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant on August 01, 2006. On January 10th, 2007, SSG Fritsche came to the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry and was assigned to the S-3 Section as the Schools NCO. He performed his assigned duties with meticulous care and attention, successfully sending Soldiers to various schools in preparation for OEF VII. Once in Afghanistan, SSG Fritsche became the assistant air NCO, helping with all critical air operations in TF Saber’s AO. After a month and a half at that position, SSG Fritsche gained the opportunity to join an Infantry Platoon and assumed duties as a squad leader for 2nd Platoon, Bravo Troop.
SSG Fritsche performed his duty whenever and wherever they needed him. Whether it was garrison duties as the schools NCO, assisting with all air operations on FOB Naray, or on the front lines in an Infantry platoon, SSG Fritsche worked with unprecedented vigor. He was hand-selected by the CSM to take on the responsibility of one of the Squadron’s most active squads in the Task Force. His quick progression to a line unit is only overshadowed by the fact that SSG Fritsche lost his father prior to his deployment and then lost his grandmother a week after arriving in Afghanistan. Even with the burdens of his personal tragedies, SSG Fritsche performed his duty unwaveringly. It was these examples of professionalism and loyalty that brought respect to those who came in contact with him.
SSG Fritsche loved his job and being in the Army. However, aside from work, SSG Fritsche enjoyed the outdoors, often mountain biking, hiking, or swimming during his free time. His PCS move to Germany brought on the new excitement of exploring the various castles scattered throughout the German countryside.
SSG Fritsche’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Achievement Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Good Conduct Medal with 1 Knot, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Expert Infantry Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Basic Airborne Parachutist Badge.