Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Martinsville, Indiana Honors Local Fallen Sky Soldier, SSG William "Ryan" Fritsche with Help From Soldiers From 4th BDE, 4th ID, 3-61 Cavalry

Before you read this post you really need to go to a prior post I wrote to get the background information about how elements of three different Brigades came together, unknowingly, at various times in order to honor the sacrifice of SSG Ryan Fritsche. 

Hopefully you have read the prior link.  And now the "end" of the story.    The stone was originally emplaced at OP Fritsche in eastern Afghanistan.  After the horrendous battle of KOP Keating (Kamdesh), the stone was rescued by 4th BDE, 4th ID, 3-61 Cavalry and returned with them to Fort Carson, CO where SGT John Francis and 1SG (then SFC) Jonathan Hill began an arduous process of getting the memorial stone back to SSG Fritsche's family in Martinsville, Indiana.

After the memorial stone arrived in Indiana the Fritsche family was contacted by city officials asking if it could be permanently displayed in the city's War Memorial park.  On July 28, 2012 the town of Martinsville, Indiana held a dedication ceremony to officially unveil the memorial stone bearing SSG Ryan Fritsche's name.

SGT Francis wasn't able to attend the dedication ceremony but 1SG Hill was there.  His speech is posted below.

Mr. Dyer and Mrs. Volitta Fritsche with SSG Ryan Fritsche's Memorial Stone in the park in Martinsville, Indiana

1SG Jonathan Hill speaking at the ceremony in Martinsville, IN

Here is 1SG Hill's speech:

"Good Morning Fritsche Family, distinguished guests, family and friends.
I want to first thank Mrs. Fritsche and the Fritsche family for having me here today and for their great kindness and generosity. I would also like to thank the town of Martinsville for having me as a guest in this great community.
Mrs. Fritsche asked me to come here to speak to all of you today and share with you about how this all transpired.  I, of course, replied yes and I am honored to do be here.
Early in 2009 my unit was training for our deployment to Afghanistan.  A deployment that, little did we know, would have a lot more impact than we had ever experienced. We trained at Fort Carson and at Fort Polk and were keeping up to date with the news of the unit that was currently there.  We were trying to gather any lessons learned that we could use to keep our skills sharp.
At one point during our training the Army Times published an article about the battle of Wanat, Afghanistan.  We were shocked to learn about such a horrific battle but learned about the lives and valor of several heroes from that battle. The battle of Wanat was fought on July 13, 2008 where an estimated 200 – 400 (depending on the source you read) Anti Afghan Fighters and the Taliban attacked a platoon sized unit from the 173rd IN which is roughly 50-60 soldiers.  The Soldiers fought hard and with distinct honor repelling the overwhelming attack.  Chosen Company lost 9 of their brothers and 27 sustained wounds. When we read about that we realized more than ever the serious nature of the situation in the area that we were about to deploy to which was only 20 miles away…. at OP Fritsche.
We deployed from Colorado in May of 2009 with some of the best trained Soldiers that were well equipped for the mission that we had been given. Our journey was long and exhausting taking us to our final destination at OP Fritsche.
When the helicopter touched down we were greeted by the current unit on station.  The platoon leader LT Mazachie and the PSG SFC Loggins were, needless to say, very very happy to see their relieving unit arrive. Days went by and we were learning everything that we could about OP Fritsche. On one particular day the memorial that you are about to see was brought to OP Fritsche for us to in place. The outgoing unit had made strides to insure that these memorials were placed so that anyone that occupied or visited knew why that piece of ground was named so.  If you do not know, most Forward Operating Bases, Combat Outposts, and OP’s are named after heroes of the battlefield. 
Once we had the right material to post the memorial properly, my platoon Leader 1LT Salentine, SFC Loggens , LT Mazachie and I had the stone posted in a place where everyone could see it. It was cleaned and maintained constantly and served as a reminder of our brothers and sisters that have fallen in battle.
Once we were officially the platoon responsible for the OP I took some time to learn about SSG Fritsche. I read about the battle in which SSG Fritsche had become a hero on the battlefield and about the men that fought on that day. I also had my men research the person that the OP was named after.  I felt that we all should know the person that our operating base was named for since we were representing and defending it.  They are not just a name.  
While searching for some information about SSG Fritsche I came across a memorial page. I thought that it would be a good Idea for the family and guests on that memorial page to see what the outgoing unit and in coming unit had done to honor SSG Fritsche. I was a bit nervous about contacting his family because families react very differently about the situation that surrounds their loved one’s death.
Several days later I received an email with great thanks and nothing but overwhelming support from Mrs. Volitta Fritsche which gave me a great sense of relief. I shared that message with my platoon.  It was an incredible motivator to all of them. We carried SSG Fritsche’s name with honor and the most respect every day. I continued to send and receive Email from Mrs. Fritsche and a very very distant friendship was created.
As time continued to pass we worked hard on improvements to turn the OP in to a very defendable position so we could fight hard when needed and have the protection against the toughest of enemy fire. This proved to be a very wise decision since we were in an engagement nearly every day.   During one of the work days one of my Soldiers found a memorial bracelet with SSG Ryan Fritsche’s name on it. I placed it on a shelf beside my family photos in my living quarters, again another reminder.
As we continued our operations we worked hard and fought hard, we developed and maintained somewhat of a battleship on top of a hill. We were learning from the enemy the best ways to defend and the best ways to engage with multiple weapon systems, thanks to SGT John Francis, SSG Kirk Birtchfield, and LT Salentine.  Their observations, building designs, and tactics were exceptional.
We were saddened one day to learn that we had a change of mission and that we were to rotate from OP Fritsche.  Another platoon from our troop was assigned to the OP and we were being sent to COP Keating. This was upsetting because we had spent a lot of time and effort on that hill. We were proud of what we had accomplished and we did not want to go but we had to continue to COP Keating with our heads held high as another platoon assumed responsibility of OP Fritsche.
Once we arrived to COP Keating we continued the same work habits as we did on the hill but just did not have the time for as much work as we had ahead of us. On the morning of Oct 3rd 2009 we were about to make the same headlines just as our brothers did in the Battle of Wanat. We came under overwhelming attack from what was an estimated 400 Taliban who occupied the low and high ground.  The battle lasted 12 hours. Our men, both in the air and on the ground, fought hard and fought with honor. Again the odds were against us.  There were 54 of us in the low ground and 400 enemies in the high ground.
8 great men fell in battle that day; men who valorously fought their hearts out.  Nearly all of us were wounded during the fight.  The men on OP Fritsche and COP Keating had just fought against some of the worst odds ever.  Just think about the odds and the fact that the enemy had the land to their advantage being on the high ground.
Between the Air Force and Army helicopters and men with courage, gut, and determination, the enemy was reduced by almost half with an overwhelming number of wounded. Needless to say, the Taliban was taken to school “again” and that we few showed them that you can beat us down but you will never win.
After the battle started to wind down we realized that we were left with nothing.  All of our buildings were destroyed or had burned from the inside out. We tried to recover anything that we could. I went in to our platoon building and there was nothing but 4 inches of ash on the ground.  I basically realized at that moment that we lost everything that we possessed. I walked around in disappointment and in disbelief that, not only did we lose 8 men but everything we owned. I then saw something sticking out of the ash somewhat in the middle of the floor. I squatted down to move the ash around to see what it was…. chills ran down my spine when I pulled the object from the ashes.
Ladies and gentleman what I pulled from the ashes was this……. (Show bracelet ) it reads SSG Ryan Fritsche. I knew at that very moment that there were more than just my men on the ground that day.
I went to the command center to inform 1SG Ronald Burton about our gear.  He was in the middle of communicating with the platoon on OP Fritsche to get a good situation report. OP Fritsche sustained 0 Casualties; again giving me goose bumps.
Ladies and Gentlemen if that does not give you a chill in your spine I don’t know what will. 
1SG Burton made it a point to secure the memorial so we could get it back safe.  SGT John Francis was assigned to insure that it did. We were reassigned to a new area of operations which was very hostile.  The Troop only sustained 2 injuries the remainder of our deployment…. One soldier sustained the $1,000 wound and another survived an IED blast, again making me believe that we were being watched by the spirits of Soldier’s that had fallen in battle in previous deployments.
We redeployed to Colorado in May of 2010.  I was reassigned to a new unit and sent to lovely Fort Polk, LA to help train soldiers that are about to deploy. Before I left Colorado, 1SG Burton, SGT John Francis and I thought that we should get this memorial to SSG Fritsche’s family.  We could not think of a better place for it to be, but how could we get it there? SGT John Francis is one heck of a go getter and tried almost everything to get it back but all options were too difficult or just way too expensive for our wallets. SGT Francis did not give up.  He went to the post office one last time and pleaded with the Post office representative for any way they could help get this sent off. I will not reveal the name of the employee, due to cut backs in the Post Offices throughout the US, but he looked at SGT Francis and said “Give me the address” and winked his eye and said, “we will take care of it.”
A few days later I saw that the memorial had arrived in Martinsville and had made the news. A great and wonderful American, Ms Leta Carruth, got the word out even further and was a great help linking everyone back together.  She wrote an outstanding blog on her web site From Cow Pastures To Kosovo. I am always thankful to Ms Carruth..she has given so much to our men and women in uniform!

In closing: I am extremely proud to know that the stone is home and thank all that made this possible.  I am thankful that the folks here in Martinsville IN made this memorial as it is today. You know I never met SSG Fritsche in person but he is my brother in arms and just like all my brothers and sisters in the ranks this is what we do.  We take care of each other. I love my country and those who fight for it. And I love the great Americans that support us.

Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for your hospitality and thank you for being fine Americans…God bless you all!"


Mr. Dyer

The Park in Martinsville, Indiana

Mrs. Volitta Fritsche and 1SG Jonathan Hill

I really wanted to be at the ceremony but things just didn't work out.  I'm so grateful to the men of 3-61 Cavalry for all they did to make sure that SSG Fritsche's memorial stone wasn't left behind for the enemy to use as propaganda.  I'm also grateful that the Memorial stone is now ensconced in the Memorial park in SSG Fritsche's home town.  Well done!  Well done!

Rest in peace Ryan.  In so many ways, by so many people, your sacrifice will never be forgotten and your life will always be honored and remembered. 

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