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Originally published May 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 15, 2007 at 9:36 PM

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Maj. Robert Bennett's speech at Fort Lewis memorial

Good Afternoon. I am humbled to stand before you today as a representative of COL Stephen J. Townsend and the 4,000 Soldiers of the Arrowhead...

Good Afternoon.

I am humbled to stand before you today as a representative of COL Stephen J. Townsend and the 4,000 Soldiers of the Arrowhead brigade in recognition of the lives, service and sacrifice of SSG Vincenzo Romeo, SGT Jason Harkins, SGT Joel Lewis, CPL Matthew Alexander, CPL Anthony Bradshaw and CPL Michael Pursel.

Ninety-Five percent of American citizens will never understand why we gather here today. They have entrusted to us, the five percent of this country's citizenry who serve in our Armed Forces or associate with those who serve, the responsibility to defend our Country and our ideals. They share our tears or our heartbreak vicariously through the television or other media, but they don't know how deeply the events of May 6, 2007 hurt us. And they will never know the feelings of gratitude and pride that we feel as we recall the lives of the comrades we lost. Perhaps, in this ceremony and the days that follow, they will learn from the example of our fallen brothers, they will understand the spirit that lives in the heart of American Soldiers everywhere, and they will appreciate what these men, and the twenty-three Soldiers who preceded them in this brigade, have done to make a difference in our world.

The men from the weapons squad, 3d platoon, Company A, 5th Battalion, 20th U.S. Infantry, represented America well. Among their ranks were two immigrants who sought the American dream and committed their everything to achieve it. There were veterans of many campaigns and young Soldiers. They came from every time zone, every region, and every background. And they came together — and died — as a family.

Today, you will get to know each of these young men through the memories of their brothers-in-arms. I can speak to you in detail about two of them: SGT Joel Lewis and CPL Michael Pursel.

I remember speaking with SGT Lewis on many occasions, and my memories are dominated by the fire I saw in his eyes to overcome past transgressions and do right by his service obligations and his comrades. He understood better than most the risks and challenges that he would face, and despite many opportunities to avoid deployment, he stepped forward and did his duty. And he did it well. 1LT Eric Williams remembered his ability to infuse his squad with energy and drive from the first day that SGT Lewis arrived. He quickly demonstrated the tactical acumen and personal relationship skills that define leaders in our Army. He was selected to serve among the ranks of our NCO Corps, though he never wore a Sergeant's stripes during his lifetime. In death he wears them well, and he teaches us to keep faith with our promises, obligations and brothers-in-arms.

CPL Michael Pursel was a remarkable young man. He was confident, athletic and capable. He energetically learned the tasks for which all Soldiers are trained, and then he spent extra time preparing himself for the tests he would face in combat. His natural enthusiasm was infectious, and his smile brightened a room. I remember one watching his platoon complete a drill one afternoon, and his energetic manner reinforced my faith in the abilities and spirit resident in our Army since we began this experiment in 1776. He served in Iraq for just over a month, but in that time he demonstrated how enthusiasm, competence and a can-do attitude can make a difference. Right now, it is difficult for us to generate those feelings as we grieve for CPL Pursel. But he would expect us to continue our march with the qualities he demonstrated — it was what he died attempting to achieve.

To the families and friends of SSG Romeo, SGT Harkins, SGT Lewis, CPL Alexander, CPL Bradshaw and CPL Pursel, we gathered here today — every single one of us — is committed to you. Our comrades went into battle expecting that if they fell, their loved ones would be cared for, respected, and, where necessary, provided for. We will not violate that trust.

I hope and pray that the ninety-five percent of our citizens pause today to hear what is happening in the Soldiers' Field House. Today we memorialize six heroes who went into battle knowing the risks inherent in their profession, but they went anyway. We support their loved ones with our prayers, our shoulders, our ears and our hearts. We remember each of the twenty-nine Arrowhead Soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice during this campaign, and we commit ourselves to honoring that sacrifice. Each of us will render honors in our own way — through our continued service in the Armed Forces, support of a loved one overseas, or caring for the family of one of the fallen. We will remember them, and we will honor them for the rest of our days.

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