published Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Baumgardner: Remembering those who have fallen

By Julie Baumgardner

Col. Jeffrey T. Sims, commander of the 207 Regional Support Group operating out of Fort Jackson, S.C., returned home April 11 from a nine-month deployment. Stationed in Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, Sims and a team of 50 were responsible for taking care of 30,000 troops.

"I love what I do and I consider it an honor to serve my country," says Sims. "As a brigade commander, I am responsible for 28 units spread across five states that provide logistical support to troops when mobilized. When we are deployed, they refer to my team as 'the Mayor Cell' because we are responsible for taking care of all of the housing, feeding, property, vehicles and utilities wherever it is needed."

Additionally, Sims' unit had the responsibility of holding the repatriation ceremonies for fallen troops. When these ceremonies occurred, thousands often were present to pay their final respects and march the heroes onto the aircraft. During this deployment, 17 soldiers were lost. Sims says he considered this his most sacred responsibility.

While this was Sims' first assignment in Afghanistan, it is not his first deployment. In 2005, he was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq for 12 months. He was mobilized in 1990 and 1991, but did not deploy.

"When I was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, I lost two airmen directly under my command," says Sims. "I remember the day and the minute we received the call. To this day, I will frequently Google them and read their story again to remind me of the heroic efforts they put forth for our country.

"During my recent deployment to Afghanistan, I flew through Kuwait and saw a memorial that had been painted in memory of all the airmen who have given their lives. I saw my two airmen listed."

While Memorial Day is a day set aside for all to remember and give thanks for those who have lost their lives in service to our country, Sims hopes people will remember daily the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"We are such an 'in the moment' kind of culture that it is easy to forget there are troops serving on our behalf thousands of miles away from friends and family," says Sims. "When troops are deployed, the only media people have access to is American Forces radio and television. There are no commercials, but there are public service announcements which periodically include honoring fallen heroes. I wish they would show those here so that people would remember there are still people serving and dying on behalf of our country."

For families who have experienced the loss of a loved one, Memorial Day takes on new meaning. For those who have benefited from the service of others, perhaps this Memorial Day will be different because time will be devoted to giving thanks for all who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

It is often said that people take for granted that for which they do not have to work. May it not be said this Memorial Day that we, as a community, state and nation, missed the opportunity to be thankful and pay our respects to the bold and courageous fallen men and women who served our country. Utilize this holiday as a teachable moment for your family by visiting the National Cemetery or attending a memorial service.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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