POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 14, 2011
For the rest of her life, 19-year-old Kathryn Wentz has to live with the loss of her big brother in Iraq. It's a permanency that she carries inside and, more publicly, tattooed on her back.
Pfc. James McClamrock, 22, was one of two Schofield Barracks soldiers killed on Sept. 7, 2010, when an Iraqi soldier opened fire at a base in Tuz Khormato south of the oil city of Kirkuk.
Wentz has a purple ribbon heart tattoo etched on her back encircling the words, "My Brother, My Soldier, My Hero."
It's the public display of a combat loss that claims one life and forever changes many others.
"It's been hard, of course," Wentz said. "It's not something that even really gets easier. You just learn how to cope."
Five soldiers with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team were killed on a recent yearlong deployment to northern Iraq, and about 30 family members who are on the same journey as Wentz came from as far as North Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana to attend a memorial tribute Wednesday to the soldiers at Schofield Barracks.
As teary-eyed family members sat wearing purple-and-white orchid lei, Stryker Brigade Commander Col. Malcolm B. Frost recognized the soldiers for their sacrifice.
<t-6>More than 600 Stryker Brigade soldiers were present at the memorial service.
"In 23 years of service in the United States Army, I've never been part of a more important ceremony," said Frost, who added that "it is our sacred and noble duty to honor our fallen warriors."
Fifty-eight soldiers also were wounded on the deployment, Frost said later.
The names of McClamrock, 1st Lt. Michael Runyan, Sgt. Jamal Rhett, Staff Sgt. Phillip Jenkins and Sgt. David Luff Jr. were added to a gray stone Stryker Brigade memorial that already bore 18 names from previous Iraq deployments.
American deaths are down in Iraq, and the United States is drawing down its forces there, but each of the five lives lost on the recent deployment was brought into acute focus by the sorrow of the families who came to Hawaii to represent them.
The Stryker Brigade covered expenses for next of kin to attend the ceremony and to meet fellow unit members of the fallen soldiers.
"Very emotional journey, but from Day One, we've been taken care of. The Army has been very supportive, considerate, very helpful," said Rose Jenkins, whose 26-year-old son, Phillip, also was killed in the Sept. 7, 2010, shooting spree by the Iraqi soldier. Nine other Schofield soldiers were wounded.
Her son told her that if he was out in the field and he couldn't be reached, to know that he was OK.
"He said, ‘You never have to worry until you get that knock on the door and there's two guys there' — and they came on Sept. 7," Jenkins said.
Wentz, who lost her brother in the shooting, said she experienced a range of emotions, including anger.
"(You ask) why did this happen?" the North Carolina resident said. "Then you have to face it. And now that it's been 10 months, you know he's not coming back. He's not deployed — he's in heaven."
The married soldier who had a dry humor and loved to play Xbox was asleep during downtime when the shooting began, she said. Another Schofield soldier who was shot was watching a movie.
The deaths were the first in Iraq since President Barack Obama had announced the Aug. 31, 2010, end of combat missions in the country.
"Obama kind of ruined it. He said that combat was over, and it wasn't," Wentz said. "It's never over. Until they are home, something is going to happen."
Frost, the brigade commander, was in charge of about 3,800 Schofield soldiers in Salahuddin, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces in northern Iraq. The last of the soldiers returned to Hawaii in late June.
As the U.S. mission winds down in Iraq — the United States had agreed to remove all forces by Dec. 31, but is open to staying with some troops if asked — Frost said he's hopeful and optimistic about Iraq's future.
There are challenges, including Arab-Kurd tensions and influence from Iran, and the Iraqis have choices to make about the future, Frost said.
"Really, when you look at the success of the mission, five soldiers lost is absolutely tragic and the other 58 that were wounded is just as tragic," he said. "But when you look at that and put it in perspective from years ago and how far we've come, you can see the path toward success in the future. But again, it's up to the Iraqis."