Sgt. Brandon Cummings stood out at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He was the soldier who bowed his head in prayer every time he had a bite to eat, even a piece of candy.
The 23-year-old spent his downtime talking about his family and investing in stocks, a “go-getter” who had big plans for his future outside of the Army.
And he had a knack for devising punishing workouts that left people smiling even if they couldn’t walk afterward.
“He looked out for everybody,” said Spc. Vance Crane, one of Cummings’ closest friends in JBLM’s 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
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That’s why the popular soldier’s death stunned his friends and colleagues so severely on May 31 when he was killed in a North Texas highway accident alongside his wife Vanessa and their infant son Dawson. The couple was expecting another child at the time of their deaths.
Loved ones gathered Thursday at a JBLM chapel to recognize Cummings’ service over his six-year Army career.
That time in uniform took Cummings to Afghanistan and to Guantanamo Bay as a military police officer. It also introduced him to Vanessa, who also served at JBLM in its military police brigade until she left the Army a year ago to focus on their family.
Their military memorial echoed so many ceremonies held on this base honoring soldiers killed in combat. Yet the circumstances of their deaths left mourners searching for reasons.
The Cummings had left JBLM in late April to get an early start on their lives as civilians. Brandon Cummings was due to leave the Army on July 2. He had a job as a probation officer lined up in New Mexico and they were returning from a trip to see his family in North Carolina.
A truck driver drifted across Interstate 40 and struck the young family. Texas authorities reported that the driver may have had a medical problem that caused him to lose control of the truck.
“Surely nothing but success and happiness awaited them and their family, but it was not meant to be,” said Army chaplain Lt. Col. David Causey.
The service began with a montage of photos. One showed Brandon and Vanessa holding Dawson as he wore a T-shirt that read, “I’m going to be a big brother.”
At JBLM, the Cummings family was well known around the 593rd. Both Brandon and Vanessa had spent much of their time in the Army in the 42nd Military Police Brigade, which is a part of the 593rd.
Sgt. Eric Martinez served alongside Vanessa Cummings. He learned that she wasn’t going to have a baby shower when she was pregnant with Dawson.
“Needless to say, I ended up hosting a baby shower. It was a first for me and a first for her seeing a man at a baby shower,” Martinez said.
Brandon Cummings served for the last year in the 593rd’s headquarters, most recently as the personal driver to commander Brig. Gen. Kurt Ryan. About 450 soldiers are participating in a hike that Ryan is leading this weekend, with some of them dedicating the trek to the Cummings family.
“I will never forget his blue eyes and his crooked smile,” said Maj. Virginia Supanick, who worked with Brandon at the headquarters.