Fort Lewis’ new commanding general said Wednesday that the Army post will continue to have small ceremonies for soldiers killed, saying they will be “dignified, personalized and fitting tributes” in ruling out a proposal to have a single group memorial per month.
The announcement by Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. appears to conclude an emotional debate about how to honor local soldiers who died in war that meets the needs of Fort Lewis, families of the fallen soldiers and others.
Jacoby has directed that the memorial services occur Wednesdays beginning in August.
The fixed schedule will reduce the pressure on the unit’s rear detachments and family-readiness groups to plan the memorials, Jacoby said, while increasing the level of participation from the community. The memorials now are held throughout the workweek, usually Tuesdays.
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“I’m very impressed with the Fort Lewis memorials,” Jacoby said. “They are dignified, as I mentioned; they are fitting; and they speak to the individual qualities of the soldiers who have fallen.”
He added: “Other places in the Army that are doing other methods for their memorials, commanders are making good decisions based on the circumstances they may find, and I think this was the right decision for this community.”
Jacoby, in his 45th day as Fort Lewis’ commanding general, said he wanted to attend the services and talk with military families and others before making his decision.
Cheri Oswell, whose husband died in Iraq this month, supported Jacoby’s decision. She met with Jacoby before the service for her husband, Scott, on July 16.
She said she thought the compassion Jacoby exhibited was a major factor in his decision.
“I think he was trying to keep it on an individual level so the soldiers don’t lose their identity,” she said.
In May, when the Army post suffered its worst monthly loss in the Iraq War, the interim commanding general directed that the post hold a single service for all soldiers killed during each month.
“As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm’s way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies,” Brig. Gen. William Troy wrote in an e-mail to staff that subsequently went public.
The policy change was scheduled to take effect in June.
The change was unpopular for many military family and veterans groups and was put on hold until Jacoby’s arrival.
Fort Lewis has held a single memorial service for two or more of its soldiers if they were members of the same unit who died in a single attack, as well as for soldiers assigned to different units who died within a short time frame. That will continue.
The services at Fort Lewis include eulogies by a unit commander and a fellow soldier and military honors, including a rifle salute and a bugler playing “Taps.” Each service is in addition to a unit memorial conducted in theater and private family services, which typically include military honors.
Fort Lewis has about 10,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq, most of them assigned to two Stryker combat brigades.
A total of 149 service members assigned to Fort Lewis have died since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Four soldiers from Fort Lewis have died in Iraq this month.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.