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'They live forever in our heart'

A memorial honoring the fallen soldiers from the Fort Lewis-based Stryker brigade that just returned from Iraq will be unveiled today.

Fort Lewis and 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) officials will present a 6-foot clay likeness of the bronze memorial statue during a ceremony attended by families of the fallen soldiers and their comrades in the unit. The completed memorial is scheduled to be dedicated in January, said Maj. Jack Vantress, the brigade's operations officer.

"Our comrades who didn't return home with us, they live forever in our hearts," he said. "The memorial is just a small gesture of thanks for them and their families."

The statue will depict an Arrowhead brigade soldier in full battle gear. It will feature the names of the brigade soldiers who have died since its inception. Attached to the statue's granite base will be plates featuring the names of the 69 soldiers who died during the brigade's two deployments to Iraq, in 2003-04 and in 2006-07. The tally includes a soldier who deployed with the brigade during its second tour and was killed in Iraq after he transferred to another Fort Lewis-based unit.

It also will feature the names of the 11 soldiers from other units who were killed while they were attached to or under the operational control of the brigade.

Finally, it will list the names of the five soldiers who died in training or accidents away from the combat zone.

The statue is the work of Gareth Curtiss, an Olympia-area sculptor who created the minuteman statue in front of the old headquarters of Camp Murray and the military homecoming statue at Marvin Road and Quinault Drive in Hawks Prairie. Curtiss, who couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, will attend today's unveiling.

The unveiling occurs on the eve of the brigade's redeployment ceremony, when its colors will be uncased, signifying the end of its 15-month deployment to Iraq.

The memorial was thought up in summer 2004, while the brigade was serving its first deployment in Iraq, Vantress said.

It is a joint project of the brigade and a nonprofit organization led by family members and others that supports the unit.

The cost of the project is $55,000, Vantress said, and it will be paid for entirely by donations.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.

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