Memorial honors 2 soldiers

Sgt. Joel Dahl was remembered Tuesday as a soldier's soldier who put the Army first until he got married a year ago and later found out he was going to be a father.

Cpl. Victor Garcia was recalled as a man with a contagious sense of humor and a penchant for ­Texas Hold 'Em poker.

The two comrades from the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were killed in separate attacks in Baghdad in the past month, but they were honored together at a memorial service Tuesday at Fort Lewis.

They were the 14th and 15th members of their Stryker brigade to die in the first two months of a scheduled 15-month Iraq deployment.

'National treasures'

Maj. Chad Sundem, commander of the brigade's rear detachment, said Dahl and Garcia were now part of the unit's "15 national treasures."

One of Dahl's friends told a story of how the young soldier ran around happily with a sonogram of his unborn son that he received from his wife, Alia, while in Baghdad. He showed it to everyone in his usual intense manner, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Taylor recalled.

But Dahl, 21, of Los Lumas, N.M., never made it home to see his son. He was shot while on patrol June 23 - a week before Kaiden's birth.

Kaiden won't have to search for a hero in his life, Sundem said.

"His daddy will fill that role," he explained.

Garcia, 22, of Rialto, Calif., died July 1 in another attack involving small-arms fire. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment.

Capt. Craig Butera, the rear detachment commander for the battalion, noted that Garcia was selected to be his company's radio telephone operator, an important job requiring accuracy and dedication under pressure.

"He was destined for greatness," Butera said.

Loss vs. sacrifice

Pvt. Jacob Morton, one of Garcia's friends, said they met through a roommate two years ago. He said Garcia always chuckled when he played winning poker, which meant he chuckled most of the time.

"Vaya con Dios," Morton said in farewell.

Dahl was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Capt. Andrew Marsh, rear detachment commander for the battalion, pointed out there's a difference between loss and sacrifice. A loss means nothing is gained, he said.

"A sacrifice promises a hope for a better tomorrow," he said, telling the families and soldiers in the chapel that it is "up to us to press on and make sure his sacrifice was not in vain."

A stained glass window in the chapel echoed those feelings: "No greater love hath a man that a man lay down his life for his friends," it reads.

Memorial services for soldiers from Fort Lewis have become all too frequent; the post has lost 138 soldiers in the Iraq war. But the ceremonies haven't lost their elegance and reverence.

After tributes and prayers Tuesday, two Tacoma Fire Department pipers played "Amazing Grace."

In what is called the Final Roll Call, Dahl's and Garcia's names were called out three times.

Outside the chapel, an honor guard gave the three-volley salute and a bugler blew taps in the summer rain.

Then family and fellow soldiers were escorted row by row to the front of the chapel. They stood before the boots and other symbols of the two men and paid their respects.

The ceremony for Dahl and Garcia brings Fort Lewis up to date on bidding farewell to its fallen heroes. The last two months were especially devastating for the Army post, with 20 soldiers killed in May and 17 in June.

This month has provided a respite of sorts, with two soldiers reportedly having lost their lives in July and none in the last two weeks.