Sgt. Troy O. Tom was the life of the party who didn’t hesitate at doing almost anything to show off in front of friends – legendary feats that earned him the nickname “Crazy Bear.”
Pfc. Jonathan C. Yanney was a quiet guy who loved playing Xbox and had a great sense of humor.
Both were determined soldiers. Tom, an infantryman, once broke his hand but still lugged around his 22-pound machine gun. Yanney, a forward observer, loved to be on the front lines alongside his buddies.
“Though their deaths were premature, they were able to leave their marks on many of us,” chaplain Capt. Ronaldo Silva told about 450 people at a memorial service Wednesday at Fort Lewis’ North Fort Chapel. Tom and Yanney were killed Aug. 18 when a bomb exploded near their unit in Arghandab in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
Tom, 21, and Yanney, 20, were the first deaths 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has suffered since it deployed to southeastern Afghanistan in July. Wednesday’s service was the first of its kind at Fort Lewis since February for a soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Seven others – all from Tom and Yanney’s 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment – have since died, including three on Monday.
Having doubts in the midst of such losses is natural, the battalion commander told his troops during a memorial service in Afghanistan last week.
“Our training tells us not to question our nation’s mission, but somehow that isn’t quite enough,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Newman said five days after the country’s Aug. 18 presidential vote. “As we helped ensure the country could vote this week, we saw something very positive, an accomplishment to be proud of. Somehow, democracy in Afghanistan still isn’t enough to justify losing these two soldiers.”
But, Newman said in a speech repeated Wednesday by Capt. Franky Kim, the troops must view the long-term mission and soldier on.
Wednesday’s eulogies focused on a pair of soldiers who died just weeks into their first deployment. The chapel was at capacity as soldiers from units across the post filled the pews alongside family members to pay their final respects.
Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.” A benediction followed the eulogies, and then a final roll call was performed. An honor guard from the brigade fired a rifle salute, and the sound of taps filled the chapel.
Spc. Kennith Cloud read a speech from Sgt. Jacob Travis, a friend of Yanney’s serving in Afghanistan. Travis remembers Yanney of Litchfield, Minn., as someone who preferred to play video games; the realistic war game “Call of Duty” was a favorite.
Tom, a native of New Mexico, went by two nicknames: Tom Tom and Crazy Bear. The latter sprang in part from experience playing with samurai swords at a friend’s house just to make his buddies laugh, said Spc. Benjamin Simmons.
Another Crazy Bear moment involved Tom jumping on a skateboard in front of a large group to show off his skills.
“He was a friend and a leader who inspired a calm and lighthearted mood among his soldiers,” said Kim, the battalion’s rear detachment commander. “Regardless of the situation, no matter how bad things would get, he would always be smiling.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758