Today I had the honor of taking part in something that I hope I’ll never have to do again. At the end of the hall call yesterday, Lt Col Ackerman told us that he was proud of us but that he unfortunately had to end the hall call on a somber note. He had been informed that a young army specialist was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and that his body was coming home to Alabama through Maxwell AFB. I was holding my breath as he spoke. You could hear a pin drop. He asked the entire class if any of us were willing to march out and line the road leading from the airfield to the base gate so that we could pay our final respects to Spc Lancaster. Hands around me, including my own, shot into the air. Lt Col Ackerman took about three seconds to survey the room, then reported to the back of the room, where Colonel Stout (the officer in charge of the entire 23rd Training Squadron) was apparently sitting, Colonel Stout, we have 133 members of Kelly Class prepared to pay their final respects. We’ll be there tomorrow morning.
The next day, Saturday, was the most beautiful day since my arrival. The weather was brisk but warmer than at any time in the past twenty days, and the brilliant blue sky, cloudless for the first time since my arrival in Alabama, stretched up and out and away forever. I didn’t know if it was fitting or ironic.
We marched as a flight for about a mile to get to the road where we needed to be. It was without question the best marching we’ve done since day 1. Everyone understood the importance of what we were doing. On the way there, we passed other groups of students—Basic Officer Training (BOT) trainees, Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) trainees—as well as hundreds of others in ABUs and civilian clothes who must have lived or worked on base. Everyone took up a position along the main road heading off base, about a foot between each person’s shoulder and that of his or her neighbor.
And we waited. We waited for what seemed like an eternity. At first I waited at parade rest, but after twenty minutes or so I started cramping so I had to relax my arms. Then my nose itched so I eased up for a second to swipe at it. We were standing there for an eternity. Eventually a Captain came by and told us to stand at ease and to make sure to keep our knees bent because someone already went down. I glanced to my left and I saw a girl from Kelly class being helped up from the ground. I bent my knees, relaxed my arms, looked straight forward, and waited some more, alternating between staring into the eyes of my fellow COT trainees across the street and glancing at the civilians and kids further down to my right.
It finally came. I heard it before I saw it, due to the eclectic squad of bikers—veterans and nonveterans, scraggly beards and tattoos, clean cut, men and women both—acting as an escort. Once they passed and the rumble of the bikes’ engines started fading to my left, I saw out of the corner of my right eye a rippling wave of salutes going up. I stole a glance down the road, turning my head just slightly. It was awesome. By the time the hearse got to where I was (about halfway down the road), I was fully prepared. Snap to attention. Do a slow-motion (3 count) salute. Wait until the last car passes you, then slowly return your salute and come back to the position of attention until the last car passes. And just like that, it was gone.
We marched back to the dorm. Nobody said a word. And it was still the best marching we’ve done since getting here.---------
By Hamilton Richardson
Prattville (Ala.) Progress
The city of Millbrook, as well as many at Fort Campbell, Ky., have been in mourning since the death of Army Spc. Joshua Lancaster, who was killed in action Jan. 19 in Afghanistan.
Lancaster, who joined the Army in March 2008 and arrived at Fort Campbell in August 2010, was killed as a result of a rocket attack at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
Lancaster was a Signal Support Systems Specialist assigned to the 723rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 184th Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group.
During his military career, Lancaster had been honored with the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
The 22-year-old soldier was supposed to be home from overseas in early February and friends and family had been planning a welcome home party for him.
Al Kelley, mayor of Millbrook, said that he did not personally know Lancaster but that he knew that the city was mourning the loss.
“We appreciate what he did for the country,” Kelley said. “We mourn with the family.”
Lancaster is survived by his wife, Melanie Lancaster of Clarksville, Tenn.; his mother, Kimberly Irwin of Millbrook; and extended family in the area.