December 30, 2004

Soldiers honor fallen comrades at memorial service


The commander of Task Force Olympia, Brig. Gen Carter Ham (left), and the Task Force Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Pacheco (right) pay their respects during a memorial service for Sgt. David Ruhren and Sgt. Nicholas Mason of the 276th Engineer Battalion.  (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Blair Larson)

By Spc. Blair Larson
139th Mobile Public Affairs Det.

MOSUL, Iraq – They were two friends having lunch together in a dining facility in Mosul, Iraq.  With their trays of dinner in front of them, they could have been talking about anything – their families, the video games they liked to play, or an upcoming mission that night to secure bridges in the city. 

It was a scene Sgt. Nicholas Mason and Sgt. David Ruhren had played out many times during the last 10 months of their deployment with Company C, 276th Engineer Battalion.  On Dec. 21 however, an unidentified Iraqi man was somewhere near them with a vest full of explosives, preparing to take out as many people as he could.     

The explosion ripped through the dining facility, spraying shrapnel and thousands of tiny metal ball bearings, leaving 22 dead and more than 70 injured, including Virginia natives Mason and Ruhren.

Soldiers gathered for a memorial service December 27, almost a week after the two Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers lost their lives.  Many of the Soldiers were still bandaged from the injuries they received that day and many more still carried the unseen emotional scars from the scene of the tragedy.

In an emotional tribute, the commanders and comrades of the two men spoke of their courage and commitment to the Army and their fellow Soldiers. 

“Their example of citizenry is a model for all to follow,” said Company C commander Capt. Dave Kaulfers.  “With their spirit, we must continue to succeed in what we together have started.”

Both Soldiers turned 20 while in Iraq.  Both enlisted in the Army in 2001 at the age of 17 and completed their military training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in 2003.  Both Soldiers were assigned to Company A, 229th Engineer Battalion from Fredericksburg, Va., and were mobilized with the Richmond-based 276th Engineers to come to Iraq at the beginning of 2004.  Both were posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Mason’s squad leader, Staff Sgt. Joel Miller, remembered his proudest moment when Mason received a coin from the sergeant major of an infantry battalion the engineers had accompanied on a mission.  The sergeant major was impressed with Mason’s calm and quick reaction during a tense situation and joked that he didn’t hold it against Mason for being in the National Guard.

Capt. Chris Dunn, Company B commander, spoke of Mason’s positive attitude toward his mission and the Iraqi people.  He also talked about Mason’s impressive skills in welding and construction which have helped the battalion in its engineering mission. 

Spc. Joseph Vitola remembered Ruhren’s generosity, his skillful handling of the .50 caliber machine gun and his love for motorcycles and well-shaped patrol caps.

“There’s some of him in every man in this platoon,” he said.

Ruhren’s dedication to his fellow Soldiers was well-known.

“You wouldn’t have to worry about him not being there for you,” said Vitola.

These Soldiers’ lives and dedication to the mission will not be quickly forgotten.  A piece of each of them will live with their fellow Soldiers as they continue their mission here.

“What makes such a great loss easier to bear is being able to take these memories with us,” said Vitola.

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