Commander, Gold Star Mother Design Memorial
Story by Sgt. Chad Menegay
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq — Over the last seven years, Soldiers have honored the fallen here in Iraq with perhaps hundreds of memorials, most in the form of T-walls, street signs and plaques.
Now, at Contingency Operating Base Marez, Iraq, Lt. Col. Warner Holt, garrison commander for COB Marez, Regimental Fires Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and an Estill Springs, Tenn., native, is collaborating with Gold Star Family member Nanette West to build a memorial for fallen Soldiers at COB Marez in honor of service members that have died near Mosul, Iraq.
“It’s important to have a memorial,” Holt said. “It’s something to keep the memory alive for all these troops that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Nanette West said that for Soldiers in Iraq, memorials are something that might remind them of why they’re here.
The story of why West is here in Iraq sheds light on both her work, and Holt’s, to honor the fallen of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On May 28, 2007 her son, Army 1st Lt. Kile Grant West, a field artillery officer and platoon leader for 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Combat Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, was killed in action near Forward Operating Base Normandy by a roadside bomb while on a rescue mission of a downed helicopter.
“When this happens to you, everything you thought you wanted out of life changes,” Nanette West said, “what car you have, what house you own is not important anymore.”
She felt the need to take action and to better understand her son’s death.
“I tried to join the Army. I tried the National Guard, but my age kept me back,” she said. “KBR was my only foothold over here.”
Nanette West currently works as an administrative specialist for KBR, Inc. at COB Marez. She says because her son didn’t get to finish his OIF tour, she’s finishing it for him in her own way.
“I got to stand where he stood and see what he saw at Forward Operating Base Normandy,” she said.
U.S. Army and KBR, Inc. leadership coordinated together to allocate Nanette West the opportunity to meet with her son’s unit in Iraq and also to ride in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
“I really wanted to join them,” she said.
She met and bonded with many of Kile West’s comrades from 6th Sqdn., 9 Cav. Regt.
Holt and Nanette West described a Fallen Soldiers Monument as a link between Family members and Soldiers.
“Having lost Soldiers in combat myself, I know how important that is,” Holt said. “And to stay in touch with all those family members for the guys that were there. I know that Nanette has met some of those troops that have served with her son, and there’s a close bond there. You’re forever tied.”
Plans to ensure that memorials like these make it back to the states, before the U.S. military’s upcoming responsible drawdown runs its course, are in the works. Some memorials have already been packed up to ship back.
These monuments are a testament to these Soldiers’ sacrifice, said Maj. Linda Bass, human resources chief with the 13th SC(E), and a native of Bessemer, Ala.
“It would be a shame for these to end up in a trash heap somewhere,” Bass said.
Bass’ brother, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Henkes, who was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, died Sept. 3, 2006, near Mosul, Iraq, as a result of a roadside bomb.
Bass, upon hearing about Holt and Nanette West’s Fallen Soldiers Memorial work, volunteered her assistance.
Although Holt and Nanette West have done all of the planning to this point, many have been pulled together to accomplish the mission. A KBR, Inc. sign shop has offered its equipment for use. A local Iraqi painter is going to do much of the artwork. RFS mayor’s cell Soldiers will do the building. Holt says construction is likely a few weeks away.
The design plan, nearly a month in the works and partly inspired by the FOB Warhorse Memorial and the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, calls for items like T-walls, steel, vinyl and decals. Names of fallen service members are to appear with unit crests on a whitewashed background listed by year.
Holt gives much of the credit for this historical initiative to Nanette West.
“She has taken a very negative situation and tried to make it a positive,” Holt said.
“You’ve got to take what you’re handed, and you’ve got to turn it around,” Nanette West said. “Kile is why I am here, and why I feel the need to honor other Soldiers who have fallen.”
At Contingency Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, Gold Star Family member Nanette West looks over names of the fallen at the Operation Iraqi Freedom memorial there. Nanette West works for KBR, Inc. at Contingency Operating Base Marez and has planned a memorial there to further honor fallen service members. (Courtesy photo)
Nanette West visits Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, Killeen, Texas. On May 28, 2007 her son, 1st Lt. Kile Grant West, a platoon leader with 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Combat Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, was killed in action by a roadside bomb. (Courtesy photo)
The Fort Hood, Texas, Operation Iraqi Freedom Memorial. (Courtesy photo)