Memorial service provides closure for Soldiers

By Staff Sgt. Douglas Anderson, Staff Sgt. Carrie Castillo, and Spc. Frank Alcala | 318th Press Camp Headquarters | March 21, 2019

MOUNT VERNON, Ill. —

Two Soldiers who died in a non-combat vehicle accident March 5 had not returned home, yet, closure was needed. The closure was carried out in the most traditional way the Army can provide for its Soldiers, those who remain ready to take over the watch from the fallen, with a memorial ceremony March 16.

The 657th Transportation Detachment (Movement Control Team), 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 377th Theater Sustainment Command, took extra care to ensure the memories of Sgt. Holli R. Bolinski and Spc. Jackson D. Johnson lived on among the ranks, both in Mount Vernon, and those still serving in Kuwait.

Bolinski, 37, from Pinckneyville, Illinois, and Johnson, 20, from Hillsboro, Missouri, died March 5, in Kuwait, as a result of injuries sustained from a non-tactical vehicle accident with a Kuwaiti water truck. The incident is under investigation.

The traditional Battle Cross of the fallen Soldier was placed at the front of the drill hall of the Armed Forces Reserve Center, one for each soldier who had passed. The crosses stood as memorials to the fallen. 

Traditionally, the memorial ceremony is closed to the public and reserved for the Soldiers of the unit impacted by the loss of their fallen comrades. However, the 657th never questioned opening it to the families.

“Because we are a tight knit family, it was never a question about inviting the families of the Soldiers in what can sometimes be a closed ceremony,” said Lt. Col. Gregory J. Derner, commander of the 419th Movement Control Battalion. 

The Soldiers were assembled in a platoon formation to the left of the memorials. Each rank broke one-by-one into groups of four and marched over to pay their respects and render final salutes, the highest form of respect you can give as a Soldier. Some fought back tears as they raised their right-hand to their temple.

“This is a sad day for our unit, we’re all family. We work together, go to war together, and mourn together,” said Col. Jeffrey LeRoy, commander of the 649th Regional Support Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “A ceremony like this helps bring closure to the Soldiers in the unit, to say ‘good-bye’ to their fallen comrades. It helps us heal and move forward.”

First Lt. John Butler, former commander of the unit Jackson was previously assigned, the 958th Transportation Detachment (Movement Control Team), stated that initially the loss will have a negative effect on the Soldiers and the unit, but though the mourning process of coming together as ‘one team, one fight, one family’ the Soldiers will persevere and continue to be a cohesive unit.

The remaining Soldiers of the 657th in Kuwait will return in early fall and continue the closure process by having a tree dedication ceremony at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Mount. Vernon.

“The trees are something significant to the 657th,” said Derner. “In the early fall when the rest of the team returns from their deployment, to complete the process of closure, we will have a dedication ceremony for all of the Soldiers [to attend] once they are all back together.”