Fort Bragg, N.C. — For one year, away from their families and loved ones, soldiers with the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade fought enemy forces in some of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan.
Six of them didn't make it home.
On Thursday, the brigade, freshly back on American soil, paid tribute to their fallen comrades – all highly decorated soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Robert Cowdrey died Oct. 13, 2011, while on a rescue mission.
Capt. Scott Pace and 1st Lt. Mathew Fazzari died June 6 in a helicopter crash.
Sgt. Eric Williams was killed by enemy fire on July 23.
Chief Warrant Officers Jose Montenegro Jr. and Thalia Ramirez, both pilots, went down in their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter on Sept. 5.
Col. T. J. Jamison, who led the brigade in Afghanistan, said those six soldiers are always on his mind, but he is grateful for the soldiers who survived.
"I take great comfort in knowing how many American soldiers on the ground did get home to their families because of that aviation presence we provided," he said.
Maj. Graham Bundy was Cowdrey's commander. He grapples with measuring the success of a mission when lives are lost, but is humbled by the grace of families affected.
"I've always been surprised by their graciousness, how well they are handling it and their appreciation for the unit and the organization, and how it handles that loss," Bundy said.
The loss is felt throughout the ranks of Fort Bragg's extended military family. And for the 82nd CAB, Cowdrey, Pace, Fazzari, Williams, Montenegro and Ramirez – who died at their sides – will never be forgotten.
"I don't think you can not bring it home. To lose soldiers in combat is something no one wants to do," said Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Farmer. "I think we'll always live with it."