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PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers of 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, mourned the loss of a friend and fellow Soldier during a memorial ceremony held at Joint Combat Outpost Pul-e Sayad, Afghanistan, April 25.
Soldiers awaiting for the ceremony to begin watched as two OH-58 Kiowa helicopters flew overhead, circling the small JCOP. Pilots of TF Phoenix, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, held out American flags showing their respect to the men and women of TF Redhorse as thanks for support received only days prior.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, an infantryman from Grimes, Iowa, was killed in action while he and his platoon responded to a downed aircraft April 23 in Alah Say District, Kapisa Province, eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Varnadore II, of Arden, N.C., one of the pilots of the downed aircraft was killed, and the other pilot injured. Two other TF Redhorse Soldiers were injured during the recovery mission that day.
With quiet reverence, the Soldiers began the ceremony. The fallen hero’s boots, rifle, helmet and dog-tags, placed atop a small platform, faced an open area on the JCOP. Grieving Soldiers of Troop A, 1st Sqdn., 113th Cav. Regt., fell into formation and guests lined the area to give a final farewell to a man who will be remembered for being a world-class non-commissioned officer.
Justice, a squad leader of 1st Platoon, Troop A, 1st Sqd., 113th Cav, was originally slated to deploy with the 2nd Bde. in August 2010, but due to medical issues he was held back from deploying. It wasn’t until the unit called back to the Iowa National Guard for replacements when Justice went on what would be his fourth deployment. He was in Afghanistan just under a month before his death.
Justice, who enlisted in the Iowa National Guard in 1998, made many friends. Soldiers close to him shared their memories. Many knew him from previous deployments, particularly those from the security force mission in Iraq in 2005.
A long-time friend, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Doug Stanger of Urbandale, Iowa, and Company Intelligence Support Team NCO for Troop A, 1st Sqd., 113th Cav., served with Justice in Iraq. They were squad leaders together in the same platoon.
“You talk to anybody and they will give you the usual, ‘Oh, he was a good guy,’ but James really was a good guy,” Stanger said. “I was excited ([to hear he was coming as a replacement). I went around and basically told everybody that I could find how lucky we were. I saw him on Bagram Airfield, and I said, ‘We would be lucky to have you.’ Low and behold he came to Alpha Troop and I just thought how incredibly lucky we were because he is a performer and extremely cool under pressure, especially with all the stuff he went through in Iraq.
“In any situation he was just always calm, never got excited. He didn’t sweat the small details,” he continued. “And a leader … Everybody wanted to follow him. In Iraq he could get his guys to do anything he wanted them to do because they just loved him that much and respected him.”
“He was probably the best NCO I’ve ever worked with,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ben Doyle of Menlo, Iowa, and Troop A supply sergeant who deployed with Justice three times. “NCO means a lot of things, but he genuinely, genuinely had care and concern for Soldiers. He cared about Soldiers he was in charge of and their welfare, and that’s him in a nutshell. He was a very compassionate guy with a great sense of humor.”
“I remember when he first walked into my office, here,” Doyle said. “I had heard that he was on Bagram Airfield. He came and found me and walked into my office and I just smiled, and I knew, his smirk, his trademark smirk … I heard that we were trying to get him at Alpha Troop, and I knew he would have a positive impact on this organization. No question what-so-ever.”
Not only did Justice have an impact on the lives of long-time friends, but in the short time he was with Troop A, impacted the lives of the Soldiers with whom he served.
“I learned that he was a determined Soldier the first time we shook hands,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Peter Choi, Troops A’s 1st Platoon leader from Ames, Iowa. “He was determined to make a difference in Afghanistan and to serve his country the best possible way a citizen of the United States can. He made a difference in the platoon in subtle but noticeable ways.”
“First Platoon’s actions that day changed the dynamics on the battlefield and prevented a situation that could have turned much worse,” Choi said during the memorial. “If it wasn’t for Staff Sgt. Justice’s courage, we would not have been able to make the same impact that we did.”
As the ceremony came to a close, every Soldier attending the memorial went up to Justice’s display and paid respects, to include members from the French Operational Mentoring Liaison Team and Afghan National Army soldiers based at the JCOP.
Those who knew Justice well held Amanda, his wife, and Caydence, his daughter close in their thoughts.
“I’m thinking about Caydence growing up without the ability to know her father,” said Stanger with tears forming in his eyes. “It’s going to be tough. My wife and I are definitely thinking about Amanda.”
“We are always there for them, no matter what,” added Doyle.
Justice’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (2nd Award), Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M device (3rd Award), Multinational Force and Observers Medal, Combat Action Badge, Air Assault Badge.
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