Sgt. First Class James Connell Jr. trained me as a new Basic Training Recruit at Fort Benning, Georgia. I endured everything he and that hot, humid environment could throw at me for 3½ months.
I was at the Durango Rec Center running on a treadmill when I found out he was killed on May 12, 2007. I always think of him this time of year. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and I have visited him a few times over the years. I'm planning on heading to D.C. this fall after fire season. This is a note I wrote him for Memorial Day:
I would normally be calling this “beer-30” and would have been taking some shots this Memorial Day. However, I quit drinking after the New Year, and you would probably be more proud of me for that.
I joined the Army at 18 and was barely 160 pounds in wet clothing when you got a hold of me. I had never gone over a week without talking to my mom and there was a lot to learn about the world outside of Southwest Colorado, starting with doing push-ups in that red Georgia clay. You taught me how to be a man and even though I was shy, you got me to my unit (2nd/187th Infantry) in shape, disciplined and ready to deploy to Iraq during the 2003 Invasion.
I hope you have been watching me graduate from Fort Lewis College and working wildland firefighting around the country, traveling and trying to make the most of my opportunities. ’Til we form again – Mad Dogs, Love of Country.