Darryl Thomas Dent
Specialist 4, United States Army
Aug 27, 2003
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today that Specialist Darryl T. Dent, 21, of Washington, D.C., was killed on August 26, 2003, in Southeast Arimadi, Iraq. Dent was in a convoy when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle. Dent died of his injuries.
Dent was assigned to the 547th Transportation Company, U.S. Army National Guard, based in Washington, D.C. This incident is under investigation.
For Guard, a Full Dose of Sacrifice
Part-Time D.C. Soldier's Death in Iraq Reflects Service's Expanded Role
By Manny Fernandez and Simone Weichselbaum
Arthur J. Williamson Jr. made it a point to shake the hand of each and every member of the 547th Transportation Company that day in January.
At an emotional deployment ceremony at Anacostia Naval Station, State Command Sergeant Major Williamson wanted to look the men and women in the eyes one last time before the D.C. Army National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq. The company, in which Williamson served during the Persian Gulf War, functions as a trucking service for the Army -- "You Call, We Haul" is its motto -- that ferries food, troops and supplies.
The men and women assembled that day were not weekend warriors, in his view; they were just warriors. "They were going into harm's way, like any other soldier," said Williamson, 51, a D.C. native who joined the Army National Guard in 1976. "The possibility of something like this happening stays in the back of your mind."
That something was palpable yesterday in the quiet, somber halls of the D.C. Armory in Southeast Washington, headquarters of the 201-year-old District of Columbia National Guard. Worried family members of the 547th e-mailed, called and met with Guard personnel, and the phone in the public affairs office rang with condolences from fellow Guard troops and the offices of D.C. leaders, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). A member of the 547th was killed Tuesday in Iraq, the first member of the D.C. National Guard killed in combat in recent memory and the first Washington area guardsman to die in Iraq.
Specialist Darryl T. Dent, 21, of the District was traveling in a vehicle that struck a makeshift explosive device 16 miles northwest of Baghdad. Two other members of the 547th were wounded, one critically. National Guard officials said yesterday that the names and home towns of the wounded had not been released.
Word of the casualties in Iraq reminded many in the Washington area's National Guard forces of the price they pay to serve, a duty they described as an often-overlooked balancing act of family obligations, careers and military service.
In Annapolis, members of the Maryland National Guard and other armed forces and their families gathered at the State House for a solemn "Salute to Fallen Heroes" recognizing four Maryland military personnel killed in Iraq and six others who were injured. Maj. Charles S. Kohler of the Maryland National Guard said news of Dent's death added to the sadness. "Those of us in uniform respect those that have gone before us and have paid the ultimate sacrifice," he said.
Williamson, whose 31-year-old son, Anthony, is serving with the 547th in Iraq, said the image of Guard soldiers has changed in recent years because of domestic terrorism and overseas conflicts.
The National Guard is the oldest branch of the armed forces. Guard units serve a dual role, for their states and for the president. The Guard had its roots in militias established in the earliest English colonies in North America and has served in all major U.S. conflicts.
Despite that long service, Williamson said, the role of the Guard soldier was for years thought of as a kind of civic duty, more public service than combat mission. "What people had thought about the Guard some years ago has definitely changed since the Gulf War and since 9/11 because of the rapid mobilizations . . . all over the world," he said. "Anything is subject to happen. You're putting your life on the line every time you put on that uniform now."
For years, Guard service consisted mostly of one weekend drill a month and two weeks of summer training. But since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has relied more and more on its Army Reserve and National Guard as the ranks of active-duty Army have shrunk.
In 1989, the active-duty Army included about 770,000 soldiers. Today, the number has dropped to about 480,000. As a result, the odds of getting deployed abroad -- and possibly killed -- have increased for reservists and guardsmen. "I wouldn't use the word 'dangerous,' " said Lieuteannt Colonel Boyd Collins, a spokesman with Army Reserve headquarters in Atlanta, "but our people do get deployed more than 15 years ago."
About 150 members of Dent's unit are in Iraq, the only D.C. National Guard unit in the conflict. Their task, Guard officials said, is to haul the three B's: beans, bullets and blankets. About 40 percent of those deployed to Iraq also served in the Gulf War, when the 547th spent more than seven months in the Middle East. About 90 percent of them are civilians who left behind full-time jobs, such as with Metro or as mechanics or commercial truck drivers.
Williamson, the highest-ranking enlisted person in the D.C. Army National Guard, said he got to know a lot of the 547th soldiers, including Dent. He remembered the young man yesterday as an eager, enthusiastic guardsman. "He wasn't a problem soldier," he said. "He was a soldier who fell in when you told him to fall in."
Dent joined the Guard in 1999 and hoped to one day attend medical school. Marion Bruce, Dent's aunt, said family members met with Guard officials yesterday afternoon. She said plans are in the works for a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Dent spent his last months in the Iraqi desert under the watch of Staff Sgt. Douglas Hall, 45, of the District. Hall, who was responsible for assigning duties to the 547th and left Iraq this month, said he liked the young man's determination. "When you have 80 people under one tent, you become close," Hall said. He said Dent told him he wanted to pursue a medical career and wanted to become an Army doctor. But his immediate goal, Hall said, was to come home and eat old-fashioned American junk food.
"Our first dream was to go to 7-Eleven and drink a Slurpee," Hall said.
There are thousands of National Guard members throughout the Washington area, including 7,500 in the Virginia Army National Guard.
The roughly 2,700 members of the D.C. Army and Air National Guards call themselves Capital Guardians. They are the citizen-soldiers in green-and-black camouflage fatigues who helped restore order in the city after the April 1968 riots triggered by the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They got police through snow-clogged streets in their Humvees in the January 1996 storm and secured downtown intersections and patrolled the skies over Washington in F-16s after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
After learning of Dent's death, Sergeant Major
Frederick Goldsmith said he tried to keep his emotions in check. "You keep
it in your heart but go on," said Goldsmith, 46, who joined the D.C. Army
National Guard in 1978. Guard troops, he said, understand that in some
ways they have two jobs: "One is that the city needs you, and two, they
train to go to war."
On Tuesday, August 26, 2003 in Iraq, SPECIALIST
DARRYL T. DENT. Devoted son of Sabrina L. and Vernon L. Dent; brother of
Lisa Justice and Vernon L. Dent, Jr. He is also survived by his grandparents,
Christine P. and Joe G. Justice; many other relatives and friends. On Sunday,
September 7, 2003 from 3 p.m. until time of service at 5 p.m., friends
are invited to call at the Canaan Baptist Church, 1607 Monroe St., N.W.
Interment with Military Honors will be held Monday, September 8 at Arlington
Like Losing a Family Member'
D.C. Guardsman Killed in Iraq Explosion Honored at Arlington
By Manny Fernandez and Simone Weichselbaum
Darryl T. Dent and about 20 members of the D.C. Army Guard's 547th Transportation Company had been thrust into harm's way on a daily basis on the dusty roads of Iraq, their trucks attacked by gunfire, by explosives lobbed from bridges and by rocket-propelled grenades. Their mission: Make sure the troops get their mail.
On the morning of August 26, 2003, Dent, 21, was riding in a five-ton truck as part of a convoy providing security for a mail run to the northern city of Al Asad when the vehicle struck a makeshift, remote-controlled explosive device 16 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Yesterday, Dent and the modest yet crucial assignment he took on were commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery, where the Washington resident was buried in a silver-colored coffin.
After the brief 11 a.m. service, as the crowd dispersed slowly, Dent's mother, Sabrina, put her hand on the coffin and was wrapped in the tight embrace of relatives. When she spoke to reporters later, she said she was proud of her son's courage and humility.
Dent's father, Vernon, said that he had never wanted his son to serve overseas and that he had feared for his safety. "What they need to do," Vernon Dent said, "is bring them all home."
Dent was the 29th U.S. military casualty in Iraq interred at Arlington and the first D.C. Guardsman killed in combat since the Vietnam War. The burial at Arlington and the funeral service Sunday evening at Canaan Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant -- which drew city officials, family members, former classmates at Roosevelt High School in Northwest and Guard personnel -- served as a reminder of the often dangerous work of Guard troops in Iraq.
The day he was killed, Dent and his unit were a little more than two hours into their mail run when the explosive device was detonated. Staff Sgt. Calvin Burgess, 57, Dent's squad leader, said the mail-security missions are ongoing jobs for the 547th, and they often come under attack.
"I couldn't see because there was blood in my eyes," recalled Spec. Kevin Lockard, 34, of Temple Hills, who was in the truck with Dent and was wounded in the explosion.
"I kept asking about Dent, and they were not answering me. I just put two and two together and knew things were bad."
In early August, an employee of Kellogg Brown and Root, the Houston-based company contracted to deliver letters and packages to military personnel across Iraq, died on a mail run when a bomb exploded under his car, the first reported fatal attack on defense contractors in Iraq. "People don't understand that mail trucks are under attack, too," Lockard said. "Terrorists don't care."
Beneath a sky of the deepest blue over Arlington, six uniformed Army personnel carried Dent's flag-draped coffin from a black hearse to the burial site in Section 60. Dozens of family members, friends and military officials gathered around the casket and bowed their heads to recite the Lord's Prayer.
Three sharp rifle volleys rang out in unison from a seven-member Army honor guard, and the lonely sound of taps echoed from a bugler who stood in the distance amid the white marble headstones.
Brig. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., commanding general of the D.C. Guard, then knelt beside Vernon Dent and placed a folded American flag in his hands. A second flag was presented to Sabrina Dent by Brig. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, deputy commander of the D.C. Guard.
At the service Sunday, military officials awarded Dent three posthumous medals, the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, and presented them to his parents.
Family, friends and service members approached Dent's body, attired in his dress blue uniform, in the open coffin. Some soldiers saluted, and some relatives touched him gently, pressing their hands to their lips and then to his arm in a kiss.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), after paying his respects at the coffin and with family members in the front pews, said Dent's death was a tragic loss and that he was proud of the D.C. Guard and the 547th, the only D.C. unit serving in Iraq. "They're important," the mayor said. "They're our folks, and we love them."
The death has hit the tight-knit ranks of the local Guard hard. "I think it's a pretty tough day for us," said Wherley, standing below the concrete steps of the church Sunday. Spec. Willie Howard, 48, one of about 25 members of the 547th who attended the service in beige desert fatigues or green camouflage uniforms, said: "When it's one of your own, it's like losing a family member."
Lockard, the wounded guardsman, sat in a front pew, his arm in a black sling. A second guardsman wounded in the attack, Spec. Vincent Short, is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Guard officials said. Dent's death caused Lockard to reflect on what it means to be a Guardsman and endure the tag of "weekend warrior" that follows him and others even today.
"When you get called, war is not a weekend thing," he said. "It is all the time." About 32,000 Army and Air Guard members are serving in Iraq. About 120 members of the 547th are stationed there.
Sabrina Dent said that coping with the death of her youngest child has been "the toughest thing I had to do."
"I remember he would say to give him up and let him do what he wants to do," she said. "And now, I have to give him to his Maker."
At the funeral Sunday and the burial yesterday, Dent was remembered by those who knew him as a humble young man who dreamed of one day attending medical school but whose more immediate love of driving led him to the trucking unit of the 547th. He joined the Guard in 1999, and after being deployed overseas in April, he went from monitoring Ballston Common mall in Arlington as a security guard to patrolling the dusty Iraqi landscape as a Guard soldier. Dent's mall security badge -- No. 225 -- was retired in his honor.
Dent had a girlfriend who also served in the 547th, family members said. He was a frequent player of video games, a smoker of Black & Mild cigars and a lover of soul food -- especially the chicken prepared by his grandmother, Christina Justice.
As a student at Roosevelt, Dent shadowed doctors at Washington Hospital Center as part of its youth mentoring program. Johnette Wilson, coordinator of the program, spoke with Dent days before he shipped out. "I asked him if he had a Bible, and he said yes. I told him to read the 91st Psalm," Wilson said.
The psalm -- "He who dwells in the shelter
of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty," it begins --
was read at Sunday's service.
Posted: 4 September August 2003 - Updated: 10 September 2003 Updated: 3 May 2004 Upedated: 11 February 2006 Updated: 24 March 2007 Updated: 13 May 2008
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 22 April 2004