The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Swanson, 25, of Rose Haven, Maryland, died on July 22, 2006, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, of injuries sustained when his patrol encountered enemy forces small arms fire. Swanson was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Baumholder, Germany.
Army Staff Sergeant Chris Swanson is coming home from Iraq this week.
He'll arrive at Dover Air Force Base, where fellow servicemen, in a solemn, deliberate and oft-repeated ceremony, will remove his flag-draped coffin from the belly of a cargo plane. Sergeant Swanson, a 1999 graduate of Southern High School from Rose Haven, was killed Saturday in an ambush in Anbar. He was 25 years old.
Following visitation sessions Monday and a funeral at his home church in Upper Marlboro on Tuesday morning, he'll be buried under the watchful eye of the Army's Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
“This is tough, man, tough,” Gary Swanson, his father, said yesterday sitting next to the sergeant's mother, Kelly, in their Rose Haven home. “But he was doing what he wanted to do. He loved his country … He could have done anything he wanted, and he chose a noble career.”
Sergeant Swanson was leading his squad from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division on a foot patrol in when he was killed. He's believed to be the fourth county soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the 51st from Maryland.
Unconfirmed reports said it was an ambush or a sniper. Initial official reports are more vague.
Sergeant Swanson entered the Army right after graduating from Southern. After basic training he became a paratrooper, serving in the famed 82nd Airborne.
He served in Kosovo and was part of the initial assault on Iraq. In October 2003 he transferred to the 1st Armored, based in Germany, and was doing his third tour in Iraq.
A family life
Service was in Sergeant Swanson's blood. Most of his relatives have spent entire careers in public service, police work, the military and the FBI.
As a youth he spent summers in mission work with the First Baptist Church of Upper Marlboro, where his uncle is youth minister.
“He had role models. The whole family was in public service. They just instilled those traits in him,” Mr. Swanson said.
“He had a serving attitude and a serving heart. When we were on mission trips to Cleveland, Florida, West Virginia … he would always volunteer for the dirtiest jobs.”
Sgt. Swanson's mother recalled her son as a determined young man.
“He knew what he wanted to do and he did it,” she said. “He would ask for our approval or support, but he would do it anyway. And he did his best at it.”
He was always into something. She recalled catching him up on the top of the refrigerator after the cookie jar when he was 3 years old: “He pulled chair up to the counter, climbed up and then on top of the fridge.”
So when he chose to train for airborne duty, his mother realized it was just in his nature.
“But I told him I didn't know why he wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” she said. He communicated with the folks at home by letters, e-mail, and occasionally a phone call.
“He understood why we were over there,” Mrs. Swanson said. “He said, ‘The Iraqi people are glad we are here.' Kids loved him. They were always hanging on him, hugging him, wanting piggyback rides.”
His mother said one of the phone calls came after the first time he had to fire his weapon. U.S. troops had taken fire from a crowd in Fallujah that was celebrating Saddam Hussein's fall. He told his mother he knew there were innocent people in the crowd and he was worried that he might have hit one of them.
Esprit de corps
Sergeant Swanson, a non-commissioned officer, was described as a “soldier's leader” by an Army casualty officer at the family's side after the bad news came last weekend.
“He was a true non-com, (determined) to take care of his mission and be with his men,” the major said.
The recipient of two purple hearts, Sergeant Swanson exhibited that dedication about two weeks ago. He was wounded in an improvised attack with an explosive device, suffering a wound to his leg severe enough to warrant 25 stitches. He could have taken some time off, but he wanted to get back to his men.
“He got treated, sewn up and back to his guys,” his father said.
His younger brother, Kenny, 21, who was looking forward to having Sgt. Swanson as best man for his upcoming wedding, was in contact with his brother via e-mail a lot. The soldier told his younger brother the men under him were like his family.
“He just wanted to make sure he got his guys home,” Mrs. Swanson said.
Now that task will fall to someone else, and the Swansons want people to recognize and honor those who are serving.
“You might hate war, but you have to love the warrior,” Gary Swanson said. “We have to support those who are still over there doing the job.”
They've visited with some of the men from their son's unit who were wounded and recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital. If the Army can work it out, a couple of them might be able to attend services next week.
An easy friend
Two of Sergeant Swanson's closest friends also will attend. They were among the 20 or so people calling at the house yesterday afternoon.
Chris Chewing and Chad St. Clair met Sgt. Swanson through their church youth group.
“There were about 12 of us who were pretty close. We'd hang out, go bowling, do things,” Mr. Chewning said.
But what sticks in the Upper Marlboro man's mind was how easy it was for Sgt. Swanson to make a friend.
“If you met him, it was enough for him to call you a friend,” Mr. Chewning said. “He would do anything to get to know more about you.”
He knew his friend was fully dedicated to his mission.
“He believed it was right,” Mr. Chewning said. “In his eyes, and in his heart, he knew it was the best way to serve his country, his Lord and his family.”
Mr. St. Clair, a Dunkirk resident, remembered that his friend had a big heart, a love of sports and endless energy.
“He always wanted to do something outdoors. He could run all day, non-stop, then want to do more. He'd say, ‘Let's go,' ” Mr. St. Clair said.
Carol Nutwell, a secretary at Southern High, learned of the young man's death yesterday morning when Mrs. Swanson came by to share the news. She remembers Chris as a happy-go-lucky, down-to-earth kid who couldn't wait to go into the Army after being recruited during his senior year.
“We became kind of close,” Ms. Nutwell said. “He would come hang out in the office, and help out too.”
She keeps a picture of him in uniform on her desk.
“He would tell me how he was doing, how much he loved the military,” she said.
When told of his returning to duty so shortly after being wounded recently, she said, “It does not surprise me at all.”
Friends and relatives are getting through the shock and are in awe of the people who have come to offer support.
“We have neighbors who have offered up their homes for people to stay in,” Mr. Swanson said. “This community has gone above and beyond the call to help.”
They're also relying on their faith. His mother recalls telling her son that everyone in the family and at church was praying for him and his fellow soldiers.
“I know Mom, we can feel it,” he said.
“There is no way to prepare for something like this,” Mr. Swanson said. “I don't know how someone gets through it. But we know we will see him again someday.”
More than one person at the house yesterday told the story that Sergeant Swanson relied on, and tried to live up to. It was one particular Bible verse – John 15:12-13.
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
July 27, 2006:
On his personal Web site, Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson called himself “Just a regular Joe,” and he blogged about growing up in the 1990s, and the valor of soldiers and of his troops.
“They are my life and my family right now,” he wrote on his myspace.com page, which family and friends used to post word of gatherings and milestones. “I would do anything for them even if it means giving my life to save theirs.”
On Saturday, Sergeant Swanson, who wrote that his goal was to bring his soldiers home safe, died in an ambush in Anbar, his family said yesterday. The southern Anne Arundel County resident was 25.
The Department of Defense had not confirmed Sergeant Swanson's death as of yesterday evening, but his family was making funeral preparations. More than 50 Maryland soldiers have died in the war in Iraq.
“Chris was a dedicated servant, he was a leader, and he wanted to be out front,” said Glenn Swanson, his uncle. “He was going to be a career soldier, that's what it looked liked to us.”
It looked that way because Sergeant Swanson, of Rose Haven, kept serving. He was on his third tour of Iraq when he was killed,
Public service was something he learned from his parents – both work in law enforcement – and began years ago.
As a teenager, he traveled on mission trips with members of First Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, preaching the gospel on Florida's beaches and teaching lessons about love, honor and integrity to gang members in Ohio.
In West Virginia, he helped build part of a church, moving concrete and hammering nails in the afternoon sun.
At Southern High School in Anne Arundel County, where he was captain of the soccer team, he was the student who spent his free period in the principal's office.
Not because he was in trouble, but because he wanted to help.
“He was always lending a hand, running errands, sorting mail, making copies,” said Carole Nutwell, an administrative secretary at Southern High. “He was just a really happy-go-lucky, likable kid.”
Toward the end of his junior year, he began talking about joining the military, said his father, Gary Swanson.
By his senior year, his mind was made up, even when others tried to dissuade him.
In August 1999, three months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted. “You don't ever want to let loose of a child, but it was his decision, and we supported him,” said his father. “He could have chosen any career in life, but this is something that he wanted, to serve his county.”
Sergeant Swanson served in Kosovo as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, and was part of the initial assault on Iraq in March 2003, his uncle said. He returned home in October of that year and was redeployed a month later.
His third tour began in November last year. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, his uncle said.
The second came about two weeks ago, when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.
He refused to be sidelined, he wrote his brother, Kenneth Swanson, after the incident.
His troops needed him.
“Chris' main thing was to be there for his men, he got them to the places where they needed to be,” his uncle said. “He was a true soldier's soldier.”
With his father, he enjoyed fishing and following the Ravens and Orioles.
His father said he would leave an empty seat for his son at the games.
“He was every man's dream son, but he didn't stand out. He was just an average kid, doing what he loved, ” he said. “He's our hero. … This has brought us to our knees.”
Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro. Sergeant Swanson will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Additional survivors include his grandparents, Roger and Tillie Swanson of Phillippi, West Virginia, and Peggy and Conrad C. Sloan of Zephyrhills, Florida.
Md. Soldier on 3rd Iraq Tour Is Killed in Gunfire Ambush
By Clarence Williams
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Friday, July 28, 2006
The last time that Army Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Swanson came home on leave to Anne Arundel County, after his second tour in Iraq, the first thing he did was borrow his father's car to visit fellow soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
A few weeks ago, the Rose Haven native was patrolling in his Humvee when a roadside bomb sent shrapnel into his legs, said uncle Glenn Swanson. As soon as he was stitched up, he went right back on patrol.
Swanson, 25, was killed July 22, 2006, when his unit was ambushed by gunfire in Ramadi, the Department of Defense announced yesterday. He is to be laid to rest Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
“He cared about his men. He truly believed in the mission,” Glenn Swanson said last night in a telephone interview from Rose Haven, in south Anne Arundel near the Calvert County line. “He was a determined young man.”
Swanson, who was on his third tour of duty, served with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, based in Baumholder, Germany. During his first tour, he took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Swanson joined the military two months after graduating from Southern High School in Harwood, where he was captain of the soccer team, his uncle said.
After completing basic training, he signed up to join the 82nd Airborne Division, although his mother, Kelly, could not understand the attraction of parachuting out of a perfectly operating airplane.
“The first thing he wanted to do was jump out of airplanes,” Glenn Swanson said. “He just had that adventurous spirit.”
Swanson was a fan of the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins, and he loved to boat and fish on the Chesapeake Bay near his home with his father, Gary, a longtime member of the Metro Transit Police.
As a youth, Swanson, a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church of Upper Marlboro, took part in construction projects in Appalachia with the church and worked with youths in Cleveland, the Rev. James L. Burcham said.
“He was very much oriented toward service,” Burcham said. “Chris was an exceptional young man who could have picked a lot of vocations in life but chose the military.”
After Swanson died, an Army officer told his relatives that he had earned two Purple Hearts, Glenn Swanson said, but he had never told the folks at home.
In addition to his parents, Swanson is survived by a brother, Kenneth, and four grandparents.
South county hero laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery
By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
Courtesy of the Capital Online
2 August 2006
The silence in the First Baptist Church was broken only by the click-click-click of metal-tapped heels in perfect unison as the blue-clad honor guard carried the red, white and blue-shrouded coffin of Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson.
The overflow crowd stood in rapt attention yesterday as the body of the 25-year-old Army squad leader from Rose Haven, who was killed July 22, 2006, while leading a patrol in Iraq, was carried to the front of the altar.
Mothers clutched babies tight, grown men tried to control quivering lips, and soldiers stood at attention as their friend, son, grandson and brother in arms passed by for his final service at the Upper Marlboro church he had attended since he was a baby.
After scripture and testimony they stood once more as their hero was again borne through the congregation to a waiting hearse for the winding trip to Arlington National Cemetery, where America lays the pain of war to rest.
“You see the war on television, you see it happening to thousands of others,” said in-law Frank Collinson. “This really brings the war home.”
Preachers stood to reassure the 500 mourners that Sergeant Swanson, killed during his third tour of duty in Iraq, had also been brought home, home to Jesus.
Ceremonies at First Baptist were solemn and full of The Word. The fallen soldier's parents, Gary and Kelly Swanson, his brother Kenny and the majority of those who sat with them to say goodbye seemed to take solace in their faith that they would meet him again.
Old friend Bill Lowry spoke of the fine young man he knew.
“It was a pleasure to have known him and watch him grow up,” he said. “This young man is an American hero. He is our hero. He is my hero.
As sure as we are standing here … we will see this young man, we will see him again, we will be with him for eternity.”
The church's pastor, the Rev. James Burcham, called on the mourners to rely on their faith.
“The only thing that makes this day more than a memory is our Christian hope …,” he said. “What a tragedy if he came to the end of his life with no hope for eternity. What a tragedy if acts of bravery were followed by a tragic end. We don't live with that fear.”
He also sang praise of a solid, yet brief life:
“Every moment of his life was special, not just the day he gave his life … A life is not to be measured by its end. He is not to be measured just by his service in the military, but his whole life.”
The family also steered the day's thoughts to the others who have served their country, especially those braving uncertainty in the desert heat of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Oh God, please have mercy on the men and women in uniform,” the Rev. Burcham said in the benediction. “I pray that this war will end soon, so that they can be at home with their families.”
The only applause came in a standing ovation after the men who had served with Sgt. Swanson were asked to stand and be recognized.
When the service was over those men, from both units Sergeant Swanson served in – the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1st Armored Division – shared a hug with the Swansons.
The long ride to Arlington was escorted by a leapfrogging phalanx of police blocking intersections so the column could pass uninterrupted. At one point a path was carved through a traffic jam backed up from an accident on Interstate 395. Mourners wove in and around cars and emergency vehicles turned every which way to accommodate the funeral cortege so long it made news on local radio traffic reports.
Once at Arlington the 250 who made the trip stood in the searing heat, forming a column along a path marked by jute carpet, awaiting the solemn parade from the road to Sergeant Swanson's final resting place – Section 60, grave 8409.
Army Chaplain Lane Creamer stood before the family seated under a canopy and the throng gathered around them. He said kind words about the ultimate honor only a fallen soldier could bestow upon his family. He quoted scripture, including the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …”
Seconds later came a sharp report – click-click, pow! … click-click, pow! … click-click, pow! – a three-volley salute from the seven-man firing party.
Then a lonesome bugler standing among the endless rows of white stones sounded a woeful “Taps.”
The casket team snapped the flag taut and folded it into the familiar triangle. Major General Sean Byrne knelt and presented it to the family.
“This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation as a token of our appreciation for the honorable and faithful service,” he said.
The crowd slowly thinned as mourners, wilted by the day and the oppressive heat, made their way back to their cars lining the oak-shaded drive.
Gary and Kelly Swanson left soon afterward, escorted by General Byrne. Mrs. Swanson made her way with both arms hugging her son's, and her nation's, flag.
The last to leave were the men in green, a band of brothers who lingered to say goodbye to one of their own. They shook hands and hugged each other with that manly slap on the back.
As they walked away a few in the group were asked if they wanted to share something about their comrade in arms. Only one spoke up:
“Just say he was a great person.”
Asked to identify himself, he declined. The he turned and said proudly, “That comes from the 82nd Airborne.”
Sgt. Swanson joined 252 others at Arlington who gave their all in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which has claimed the lives of some 2,580 service men and women all told.
Four rows of stones, brighter white than the other sentinels that stand as remembrances from past wars, bear names of those he rests near: Steven Charles Reynolds, Joseph John Andres Jr., Ryan Montgomery Campbell, Stanley James Lapinsky, Russell James Verdugo, Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, Alan Dinh Lam … and soon Christopher William Swanson.
Mourners left the hallowed ground passing row upon row upon row of white marble markers, and a backhoe digging one more place for a hero.
Mourners left the hallowed ground passing row upon row upon row of white marble markers, and a backhoe digging one more place for a hero.
As 2 Are Buried, Day Is Saturated With Grief
Soldiers From Maryland and New Jersey Mourned
By Arianne Aryanpur
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Twice yesterday, a grassy plot in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery was covered with a green tarp and sun awning in preparation for mourners coming to pay tribute to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a ritual that will be repeated several times this week.
The air was thick and hazy by 11 a.m., when ceremonies began for Army Staff Sergeant Robert Chiomento, 34, of Fort Dix, New Jersey. Officials said he died July 17, 2006, when his patrol was attacked with grenades and mortars in Khwaya Ahmad, Afghanistan.
Kelly Swanson, left, cradles the flag that draped the coffin as husband Gary
comforts her at the funeral of their son, Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Swanson
Chiomento lived with his wife, Staci, and two daughters in Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Polk.
He was the 37th person killed in Operation Enduring Freedom to be buried at Arlington.
Family members said Chiomento had been placed in a non-deployable job but wanted to serve abroad. So he spoke with some friends and was reassigned to Afghanistan in March.
Yesterday, a line of Patriot Guard Riders — motorcyclists who pay respects at military funerals — joined the procession to grave site 8,408.
Under an awning, Chiomento's family watched six soldiers lift his flag-draped coffin from the hearse. Others in the crowd of about 40 spilled onto the grass, squinting and shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas.
“Sometimes he could come across as gruff when you first met him, but he was really a big teddy bear,” Staci Chiomento said.
She said her husband was “very goal-oriented” and managed the family's finances carefully. He earned an associate's degree in general studies in 2004 and hoped that his daughters — Amber, 13, and Syleste, 5 — would one day attend college. He believed that girls needed to know how to defend themselves, so he enrolled them in taekwondo. On weekends, he took them putting at the golf course for “forced family fun,” his wife said.
Chiomento was scheduled to retire from the military in 5 1/2 years and was planning to return to school for a bachelor's degree — about the same time Staci was expected to wrap up her master's.
“He had grown into the perfect complement to me,” she said through tears. “He wasn't perfect by all means, but he was perfect for me.”
A few hours later, the family of Army Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Swanson of Rose Haven, in Anne Arundel County, gathered at Section 60, grave site 8,409. Swanson, 25, died July 22 when his patrol came under small-arms fire in Ramadi, Iraq. He was the 253rd person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington.
He was in his third tour of Iraq.
“Why did Chris keep going back?” said Glenn Swanson, an uncle who spoke on behalf of Swanson's parents, Gary and Kelly. “Because of the kids. He remembered them coming up to him, hugging him and thanking him.”
As an 11th-grader at Southern High School, Swanson was unsure where his life was heading. But he found his calling a few months before graduating in 1999.
His military career took him to boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia, and to Kosovo. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, based in Baumholder, Germany. Between tours, he returned to his church — First Baptist in Upper Marlboro — and shared stories about Iraq. “A lot of the kids looked up to him, and deservedly so,” his uncle said.
Yesterday, a crowd of nearly 100 listened as an Army chaplain, speaking over the sound of planes flying overhead, spoke of Swanson's “self-sacrifice.” The mourners then bowed their heads as the chaplain delivered a prayer.
Family members said Swanson was awarded a Purple Heart two weeks before his death but continued serving with characteristic resolve. He kept tabs on his family and favorite sports teams — the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens — via instant messaging.
This weekend, a motorcade escorted Swanson's body home from Dover, Delaware. When the procession entered Rose Haven, parents and children lined the streets waving yellow ribbons and American flags. His uncle said the outpouring was a testament to Swanson's sacrifice.
“These guys are true heroes,” he said. “Even if you don't like war, you've got to like the warrior, you've got to love the soldier.”
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard