Gregory J. Fester – Major, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 905-05

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Major Gregory J. Fester, 41, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, died on August 30, 2005, in Iskandariyah, Iraq, where an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol.  Fester was a reservist assigned to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

A Former Clarence Center resident and Army civil affairs major who rebuilt schools for Iraqi children died Tuesday in an explosion while on patrol about 30 miles south of Baghdad.

U.S. Army Major Gregory Fester, 41, a reservist assigned to the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was “fighting at the tip of the spear,” working in the dangerous Sunni Triangle when he was killed, said his wife, Julie, reached Friday at her home in Ada Township, Michigan.

“Greg was helping rebuild the schools,” said Julie Fester, who received daily e-mail messages from her husband describing his missions.

“He was doing the greatest mission of all for the good of mankind everywhere.”

Fester, a native of Westerville, Ohio, near Columbus, attended Ohio State University. He spent 81/2 years in the Army and was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, in which he earned the Bronze Star, among other honors.

The couple moved to Williamsville in 1996 after Fester began working in pharmaceutical sales for Pfizer Inc. Shortly after moving here, they built a house in Clarence Center, where they lived for about six years.

Fester remained involved in the military. He was a member of an Army Reserve unit based in the Connecticut Street Armory and then in Tonawanda, according to his wife.

They moved to Michigan in January 2002 after Fester was promoted at Pfizer. There, he left the military and was reclassified as “individual ready reserve.”

In April, a presidential executive order called Fester and others back to service. He left for Iraq just after July 4 for a tour that was scheduled to last until November 2006.

“He believed in what he was doing,” his wife said. “The schools over there were rubble. His job was to go into the schools and to rebuild the high schools and elementary schools.”

Fester talked with mayors of Iraqi communities and Islamic clerics and used the information they gave him to line up contractors for construction, she said.

“He really felt they were making a difference.”

Fester was with five other soldiers when the roadside bomb exploded.

He was killed instantly, dying of massive head injuries, his wife said.

When Army officials made their way up to the door of the family's home this week, Julie said she “froze.”

“I thought Greg was going to come back home to me. I thought we were going to grow old together,” she said.

The couple's 18th wedding anniversary was Monday. They have two daughters, ages 13 and 16, and a 6-year-old son.

Julie Fester called her husband a “true hero.”

Fester, who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A Kent County (Michigan) soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, the Defense Department said.

U.S. Army Major Gregory Fester, 41, of Ada Township, died Tuesday while on foot patrol about 30 miles south of Baghdad. He was a reservist assigned to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Fester worked with Iraqi officials to improve schools, his wife Julie said. He e-mailed her every day and said many of the Iraqis welcomed him.

“He loved his mission. He believed in it,” Julie Fester told The Grand Rapids Press.

Fester grew up in Westerville, Ohio, and graduated from Westerville North High School and Ohio State University. He served in the Army for 8 1/2 years, including a stint in Operation Desert Storm, before taking a job in pharmaceutical sales at Pfizer Inc.

The family lived in New York at the time, where he continued to serve in the Army Reserves. He quit the Reserves after Pfizer transferred him to Grand Rapids in 2001.

Julie Fester said her husband was ordered back to active duty on April 15, and was expected to serve through November 2006.

The couple's 18th wedding anniversary would have been Monday. They have two daughters, 16 and 13 years old, and a 6-year-old son.

Fester was the 58th member of the U.S. armed forces with known Michigan ties to be killed in Iraq.

Soldier of Generosity Is Mourned at Arlington
Reservist Killed While in Iraq on Repair Mission

Major Gregory J. Fester was known for always taking care of those around him — friends, family, even strangers. And then there was his smile.

“He's just someone who was always happy and made everyone around him happy,” said Timra Stump, 38, a former neighbor who had known Fester since elementary school. “He was one of those people who could make a bad day positive. He had the most infectious smile in the world.”


Julie Fester, widow of Major Gregory J. Fester, holds on to their son, Peyton, 6, during funeral services
for her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. The major's mother, Virginia Piecoro, is at right.

Fester, 41, who lived near Grand Rapids, Michigan, was killed in an explosion Aug. 30 in Iskandariyah, Iraq, while on a mission to build schools and repair other infrastructure in the war-torn country.

Yesterday, dozens of friends and family members gathered to remember Fester as he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. He was a reservist assigned to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Fester's daughters, Jenni, 16, and Megan, 13, and son, Peyton, 6, watched as a horse-drawn caisson carried their father's flag-draped coffin to the grave site. At the close of the ceremony, a military band played “America the Beautiful” as flags were presented to his wife, Julie Fester, mother, Virginia Piecoro, and father, William Fester.

Fester grew up in Westerville, Ohio, a close-knit community where he attended high school with his future wife, who was one year his junior. They began dating shortly after she graduated after “clicking” at a graduation party, friends said.

He went to Ohio State University and was a loyal Buckeyes fan who moved several years ago to rival territory in Michigan. Sandra Cleveland, a front desk supervisor at a medical office Fester used to visit in his job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, recalled how he would wear his beloved team's colors — scarlet and gray — on the eve of big games, especially those against the University of Michigan.

“It was good camaraderie back and forth,” said Cleveland, 53. “He was so vibrant. He was always fun-loving, and he always had a smile on his face.”

Fester also made frequent visits to the office of Arles Stern, a Kalamazoo psychiatrist, whom he provided with free samples of medicine for patients who could not afford it.

“He was kind and generous,” Stern said. “There were a lot of people who benefited from him who didn't know him at all.”

After college, Fester served several years in the Army, including a stint in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He later remained in the Army Reserve and worked for Pfizer in New York. When his family moved to Michigan, Fester was active in a men's prayer group at Ada Bible Church.

When Fester learned in April that he had been summoned back to active duty, Bob King, a pastor at Ada Bible Church, was among those he called. King recalled that Fester was completely dedicated to serving his country and equally committed to ensuring that his loved ones would be taken care of during his absence.

“He was very concerned about his family,” King said. “But as a soldier, he was ready to step up and do his duty. He truly had the desire to make the world a better place.”

King said that a Sept. 6 memorial service for Fester drew more than 650 people and was the largest ever at the church.

On Thursday, flags in Michigan were lowered to half staff in Fester's honor. He was the 174th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.



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