Nearly 250 years ago, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, marking America's freedom from British rule. But it came only after Americans paid a heavy price. Today we are reminded that our freedom still comes with sacrifice. The following is a tribute to local service members who have recently died. (J.J. Green, WTOP's National Security Correspondent)
Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan P. Schmidt, of Petersburg, Va., died Sept. 1 in Batur Village, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire, the Department of Defense says.
Schmidt, 28, was assigned to 192nd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group, 20th Support Command (CBRNE), Fort Bragg, N.C.
In the photo, an Army carry team moves a transfer case containing Schmidt at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Sept. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, 31, of Fairfax, Va., died Aug. 10 at approximately 2 a.m. local time as a result of combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He was assigned to 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Jeschke, a 12-year veteran of the Corps, served with 1st Recon Battalion and even spent some time as a reservist before serving with the 1st Special Missions Training Branch, Camp Pendleton, before it became part of the Marine Special Operations School in 2007.
His personal decorations include a Purple Heart, four Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medals (one with combat V), two Combat Action Ribbons and four Good Conduct Medals. He is also an airborne parachutist and combatant diver as well as 1st degree Black Belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. He was a 1999 graduate of Herndon High School and lived in California with his wife Sheila.
Staff Sgt. Gregory T. Copes, 36, of Lynch Station, Va., died Aug. 17 at approximately 8 a.m. local time while supporting combat operations in Farah Province, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He was assigned to 3d Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, based out of Camp Lejeune. The incident is currently under investigation.
Sgt. Copes is survived by his wife and four children.
Read more about Sgt. Copes' service.
Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Delaney Feeks died Aug. 16 in a helicopter crash northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was born in Santa Clara, Calif. on Oct. 8, 1983. He enlisted in the United States Navy on March 21, 2006. His last address was listed as Edgewater, Md.
In May, Feeks was assigned to SEAL Team THREE. He had two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and one to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Patrick is survived by his father Thomas, his mother Virginia, his sister Regina and his wife Emily.
Read more about Feeks' service.
Sgt. Daniel A. Rodriguez, 28, of Baltimore, Md. died on July 18 after his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. He was stationed at Fort Drum, NY, with the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers with the 110th Transportation Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade.
Rodriguez recieved a number of awards and decorations including two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, three Army Achievment medals and several others.
Sgt. Rodriguez is survived by his wife, three children and mother.
Read more about Rodriguez' service.
Sgt. Julian C. Chase, 22, of Edgewater, Md., died May 28 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan.
Julian graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest D.C. He joined the Marine Corps in September of 2008.
Below is an online excerpt of what a member of the Patriot Guard Riders wrote about Chase:
"My deepest heartfelt condolences to the Family and Friends of this Fallen Hero. We thank you for your sacrifice, we are a grateful nation. May your pain be tempered in the knowledge that Julian is a True American Hero and will Never be Forgotten. Stand Tall, Stand Proud … An American Hero is Coming Home. Stand down, Sgt Julian C. Chase, your mission is now complete … may you rest in Honored, Eternal Peace."
Army Operation Enduring Freedom, Pfc. Michael W. Pyron, 30, of Hopewell, Va., died Jan. 10 in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 25th Signal Battalion, 160th Signal Brigade, 335th Signal Command Theater, East Point, Ga.
He is survived by his wife, Monika Stienen Pyron of Chester and their sons, Mason W. Pyron and Matthew A. Stienen both of Chester, Va.
Maj. Carla Debro, an Army spokeswoman, says Pyron was not killed in combat but would not elaborate.
Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, of Baltimore, died in Kabul, Afghanistan of wounds received during an attack on the Afghan Interior Ministry.
Until his deployment in September 2011, his full-time job was at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore as chief of the Military Construction Plans and Programming Branch. Marchanti was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division Security Partnering Team II.
"He had a real good way with kids, and they really responded to him," said fellow physical-education teacher Bill Adev. "He also had a strong impact on all of us who taught with him. It was really a pleasure to work with him. He would get involved in the classrooms and help other teachers when he had free time."
He is survived by his wife, Peggy, four children and a 3-year-old grandson.
On June 23, 2012, DoD announced Lance Cpl. Niall W. Coti-Sears, 23, of Arlington, Va., was killed while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, located in Twentynine Palms, Calif. He died of wounds suffered after his patrol was ambushed.
While serving, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Ribbon.
While attending Woodrow Wilson High School in the District, he spent a year in England studying classical music.
His mother, who was traveling in Australia at the time of his death, told WTTG that when she arrived home, "There were two beautiful, beautiful bouquets of very exotic flowers," saying, "I love you. I'll see you soon."
His grandfather, Retired Marine Col. William Coti, told The Washington Post that Coti-Sears was due to return home in October.
(Photo courtesy of Susan Coti)
Lance Cpl. Eugene C. Mills, III, 21, of Laurel, Md., was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom at the time of his death. He died June 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Mills was a rifleman and was promoted to his current rank in August 2010. He was previously deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from September 2010 to March 2011.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)
Cpl. Jesse W. Stites, 23, of North Beach, Md., died January 19, 2012, while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Stites was a 2006 graduate of Interlachen High School. He had been deployed to Afghanistan twice and had received several medals, including the Marine Corp Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal and the NATO ISAF Medal.
He died two months before he was scheduled to return home. He was one of six Marines killed in the crash of a CH-53 D helicopter.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)
Construction man Trevor J. Stanley, 22, of Virginia Beach, Va., died April 7 while deployed to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Stanley, a Seabee, was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, home ported in Port Hueneme, Calif. He was found dead of a non-combat-related incident.
His friend, Sarah Hale, of Port Huaneme, Calif., wrote:
"Trevor was one of the most intelligent, humble, fun-loving people I ever met. He had a Colgate smile that could make anybody's day better. NMCB 3 will never be the same without you. You will always be my shipmate, friend and brother."
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)
Chief Warrant Officer 5 John C. Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Va., died May 28, in Kabul, Afghanistan of wounds sustained when the helicopter he was flying in crashed. He was assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Ansbach-Katterbach, Germany.
Officials said the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crashed while on patrol.
Capt. Jesse A. Ozbat, 28, of Prince George, Va., died May 20, 2012, in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 168th Brigade Support Battalion, 214th Fires Brigade, Fort Sill, Okla.
Ozbat graduated from Prince George High School in June 2002 and had spent four years in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, according to a school official.
He was a 2006 graduate at Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. He was commissioned in 2006 through the university's Trojan Warrior Battalion.
Air Force Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., died February 18, 2012.
He was assigned to the 25th Intelligence Squadron, based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., when his U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier in Africa. The airmen were the only people aboard the aircraft when it crashed at about 8 p.m. during a routine flight, according to a statement from U.S. Africa Command.
Scholten was a missions system operator. He enlisted in 2007 and had more than 900 combat hours, Whitney said. This was his third deployment.
He is remembered by a long list of friends and family at legacy.com.
Airman 1st Class Matthew R. Seidler, 24, of Westminster, Md., died January 5, 2012. According to DoD, he was assigned to the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
He was the first airman in the wing to die in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was on his first overseas deployment.
He graduated from Westminster Senior High School in 2006. He and his wife, Jenny, were high school sweethearts. Matthew's grandfather, Aaron Seidler, was a pilot in World War II.
Seidler joined the Air Force in 2009. He died a day after celebrating his 24th birthday.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
On June 29, 2012, DoD announced the death of 1st Lt. Stephen Chase Prasnicki, 24, of Lexington, Va. He was assigned to 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Warner Barracks, Bamberg, Germany.
He died on June 27 in Maidan Shahr, Wardak Province, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
Also known as "Chase," Prasnicki was a high school starting quarterback at Rockbridge County High School. He also played quarterback and later safety at West Point. He was an Army Ranger.
He is survived by his wife of seven months, his parents, a sister and a brother.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Rangers)
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