FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 31, 2011) — Speaking a day before the funeral of Spc. Bradley Melton in Rolla, who was killed by an improvised explosive device earlier this month while doing route clearance work in Afghanistan as part of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the commander of Fort Leonard Wood told those assembled at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery next to the post that Americans need to use Memorial Day to remember the reason for which servicemembers died.
Maj. Gen. David Quantock greets a line of veterans following the Memorial Day ceremony.
“Freedom is a powerful word. It is one that many people, thousands and thousands and millions have given their lives for,” said Maj. Gen. David Quantock.
Quantock reminded his audience that Americans stand for freedom not only in the United States but also throughout the world.
“Just now, as we are looking around the world, as we see what’s happening in the Middle East, the Middle Eastern countries are talking about this ‘Arab Spring,’” Quantock said. “What does this ‘Arab Spring’ mean? It means that for millions and millions of Arabs, they’re seeing the taste of freedom; they’re feeling the taste of freedom, they see the taste of freedom on their TVs in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they’re seeing people vote — vote for their leaders.”
Quantock warned that people in the United States sometimes take democratic freedoms for granted.
“How powerful that is, having seen a couple of elections in Iraq myself, and seeing Iraqis walk around with purple fingers, and talking about for once in their life they wanted to live to be able to vote for their leaders,” Quantock said. “We have lived in a country that has been able to vote for our leaders for such a long time, but freedom is a powerful word, and you can start to see it, when people feel freedom they are willing to give their lives for it.”
That freedom comes because of the sacrifices made by military personnel, Quantock said.
“You cannot talk about the history of the United States without talking about servicemembers, about the sacrifice, about the heroism, about the selfless service, of those tremendous servicemembers, of their courage,” Quantock said. “Stories go on about the servicemembers who risked everything to protect their buddies and to protect our country.”
Quantock noted that tens of thousands of servicemembers are deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, “not because they want to be there, not because it’s fun to go to war, but to protect us, to protect this great country, to give other countries, other peoples, this feeling of freedom that we enjoy in this great country.”
As a brigade commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, Quantock said he lost 13 soldiers and still has 13 sets of dog tags which hang off an eagle on the fireplace at his home, and he said he remembers those deaths “every single day.”
“There’s not a single day that I question whether I did everything to protect their lives,” Quantock said. “Even though I feel that I did, their loss is no less. I understand what they were thinking; at the end of the day it was protecting family and friends, and a way of life. At the end of the day, being a servicemember, being a soldier, a sailor, an airman or a Marine is not an occupation, it’s not a job, it’s a calling — it’s a calling that you have to feel deep within yourself.”
Quantock, whose father retired after a military career including two terms in Vietnam, said today’s servicemembers need to be grateful for the support they now receive from the American public.
“He, unfortunately, did not serve in a time when we received great support from the American people. Servicemembers don’t get a vote of where to go, we just go, and when we go, we go to win, but what he was happy to see before he passed in 2004 was the complete turnaround in support of the American people,” Quantock said. “That’s something that we always have got to make sure we stay on top of… it’s a special relationship between the American people and their military, and we as a military profession of arms, of which there is no greater calling, we understand that we hold that precious trust in our hands.”
Many of the people in Quantock’s audience wore caps, jackets or shirts indicating their military service, and Quantock thanked the veterans present, noting that many had lost friends or family in military service.
“A couple of times a year we take time out of our busy schedules and remember them because we owe them that they will never be forgotten, that we will always remember their sacrifice, their selfless service,” Quantock said.
Quantock cited the planned Tuesday funeral in Rolla for Melton, 29, who had served a decade in the Army including two tours in Iraq and had deployed from Fort Wainwright in Alaska to do route clearance work in Afghanistan with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Melton and three other American soldiers, Pvt. Chelzray Pressley, 21, of North Charleston, S.C., Pvt. Lamarol Jerome Tucker, 26, of Gainesville, Fla., and Staff Sgt. David D. Self, 29 were killed in the IED attack.
Doing route clearance is “probably the most dangerous job” in the current combat environment, Quantock said. “If you want to talk about a selfless job, that is clearing IEDs off the battlefield.”
“We will always remember Spc. Melton for what he stood for, because he represents the 1.2 million veterans that have given their lives for our country,” Quantock said. “On this day that we celebrate, yes, a day off, but it is also a celebration of these great Americans.”
Quantock said more people should visit third-world countries, “to get a real appreciation for what America is, what it stands for, and what we take for granted.”
“It would open many Americans’ eyes. I know the folks in this audience understand that. Unfortunately it is the other 290 million Americans who in some cases take it for granted,” Quantock said. “Thanks for our veterans: we stand on your shoulders.”
Quantock also said it wouldn’t be possible to live in a “more pro-military community than around Fort Leonard Wood.”
“We understand and appreciate the great support of our community,” Quantock said, noting the help given to military families and civilian personnel by the local community.
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