FAIRBANKS — Four soldiers who died in Afghanistan in mid-November were honored at a memorial service Thursday at Fort Wainwright.
All four soldiers, members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, died after encountering roadside bombs in the same week.
Sgt. First Class Johnathan B. McCain, Spc. James R. Burnett Jr., Pfc. Matthew C. Colin and Spc. Calvin M. Pereda were members of the Bobcats, and, as fellow soldiers said at the memorial, will be missed by their peers.
McCain, 38, was the most seasoned of the four, having served in the Army and National Guard for 19 years. He lived in Fairbanks for 11 years, serving with Alpha Company of the 1-5 Infantry. According to his hometown newspaper, the Bloomington Pantagraph, his mother Sharon Gainey said he had plans to make his residence in Alaska permanent.
She said he wanted to open a southern cooking restaurant in the state after he retired in one and one half years. He had a wife and four children and formerly resided in Apache Junction, Ariz.
“He was the kind of leader that led from the front,” said Company Commander Capt. Phillip Anklin. “He always voiced his opinion to ensure his men were taken care of.”
McCain, a platoon sergeant, deployed three times throughout his career and earned dozens of awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star Medal, Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon and extra oak leaf clusters for the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal, among others.
Staff Sgt. Johnathan Hand said McCain helped his units through the darkest of times with wit and leadership. Hand used to be a squad leader under McCain and said he spoke with some of his troops recently. They told him his standards of discipline and excellence still remain.
Burnett, 21, was the youngest of the four and Afghanistan was his first deployment.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Tryon used to be a squad leader of Burnett’s, and remembers the specialist as a morale booster. He said one time while deployed, Burnett walked by Tryon with a funny lump inside his shirt. When a cat’s head popped out, Burnett tried distracting Tryon’s attention by changing the subject.
Tryon said Burnett was always telling tales of hunting or of his two dogs, Angel and Sunday. Tryon said the stories never got old.
Burnett was from Missouri and enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2008. He deployed with the Stryker Brigade in April 2011 and served as a grenadier.
He received the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, among others.
Colin, 22, enlisted in the Army in 2010 from St. Augustine, Fla. After training in Georgia, he arrived at Fort Wainwright to deploy with the Strykers.
“He was a true stud,” Tryon said at the memorial. Colin always thought about others before himself, and nobody seemed to ever have a problem with him, Tryon said.
The quiet and reserved private first class served as an automatic rifleman and as a big brother figure to many, according to Anklin.
Colin was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, among others.
Pereda, 21, came from Guam and a family with strong military ties. Two of his brothers also serve in the Army, and they told the Pacific Daily News he will not be forgotten.
“What you saw was what you got,” said Spc. Jason Durst with the 1-5 Infantry. Durst said Pereda never turned down anyone who needed a helping hand.
Major Matthew Hall of the Stryker Brigade said Pereda was a friend to all and brought smiles to others’ faces.
Pereda served as a automatic rifleman and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, among others.
After the ceremony, Hand explained that those who join the infantry do so knowing what may come.
“It takes a certain type of individual to enlist in the infantry,” he said. “You know that your job is a little bit more dangerous than everyone else’s.”
Bit by bit, people said their goodbyes to the four photos of the soldiers at the memorial service. Coins, crosses and roses piled up in front of the men’s memorials as a tribute to their service. The other tribute continues to come from the lasting memories of friends, families, supporters and from their comrades overseas.
Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.