FORWARD OPERATING BASE NOW ZAD, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
The Marines stand at attention. War-toughened sergeants shout out “here” as their name is called. Leading the formation, 1stSgt Andrew Golding, 45, weapons company first sergeant, from Fort Lauderdale, Fl. calls the roll.
“Sgt. Stacey.” Silence follows.
“Sgt. William Stacey,” Golding’s voice raises, but silence again reigns.
“SGT. WILLIAM C. STACEY,” Golding thunders. No one answers. Stacey has obeyed his last Marine Corps order. Stacey was killed in combat in Now Zad District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on January 31, 2012.
“Honor the fallen,” Golding says quietly. He seems to deflate a little as he executes an about face and solemnly salutes the memorial made in honor of Stacey. It is a simple memorial; the American flag and the Marine Corps flag, in front of them are an M16, a pair of boots, a helmet, and dog tags. It is a memorial given to all Marines who fall in combat and the ceremony has no less dignity for being in a foreign country.
Stacey was born in Seattle, Wash., March 1, 1988. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and graduated from recruit training March 2007. He was soon assigned to the 81mm mortar platoon, weapons company, 2nd battalion, 4th Marines.
“He was a joker,” Cpl. Gerardo Lara said, 24, squad leader, from McAllen, Texas. “SNAILS!” he cried out.
Stacey’s entire squad is in the company briefing room. In unison they all yell, “SNAILS” and extend their arms and wag their fingers. They all laugh, but after a few moments the laughter wanes. The smiles fade as each member realizes that the one who started the inside joke will never be with them again.
“It’s hard to explain,” Lara said. “It’s just something we did with each other, we’re Stacey’s Roughnecks.”
Members of “Stacey’s Roughnecks” talk about his passion for life. They talk about Stacey’s idea of a perfect Saturday; drinking beer, playing scrabble and hanging out with his girlfriend, Kimmy Kirkwood and their dog. They continue to talk about his enthusiasm and pride for being a Marine. As they smile and laugh, their faces turn down and they remember their fallen brother bitter sweetly.
“Stacey had a saying every time we went out,” Cpl. Edward Pricola said, 21, team leader, from Stockton, Calif. “No mercy, ruck up, put your M frames on and harden the (heck) up.”
As he speaks, the Marines straighten up. “OORAH!” they yell as Pricola finishes. Then silence.
In an excerpt from a letter written by Stacey in the case of his death, “My death did not change the world. It may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all. But there is a greater meaning to it. Perhaps I did not change the world. Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to this. And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built. He will walk the streets not worried about whether or not his leader’s henchmen are going to come kidnap him. He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire. He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change the world, then I know it was all worth it.”
If, as Stacey writes, his death did not change the world, his life surely did to those that knew him.
E-mail Staff Sgt. Robert M. Storm at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: The “Magnificent Bastards” 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, are currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6, which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.