CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- He remembered the cloud of dust swallowing a vehicle on his patrol … and then the waiting. Twenty excruciating seconds of radio silence passed without a call for help, recalled 1st Lt. Adam Bablitch, a platoon commander with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, during the battalion’s memorial service Nov. 6.
On June 20, 2014, Staff Sgt. David Stewart, a Stafford, Virginia, native, Cpl. Brandon Garabrant, a Peterborough, New Hampshire, native, and Cpl. Adam Wolff, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native, were killed while conducting route clearance operations with 2nd CEB in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, Marines: the three fallen service members left a hole in the unit and the lives of those they loved. But for the families and brothers in arms who gathered for the ceremony, they also left strong memories to help fill the void.
“He was a very generous guy, and he was always thinking of other people,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Duhon, a combat engineer with the unit, as he reflected on his memories of Wolff. “I can’t count how many random gifts I’ve received from Adam. Like the time he bought my wife and I a gingerbread house around Christmas time. He also gave gifts to the platoon to boost morale. That’s just the kind of guy Adam was. He had a genuine kindness that was hard to come by.”
The room remained silent throughout the ceremony as the unit’s Marines reflected on memories of their fallen comrades.
“The Staff Sgt. Stewart that a lot of us remember was the embodiment of an outstanding Marine,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Hobbs, a platoon sergeant with 2nd CEB. “But David was more than that, more than the epitome of a staff noncommissioned officer, or a drill instructor, or a combat engineer. He had internally captured what most of us read about portraying, the warrior spirit and warrior mentality.”
The battalion’s sergeant major stood before the audience and called out the names of Marines within the unit. A response of “present” returned from the Marines in attendance, but a cutting silence reigned as the call came for Stewart, Garabrant, and Wolff. The sergeant major called for each Marine three times. Three times the room remained silent, a testament to the unit’s loss.
“Cpl. Garabrandt was one of the most outstanding Marines I’ve met,” remembered Sgt. Travis S. Leeson. “No matter the mission, he always had a smile on his face. Being the gunner, he literally looked the enemies in the eyes. Mission upon mission, he showed great courage to defend our convoy.”
In the wake of their loss, the unit’s Marines took solace in the sense of duty, service and brotherhood that Stewart, Garabrant and Wolff carried with them into Afghanistan. Even now that his unit is home, Lt. Col. John Osborne, the battalion commander, continued to take heart in that knowledge.
“All three of these great Americans felt a common calling,” he said during his closing remarks. “They felt a drive to serve this nation, call themselves U.S. Marines, and absolutely lived to that standard. They did so willingly. They did so with a light heart, but a very honed purpose.”