FORT BRAGG — The military is placing growing reliance on the Army’s secretive special-operations soldiers in the fight against terrorism.
But the public typically only hears about their work when a mission goes wrong.
So every year around this time, the U.S. Special Operations Command counts its fallen, engraves their names on a granite wall, and gives them a final, slow salute.
In the year from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, 17 Special Operations soldiers were killed in combat operations, all in Afghanistan. Ten of those were based at Fort Bragg when they died.
More than 300 Special Operations soldiers have died in combat since 9/11.
“Where do we get such men? And where would we be without them?” Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commanding general of Special Operations Command, asked at Thursday’s memorial ceremony. “We are today a nation whose character was formed by their sweat, scars and blood.”
Several hundred people – family members, friends, and soldiers in uniform – attended the event, held on the memorial plaza next to the Special Operations headquarters at Fort Bragg.
The Army says it has about 26,000 Special Operations forces, who operate in teams of about a dozen members each. They’re highly trained and able to switch roles depending on their mission. They may take on a pre-emptive strike on a terrorist cell, seize an airfield or conduct covert fact-finding.
Military leaders have said Special Operations units are growing and reorganizing as more conventional forces are being downsized.
Solace among soldiers
Family members of soldiers who wear the green beret often know little – and can say less – about what their loved ones do in the in Army.
“He was a sniper,” was all Mary Lynne Border could say of the work her son, Staff Sgt. Jeremie S. Border, did for the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), based in Okinawa, Japan. But she could expound about the son who seemed to have been born to serve, from the minute he came into the world.
“There was just something about him, all his life,” Border said.
Jeremie Border, 28, grew up in Texas and joined the Army in 2006 as an infantryman. Two years later he was selected for Special Forces as a weapons sergeant. He learned Indonesian at the John F. Kennedy Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, and was assigned to Okinawa in 2009. From there, he deployed to Afghanistan. He died there Sept. 1 when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire in Ghazni province.
His mother drove with more than a half-dozen family members from Dallas to attend Thursday’s ceremony and another at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.
She finds it comforting to be around soldiers, she said.
“They’re his brothers. They’re our sons,” she said of Jeremie Border’s Special Operations comrades. “They’re everything to us.”
‘We will not forget you’
The event gave Border, her daughter, Delaynie Peek, and other family members another chance to thank Lt. Mary Kolars for fulfilling the Army’s promise to its soldiers, making sure Jeremie Border wasn’t left behind after the firefight in Afghanistan.
Under rules in place at the time, Kolars couldn’t join the Special Operations team on which Jeremie Border served, but she was on a female engagement team that conducted missions with Special Operations.
The female teams bridge a cultural divide in Afghanistan, where female citizens don’t want to be approached by men.
Kolars was there when Jeremie Border died.
“She’s my hero,” Mary Lynne Border said. “She got my son’s body home.”
Though he’s buried in Texas, Jeremie Border will be remembered at Fort Bragg, too, where his name was added to the list of more than 1,150 other Special Operations soldiers who have been killed in combat since Vietnam.
That’s another promise, Cleveland said.
“While their names will be forever inscribed on this wall, who they are will live on in the memories we carry in our hearts, and in the stories that bind us as soldiers, young and old.
“We will not forget you.”