A Special Memorial Day for Special Operations Forces

A bronze statue of a special forces warrior keeps vigil at Special Operatons Memorial on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes – the recent success of U.S. Special Forces taking out Osama Bin Laden is rooted in the failed attempt to rescue the  American hostages in Iran. That 1980 mission also created awareness of the need for better coordination of joint military operations.

In 1987, Congress created the U.S. Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Its creation also cemented the mindset of the Special Forces warrior whether Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

They are known as the “tip of the spear” – the first to go into dangerous regions. While the world learned of the Osama Bin Laden operation – most Special Forces’ missions never become public.

Former special forces officer Geoff Barker oversees the memorial and raising money to keep it going.

A handful of military professionals wanted to assure that their fellow Special Forces’ comrades would not be forgotten. So they conceived of the Special Operations Memorial and raised money to build it.

“A special operations’ warrior is a volunteer, who has seen where the action is and wants to go into where the action is,” said Geoff Barker, who served with both British and U.S. Special Forces. “There’s a vast huge bond between all of the services and all of the special operation forces. We all work together.”

Barker is a co-ounder of the memorial and serves as president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. He carries with him a thick notebook that includes the names of all those killed, each has an engraved tile on the wall. He places each tile himself.

There also are tribute tiles – on the exterior walls for donors – the interior walls are only for those who have qualified as special forces.

One donor purchased tiles for Special Forces members he fought with in WWII, another for his Special Forces’ teammates from the Vietnam War.

The memorial’s first design had four walls clad in tiles. The four walls formed a square. In the middle was a bronze statue of a Special Forces’ warrior holding his weapon – at the ready – peering out to the street and further to the bay.

That bronze warrior is all that is left of the original memorial which held 306 names of special forces members killed in action or training  from 1980 through 9/11 including the name of one Special Forces officer who was killed on 11 September 2001 when the aircraft crashed in to the Pentagon.

But due to those very terrorist attacks, there’s been a dramatic increase in special operations and in the loss of personnel. It required a redesign so the memorial could hold more names.

The new design was completed in 2007. Its black walls now curve to form the shape of a spear tip.

A gray brick walkway forms the shaft of the spear. The bronze statue of the special ops warrior remains at the center. Behind him is the wall that holds the names of all Special Forces members who have been awarded The Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross.

Three flags fly above – the U.S. Flag, the MIA/POW flag and the Special Operations Command flag.

“It’s a beautiful place and there’s a lot of beautiful people  on that wall,” Barker reflected pointing out friends and men he’d served with.

Since the 9/11 attacks,  441 names of lost special forces have been added to the memorial. There are 27 new names since last Memorial Day:

Army SGT Jonathan K. Peney

Army SGT Andrew J. Creighton

Army SPC Joseph W. Dimock

Marine SSGT Christopher J. Antonik

Army SGT Justin B. Allen

Army SGT Anibal Santiago

Army CPT Jason E. Holbrook

Army SSG Kyle R. Warren

Army MSG Jared N. Van Asist

Army SGT Andrew C. Nicol

Army SPC Bradley D. Rapphun

Navy SOC Collin T. Thomas

Army SPC Christopher S. Wright

Army SGT Martin A. Lugo

Air Force SrA Daniel R. Sanchez

Army SFC Ronald A. Grider

Navy LT Brendan Looney

Navy SO3 Denis Miranda

Navy CTRCS David McLendon

Navy SO1 Adam O. Smith

Army SFC Calvin B. Harrison

Air Force SrA Mark Forester

Army SFC Lance H. Vogeler

Army SSG Kevin M. Pape

Army SFC Daehan Park

Army MSG Benjamin F. Bitner

Marine Sgt. David P. Day

Their names will be read aloud at a ceremony Friday at the memorial for family, friends and Special Forces personnel.

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