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Afghanistan PRT Holds Remembrance Ceremony

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Front, left) U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir commander and Abilene, Kan., native, says a few words at a May 26 ceremony on top of Blue Rowe Hill near Forward Operating Base Lion. The team gathered to pay tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. The group mounted a memorial marble plaque at the top of the hill and unveiled it following the reciting of a poem. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Front, left) U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir commander and Abilene, Kan., native, says a few words at a May 26 ceremony on top of Blue Rowe Hill near Forward Operating Base Lion. The team gathered to pay tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. The group mounted a memorial marble plaque at the top of the hill and unveiled it following the reciting of a poem. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir members mounted a marble plaque on top of Blue Rowe Hill just outside Forward Operating Base Lion May 26. The team gathered to pay tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. The group unveiled the plaque following some words from the PRT commander, director and the reciting of a poem. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir members mounted a marble plaque on top of Blue Rowe Hill just outside Forward Operating Base Lion May 26. The team gathered to pay tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. The group unveiled the plaque following some words from the PRT commander, director and the reciting of a poem. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Far left) James DeHart, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir director and Bend, Ore., native, addresses a crowd of PRT members and guests during a May 26 remembrance ceremony at Forward Operating Base Lion. The ceremony paid tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Far left) James DeHart, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir director and Bend, Ore., native, addresses a crowd of PRT members and guests during a May 26 remembrance ceremony at Forward Operating Base Lion. The ceremony paid tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Standing on right) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Teddy Rivera, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir vehicle operator and Fayetteville, N.C., native, participates in the ?Tribute to Our Fallen Comrades? portion of a remembrance ceremony May 26 at Forward Operating Base Lion. A crowd of PRT members and guests gathered for the ceremony that paid tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan ? (Standing on right) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Teddy Rivera, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir vehicle operator and Fayetteville, N.C., native, participates in the ?Tribute to Our Fallen Comrades? portion of a remembrance ceremony May 26 at Forward Operating Base Lion. A crowd of PRT members and guests gathered for the ceremony that paid tribute to four PRT members who were killed in action one year earlier. (Photo by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Public Affairs)

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir members held a remembrance ceremony May 26 on the one-year anniversary of the day that four of its members were killed by an improvised explosive device.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, PRT commander, Army Master Sgt. Blue Rowe, PRT first sergeant, Senior Airman Ashton Goodman, PRT vehicle operator, and Abdul Samad, PRT Afghan legal advisor, were all killed May 26, 2009, in Kapisa Province while travelling from Forward Operating Base Lion in Panjshir Province to Bagram Airfield.

The remembrance events started before 7 a.m. with PRT members hiking "Blue Rowe Hill" which is just behind FOB Lion. At the top of the hill, named in honor of Rowe, the group held a brief ceremony, including words from the PRT commander and director. After the reading of a poem, the team unveiled a marble plaque inscribed with the names of those killed. It also had a quote from Ahmad Shah Massoud: "We consider this our duty, to defend humanity against the scourge of intolerance, violence, and fanaticism."

At around 11:30 a.m., the PRT starting receiving many guests, including Panjshir Governor Keramuddin Keram, Deputy Governor Abdul Rahman Kabiri, and many other government officials and friends of the PRT. The group gathered inside the FOB dining facility for a standing-room-only ceremony.

Following introductions, James DeHart, U.S. Department of State and PRT Panjshir director, gave a speech citing instances of courage and kindness of the PRT members who were killed.

"Lt. Col. Mark Stratton was a true patriot and a natural leader who was thoroughly dedicated to the mission," said DeHart, a Bend, Ore., native.

"Army Master Sgt. Rowe had a sense of humor and he pushed his fellow soldiers to be physically fit so that they could walk up and down these mountains," said DeHart.

"Senior Airman Ashton Goodman was only 21-years-old," said DeHart. "She was passionate about helping the women of Panjshir and was full of optimism and hope for the future."

"PRT Legal Advisor Abdul Samad believed in the rule of law over the rule of violence," said DeHart. "He always had ideas about how to improve the PRT's mission."

DeHart was followed by a speech from Kabiri who said the loss of life was not just a loss for the PRT, but for all Panjshiris.

"They were serving their country and the people of Panjshir," said Kabiri through an interpreter. "One year ago, they were on their way to Bagram Airfield to get approval for projects for Panjshir, and they were attacked by terrorists. Through the PRT, I'm sending my best regards to their families and friends."

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, PRT commander and Abilene, Kan., native, closed the ceremony which was followed by a traditional Afghan lunch.

"It's always important to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and for the safety and security of the Afghan people" said Velasquez. "It's really about freedom, and it reflects on how freedom is not free, and there are many hardships to endure that are associated with freedom."

Khalid Siddiqi, PRT Panjshir political advisor, said the gathering together of Afghans and American to remember the sacrifice of Stratton, Rowe, Goodman and Samad will bring a stronger unity between the two cultures.

"Panjshir is one of the most peaceful provinces, and we were not expecting such a bad thing to happen to our PRT," said Siddiqi. "They were here to serve and help the Panjshiris. They were hard-working and were here to do things for the good of the province."

Following the ceremony and departure of the guests, Velasquez called the event a "testament to the whole team pulling together."

The memory of Stratton, Rowe, Goodman and Samad will not be forgotten, said Velasquez. The memorial event was an emotional one that highlighted the generosity and sincerity of their sacrifice.