Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jonathan Grassbaugh has services ahead of burial in Arlington

When his soldiers were cold and wet, mired in the ninth day of a battle meant to last five, Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh took two helicopters to an air base in Balad, picked up pizzas and brought them to the men in the field.

When his soldiers developed a sudden fascination with "Wild Tiger" energy drink, he bought, begged and bartered for more. And when he suggested a movie night as a break for the staff, he wasn't satisfied with the "theater" until he'd painted the yellow wall white and the windows black, to block out the lights shining at camp.

Yesterday, hundreds gathered at St. Anne's Church in Hampstead to honor Grassbaugh, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Zaganiyah, Iraq earlier this month. Grassbaugh, 25, an Army Ranger, was one of four soldiers killed while driving supplies to troops in the field, said his commander, Maj. Townley Hedrick.

At least 20 New Hampshire service members have been killed supporting the war in Iraq. Three others have been killed in Afghanistan.

Grassbaugh was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. He was assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, a unit that has lost 11 soldiers since it deployed to Iraq in July, Hedrick said. The group was scheduled to come home in August but will stay an additional three to four months after the Pentagon lengthened active-duty tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months.

Friends and fellow soldiers said Grassbaugh took time to listen to and understand the needs of every soldier, from a private to a general. To Grassbaugh, everyone mattered. His commanders respected him and depended on him. His men loved him. Despite a career that often took him overseas, his family didn't feel forgotten.

"He cared about people, and that's what made him good at what he did," said 1st Lt. William Kimmins, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne who also attended John Hopkins University with Grassbaugh.

Grassbaugh was born in Ohio but moved to New Hampshire in 1989. He attended Hampstead public schools and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he was a four-year honor student and head of the school's radio station, WPEA. He studied computer science at John Hopkins University, where he was a member of the ROTC program and graduated in 2003.

In college, Grassbaugh would ace tests without studying much, which gave him plenty of time to help others study or unwind, Kimmins said.

Once, when Kimmins was stressed about finals and studying in Grassbaugh's basement, Grassbaugh entered the room with a bicycle helmet and told Kimmins to put it on. Kimmins resisted, but Grassbaugh was adamant. Kimmins put on the helmet, and Grassbaugh proceeded to pelt him with whatever object he could find, with Kimmins screaming at him the whole time. Kimmins couldn't help laughing, and Grassbaugh asked him, "How did the helmet work?"

Grassbaugh completed U.S. Army Ranger School in April of 2004, then deployed to South Korea. He later was selected as the aide de camp for the 82nd Airborne Deputy Commanding General in Iraq, Brigadier General Michael Ferriter. The position was reserved for the "very best lieutenant" who could work with two and three-star generals and VIPS, Ferriter said. The days were long - 18 to 20 hours - and Grassbaugh spent nearly every waking hour with Ferriter.

"He made me a better leader, and he made me a better person," Ferriter said, adding that if he choose to have another soldier by his side, "he would be my first choice."

Before his second Iraq deployment, Grassbaugh married Jenna Parkinson, 22, an Army second lieutenant and a first-year law student at the College of William & Mary. They met at Grassbaugh's senior military ball at John Hopkins, where she was a freshman cadet. Grassbaugh knew early on that he'd found the woman he wanted to marry. Every time he said her name, he smiled, said his brother, Army Capt. Jason Grassbaugh, a doctor stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington.

When he decided to propose, Grassbaugh took his father with him to a jewelry store. He examined the store's selection, waiting until he'd seen every ring to choose one. Then he went to Jenna's parents' home to tell them his plans.

In preparing for the wedding, the couple filled out questionnaires to help the person who would marry them make the ceremony more personal. When asked about his "sacred place," where he found comfort and inspiration, Grassbaugh said simply "with my wife," Jenna Grassbaugh told mourners yesterday. When asked about his motto, he said, "Non-Sibi: Not for Oneself."

Jenna Grassbaugh held tightly to the arm of the Army officer who escorted her to the front of the church yesterday. When she stood to accept embraces from Gov. John Lynch and Ferriter, Jason Grassbaugh and his wife, Kirsty Kalkhoven, held her thin arms to brace her.

Towards the end of the service, she approached the pulpit and read a note she wrote to Grassbaugh when she knew of his death.

"Yesterday they came to tell me that you were gone, but I didn't believe it," she said. "I am so sorry I never got to say goodbye." They spent "four beautiful years" together, but she wished for more time.

"I will never stop wishing for that," she said.

At the end of the service, seven soldiers with the 82nd Airborne approached the casket carrying Grassbaugh's body. They unfolded a flag that Sergeant First Class James Cork had held tightly to his chest throughout the service and covered the casket.

Jenna Grassbaugh followed the men as they guided the casket out of the church. They paused in front of the door, readying themselves for the weight of lifting the casket to carry it down the steps. Cork whispered commands and Jenna Grassbaugh closed her eyes. She let out a small gasp before following the soldiers out of the church.

From the Concord Monitor

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