Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Greg Sutton laid to rest

WASHINGTON — Most of the soldiers serving in the 212th Military Transition Team in Baghdad, Iraq, were ordered there by the Army. Sgt. 1st Class Greg L. Sutton was there so that a friend who had put in for retirement didn't have to go.

On Wednesday, Sutton was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, nearly two weeks after he died of injuries sustained on June 6 when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

One soldier volunteering to replace another on a rotation to Iraq is not uncommon, especially when deployment would interfere with retirement plans, said Emily Kelley, an Army spokeswoman at Fort Sill, Okla., where Sutton had been stationed since 2004. That Sutton would make such an offer "doesn't seem out of character," said Kelley, who knew him.

Sutton had served for a year as a casualty assistance notification officer, offering condolences in his deep, calm voice to families who were hearing the shattering news that their loved ones would not be coming home.

"They chose him for that job, to talk to people at that time, because he was the kind of person who wouldn't let you not like him. The moment you met him, you were talking to him like a friend," said Gabby Galloway, a friend and spokesman for Sutton's family. "He did that job like it wasn't even a job."

Galloway said his friend believed in duty -- what Sutton, 38, once described as "a calling." He would have continued his assignment in the casualty assistance office until he was deployed at a later date, Galloway said, but a colleague was denied retirement because he had been assigned to Iraq.

"Greg, being the friend that he is, volunteered. I'm sure his friend feels really badly about it," said Galloway. "We try to tell him, and everyone else, that Greg knew what could happen -- and if he were given the chance, he'd do it again. That's just the kind of person he was."

A native of Spring Lake, N.C., Sutton joined the Army 16 years ago. He had served elsewhere in the Middle East, but his assignment as a fire specialist with a unit training Iraqi security forces was his first in Iraq.

At a funeral service Friday at Fort Sill, Sutton's wife, Joane, held the couple's son, Greg, 18 months, and daughter Cailee, 3. Sutton had two other children -- Sari, 15, and Andrew, 14 -- from a previous marriage.

"They didn't have a eulogy, they did a slide show backed by music," said Kelley, describing the 15-minute display of photos taken with family members, bowling friends, Masonic brothers and other soldiers. "His daughter would yell 'Daddy' when she saw the pictures. It was heartbreaking for a lot of people."

On Wednesday, a light gray hearse led a procession of more than 30 cars to Arlington National Cemetery, where Sutton's body was interred.

Among the new graves brightly decorated with flowers, family and friends gathered in the summer heat for a brief ceremony. His mother, clad in white, bowed her head and fought back tears as a Roman Catholic priest blessed the coffin.

Galloway said he believed Sutton was thinking of his children when he volunteered for the deployment.

"Greg was a military man, and he loved his kids. He was fighting for them," he said.

From the Houston Chronicle

Related Link:
Greg L. Sutton dies 'of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device'