Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Garrett McLead remembered by best friend

Military life kept them apart but brought them closer together.

Best friends Garrett McLead and Jason Hill had been inseparable most of their lives, until the military sent them to different parts of the world -- Hill to California and McLead to Iraq.

On Monday, their military ties will unite them again.

Hill, 23, will travel to Delaware on Monday to greet his friend, this time to escort his body home to Rockport to be buried. McLead was one of 14 soldiers who died Wednesday in a Black Hawk helicopter crash during a night mission 180 miles north of Baghdad, near the city of Kirkuk.

Hill, a Marine who graduated with McLead from Rockport-Fulton High School in 2002, is scheduled to fly from Camp Pendleton in California, where he is stationed, to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base where he will pick up McLead's body for escort back to Rockport.

The escort is rare, considering the men are in different branches of the military. Hill is a sergeant in the Marines. McLead, 23, was a sergeant in the Army's 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Typically, an Army officer would have escorted the body, said Paul Emmons, McLead's uncle.

"It's fantastic that the military is allowing a member of a different branch to do the escort," Emmons said. "I couldn't think of a better person to bring him home than his buddy."

Right after high school, the men joined the military for patriotic reasons, Hill said. Though they were in different branches and places, they kept in contact.

"There was no question," Hill said about his decision to grant the McLead family's wishes.

Flight plans were expected to be finalized sometime this weekend, Hill said.

Hill and McLead had been best friends since middle school, attending the same summer camp and participating in almost all the same activities, Hill said.

"We did everything together," he added, speaking quietly and pausing between words.

On Friday, Hill wasn't ready to talk but laughed about withholding some of his fondest memories with McLead.

"It would be incriminating to tell you those stories," Hill said.

The bond the two shared was strong, Hill said. It was strengthened when McLead helped Hill through his parents' divorce, Hill said.

"He was like a brother to me," Hill added.

From the Caller Times

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Garrett I. McLead dies 'of injuries suffered when his helicopter crashed'