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Navy says its goodbyes to fallen sailors
By Amanda Gordon
In a room filled with high ranking military officers in uniform, titles are celebrated. For Robert Zimmerman, EODCS, no title is more cherished than the title he received from Patrick Wade.
"Some titles we earn," said Zimmerman. "Other titles we get through grace. Grace is undeserved favor. I stand before you today as Patrick Wade's friend. I didn't deserve that."
The memorial service Wednesday at the SkyWarrior Theater on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was a memorial of military excellence, cherished lives, and most importantly, a memorial of Chief Petty Officer Pat Wade and First Class Petty Officer Jeff Chaney.
The two men died in Iraq on July 17 while performing their duties as members of Whidbey Island's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11.
Their loss brings to five the number of EODMU-11 sailors lost in Iraq. In April, the war took Chief Petty Officer Gregory Billiter, Petty Office 2nd Class Curtis R. Hall and Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph "Adam" McSween.
Wednesday's service for Wade and Chaney included scripture readings, a presentation of awards, the presentation of the colors, and reflections. The hushed room rippled with salutes, following the Color Guard's procession of the flag to the front of the room.
Prior to the service, images of Chaney and Wade were projected on a screen placed behind shadowboxes and photos set on the stage at Skywarrior Theater. "God Bless the U.S.A." played in the background. Images of the men with friends, in uniform, and at home with family reminded those in attendance of the magnitude of the soldiers' sacrifice.
Unable to attend the memorial, LT Kevin Gamble, Chief Wade's and Petty Officer Chaney's Company Commander, wrote in a letter saying he was forever indebted to their families for "allowing me the time to know these men; to work and play with them, and to learn from them and grow as a leader and a person."
Both men were dedicated to their families. "The portion of Chief Wade and Petty Officer Chaney that made them so great is here today. Their families," said Bullard.
He wrote that instead of interupting Chief Wade while on the phone, he would listen to the conversation and "marvel at the connection to his girls that he was able to keep despite being separated from them."
Petty Officer 1st Class Randy Leppell remembered how Chaney's warm personality made him feel. "As a boy, my favorite part of church was when the pastor would ask us to stand up, look to the left, look to the right, and shake hands. I'd like you to do that right now."
"Sure makes you feel better doesn't it?"
"Jeff did that for me," Leppell said.
"Next we'd go do PT. Jeff hated running, but he never quit." In fact, before his 35th birthday, Chaney told Leppell that he was going to run a marathon before his 35th birthday, and fulfilled his promise by running in the Portland Marathon.
Chaney's dedication was paired with a taste for the fine things in life. "Jeff had a philosophy on life that was contagious," wrote Lt. Kevin Gamble. One of the mottos he lived by, wrote Ryan Swanson, was, "I can always make more money but I can never make more time."
The men's other family, the family formed by the bond of training, living, and carrying out missions together, offered their support to Wade and Chaney's families. "You have seven brothers and friends ready for you at a moment's notice," EODCS Zimmerman said.
Wade and Chaney were both awarded the Purple Heart, given to those wounded or killed in military action and the Bronze Star, for bravery. "Chief Wade and Petty Officer Chaney fearlessly went forward, disarmed roadside bombs and rendered safe unexploded ordnance in Iraq despite the known risks of their mission," said Cmdr. Martin Beck.
Rear Admiral Donald K. Bullard asked that those left behind reflect, console one another, and recommit. "The mission and the task is still at hand." There are still 192 EOD in Iraq, he said. "Mobil Unit 11 has seen anguish. They are one of the strongest integrated family units that I have seen," he said. "What would Chief Wade and Petty Officer Chaney want you to do? Not dwell to long on what we feel today."
"I'm tired of speaking at these things. I'm tired of hearing scripture. I'm tired of every version of Amazing Grace sounding better than the last. I'm tired of bearing this responsibility. Make no mistake. I'm not tired of fighting for the cause we're fighting for," said Rear Admiral Donald K. Bullard.
"I'm sorry I cannot look at you. I'm ashamed. I don't deserve to have such men. I'm blessed with a great crew."
"Nothing will test my resolve as much as speaking at my brothers' funerals. And yes, they are all my brothers," Bullard said.
Bullard closed his thoughts with an unarguable sentiment.
"I hope we never meet here again."