O2X HQ Remembers our Heroes - Memorial Day 2022
Memorial Day weekend is a bittersweet time of year around O2X HQ. On one hand, the holiday weekend has come to signify a kick-start to summer. And many, including those at HQ, will take advantage of a long weekend to camp, boat, fish, hike, and grill with family and friends.
But we also realize that Memorial Day itself represents something much bigger. It’s a time to remember the men and women who have sacrificed everything for our freedoms. Because of their courage and commitment, we have the luxury to pursue happiness in a safe and secure country.
As this weekend approached, we asked the combat veterans on the O2X team to take a minute to reflect on those they served with who made the ultimate sacrifice. Below, check out memories about our nation’s heroes. (In order to keep the focus on the individual who made ultimate sacrifice, and to respect the privacy of our veterans who shared and/or gathered these stories, we’ve kept the statements they’ve shared anonymous.)
Staff Sergeant Andrew W. Harvell
Staff Sergeant Andrew W. Harvell was a Combat Controller assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, NC. Sergeant Harvell was born in Long Beach, California, on 26 September 1984; he was 26 years old. Sergeant Harvell attended Millikan High School in Long Beach. After graduating from high school in June 2002, Sergeant Harvell enlisted in the Air Force and arrived at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in November 2002. Upon graduation from Basic Military Training, he immediately entered the Combat Control training pipeline. Over the next 24 months, Sergeant Harvell completed numerous Air Force and joint service training schools such as Army Airborne School, Air Force Survival School, Air Force Air Traffic Control School and Air Force Combat Control School. He was then assigned to the Special Tactics Training Squadron where he completed the Special Forces Combat Dive Course, Special Forces Military Freefall School and all upgrade requirements for combat-mission-ready status as a Combat Controller. In January 2006, Sergeant Harvell was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he completed four combat deployments in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM, as well as numerous joint exercises and training events.
While at Pope, Sergeant Harvell successfully assessed for the 24th Special Tactics Squadron and was assigned to the unit in May of 2009. He was on his second deployment with the squadron in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Sergeant Harvell‘s military awards include the Bronze Star Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Joint Service Commendation medal, the Join Service Achievement Medal, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal. He was a stat-line jumpmaster.
On the night of 6 August 2011, Sergeant Harvell was part of an elite special operations team executing a helicopter assault into the Tangi Valley, Wardak Province, Afghanistan. While approaching the target, their CH-47 helicopter was shot down, killing everyone on board.
Andy perished as a warrior, taking the fight to our nation‘s enemies. He is survived by his wife, Krista, two sons Hunter and Ethan, father John Harvell, mother Jane Maher.
Petty Officer Second Class John Douangdara
John Douangdara was born on December 29, 1984, in Sioux City, Iowa. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on February 15, 2002, and went on active duty to begin basic training on February 4, 2003. Douangdara completed basic training at NTC Great Lakes, Illinois, in April 2003, and then attended Master-at-Arms training at Hampton Roads, Virginia, from April to June 2003. His first assignment was as a Master-at-Arms at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, from June 2003 to July 2006, and during this time he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from August to November 2005. Petty Officer Douangdara next served as a Master-at-Arms at Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, from August 2006 to January 2008, followed by service as a Combat Assault Dog Handler with Naval Special Warfare Development Group at Dam Neck, Virginia, from January 2008 until he was killed in action with his Military Working Dog, Bart, aboard the CH-47 Chinook helicopter “Extortion 17” in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. During this time he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008-2009, 2010, and 2011. John Douangdara was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His 1st Bronze Star Medal w/Valor Citation reads:
For heroic achievement in connection with combat operations against the enemy as a Combat Assault Dog Handler for a Joint Task Force in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM from 26 October 2008 to 10 February 2009. Petty Officer Second Class Douangdara displayed great courage and leadership during this period while conducting direct action missions. He was always at the front of the patrol, exposing himself and his dog to enemy threats. On the night of 25 November 2008, Petty Officer Second Class Douangdara played a key and heroic role while conducting the infiltration into an objective compound. His assault element came under heavy direct small arms fire from a determined enemy force. Continuing to maneuver under heavy enemy small arms fire, Petty Officer Second Class Douangdara and his combat assault dog positioned themselves to assist with entry into the enemy-held compound. When the call came that there was a barricaded shooter situation unfolding internal to the compound buildings, he moved again under direct and heavy enemy fire to the threshold of the building. Petty Officer Second Class Douangdara subsequently engaged the enemy combatant with small arms fire, effectively ending the engagement. Through his extraordinary guidance, zealous initiative, and total dedication to duty, Petty Officer Second Class Douangdara reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”
Dustin “Dusty” Wright
“On October 4, 2017, while serving as a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant in 3rd Special Forces Group, SSG Dustin “Dusty” Wright made the ultimate sacrifice, alongside three of his teammates, when his convoy was ambushed by Islamic State fighters outside the village of Tongo Tongo in northwestern Niger. With his 11-man Special Forces team outnumbered nearly eight to one and “With total disregard for his personal safety or life,” Dusty “maneuvered multiple times across open terrain through intense and accurate fire from an overwhelming hostile force to protect and recover two of his fallen comrades.” For his actions that day, the Department of Defense awarded Dusty the Silver Star.
Dusty’s easy smile, laid back country boy demeanor, and disdain for wasted time made him a great Green Beret and a better friend. He was a native of Lyons, Georgia and enlisted in the army in July of 2012, earning his Green Beret in 2014. Killed in Action alongside Dusty were: Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, 35, the Team Special Forces medical sergeant. Bryan was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions that day; Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, 39, the Team Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist. Jeremiah was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions that day; and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, the Team vehicle mechanic. La David was awarded the Silver Start for his actions that day.”
“Twenty years ago on 9/11/01, Ronald Vauk was killed during his annual two-week reserve duty, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon.
Ron was born January 25, 1964, in Nampa, Idaho; the youngest of the nine children of Dorothy and Hubert (Cubby) Vauk. He attended St. Paul’s Catholic School and Nampa High School, graduating in 1982. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy, graduating with a B.S. in Political Science in 1987. After nuclear power school training, Ron served on the submarines U.S.S. Glenard P. Lipscomb and the U.S.S. Oklahoma City.
The love of Ron’s life was his devoted wife, Jennifer, whom he met while at the U.S. Naval Academy. Ron and Jennifer’s pride and joy are their children: a son, Liam, born October 14, 1997; and a daughter, Meaghan, born November 7, 2001, two months after the attack.”
“I never knew his parents…I never knew what school he went to…I never even knew what his BUD/S class was…who he was though…he was my teammate and brother in arms. His laugh and smile were so infectious. We worked up, deployed together, and were martial arts training partners. Scotty left the Navy in 2005, contracted for years, and then joined the DIA in 2017. He served admirably until a suicide bomber killed him and his fellow agency officers during an operation in Syria in January of 2019. You will be sorely missed; gone way too soon brother. Long Live the Brotherhood.”
“Nate enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Nov. 4, 1997 and graduated BUD/s in 1998 with class 221. After BUD/s, Nate was attached to east coast SEAL teams and deployed numerous times in support of the global war on terror. Nate made the ultimate sacrifice alongside his teammate Mike Koch during combat operations in Iraq. He was a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. His legacy lives on in many of his teammates. Nate’s dedication to his country and family, big smile, and love for New England sport teams will never be forgotten.”
“On May 5th, 2017 Kyle Milliken made the ultimate sacrifice during an operation against al-Shabaab near Mogadishu, Somalia. Kyle was an unbelievable person. Nowhere close to average. He was incredibly smart, funny, and athletic with a huge personality. Beyond being a valued team guy, he was a great dad and husband. In all aspects of life he stood out. His memory will always be cherished. Our country was blessed to have Kyle.”
“On August 6th 2011, our nation sustained the greatest single loss of lives to our Special Operations Forces in American history. The U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook, call sign “Extortion 17,” was shot down by Taliban fighters south of Kabul, Afghanistan. We lost 38 beloved fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. The men of “Extortion 17” embodied everything great about the NSW community. Let us never forget their sacrifice and honor those who gave their lives to protect the United States of America.”
Some Gave All…
This is just a small tribute to the many men and women who have given all for our nation. So, on Monday, wherever you are and however you’re celebrating Memorial Day Weekend, we ask that you please take a moment to honor all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s because of them that we enjoy the freedoms and safety we have today. However you see fit, make sure to honor these men and women on Monday, especially, but every day.