In memory of Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson
We heard from Mr. Gary Swanson, father of Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson. He had ordered HeroBracelets in his son's name to take with him to Germany to give to the men in his son's unit.
First let me say that we are so proud off all our service members. This was Christopher's third tour over there in Iraq. As a father this has brought us to our knees but I know he believed in his mission and love leading his men.
This is our second order that we placed and we were hoping that they would be ready to take with us to Germany to give to his guys. The first order was for 25 bracelets and they are beautiful, we gave them to family and friends. We soon found out that we needed more and placed a second order. Once again thanks for all you do.
- Gary W. Swanson
Below are a few things I will share with you and two web sites that has a lot of information, also on the bravehost site we have established a fund to aid soldiers and their families the information is posted on that site.
Staff Sergeant Swanson, a 1999 graduate of Southern High School from Rose Haven, was killed Saturday in an ambush in Anbar. He was 25 years old.
Following visitation sessions Monday and a funeral at his home church in Upper Marlboro on Tuesday morning, he'll be buried under the watchful eye of the Army's Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
"This is tough, man, tough," Gary Swanson, his father, said yesterday sitting next to the sergeant's mother, Kelly, in their Rose Haven home. "But he was doing what he wanted to do. He loved his country ... He could have done anything he wanted, and he chose a noble career."
Sergeant Swanson was leading his squad from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division on a foot patrol in when he was killed. He's believed to be the fourth county soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the 51st from Maryland.
Unconfirmed reports said it was an ambush or a sniper. Initial official reports are more vague.
Sergeant Swanson entered the Army right after graduating from Southern. After basic training he became a paratrooper, serving in the famed 82nd Airborne.
He served in Kosovo and was part of the initial assault on Iraq. In October 2003 he transferred to the 1st Armored, based in Germany, and was doing his third tour in Iraq.
A family life
Service was in Sergeant Swanson's blood. Most of his relatives have spent entire careers in public service, police work, the military and the FBI.
As a youth he spent summers in mission work with the First Baptist Church of Upper Marlboro, where his uncle is youth minister.
"He had role models. The whole family was in public service. They just instilled those traits in him," Mr. Swanson said.
"He had a serving attitude and a serving heart. When we were on mission trips to Cleveland, Florida, West Virginia ... he would always volunteer for the dirtiest jobs."
Sgt. Swanson's mother recalled her son as a determined young man.
"He knew what he wanted to do and he did it," she said. "He would ask for our approval or support, but he would do it anyway. And he did his best at it."
He was always into something. She recalled catching him up on the top of the refrigerator after the cookie jar when he was 3 years old: "He pulled chair up to the counter, climbed up and then on top of the fridge."
So when he chose to train for airborne duty, his mother realized it was just in his nature.
"But I told him I didn't know why he wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane," she said. He communicated with the folks at home by letters, e-mail, and occasionally a phone call.
"He understood why we were over there," Mrs. Swanson said. "He said, 'The Iraqi people are glad we are here.' Kids loved him. They were always hanging on him, hugging him, wanting piggyback rides."
His mother said one of the phone calls came after the first time he had to fire his weapon. U.S. troops had taken fire from a crowd in Fallujah that was celebrating Saddam Hussein's fall. He told his mother he knew there were innocent people in the crowd and he was worried that he might have hit one of them.
Esprit de corps
Staff Sergeant Swanson, a non-commissioned officer, was described as a "soldier's leader" by an Army casualty officer at the family's side after the bad news came last weekend.
"He was a true non-com, (determined) to take care of his mission and be with his men," the major said.
The recipient of two purple hearts, Staff Sergeant Swanson exhibited that dedication about two weeks ago. He was wounded in an improvised attack with an explosive device, suffering a wound to his leg severe enough to warrant 25 stitches. He could have taken some time off, but he wanted to get back to his men.
"He got treated, sewn up and back to his guys," his father said.
His younger brother, Kenny, 21, who was looking forward to having Sgt. Swanson as best man for his upcoming wedding, was in contact with his brother via e-mail a lot. The soldier told his younger brother the men under him were like his family.
"He just wanted to make sure he got his guys home," Mrs. Swanson said.
Now that task will fall to someone else, and the Swanson's want people to recognize and honor those who are serving.
"You might hate war, but you have to love the warrior," Gary Swanson said. "We have to support those who are still over there doing the job."
They've visited with some of the men from their son's unit who were wounded and recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital. If the Army can work it out, a couple of them might be able to attend services next week.
An easy friend
Two of Sergeant Swanson's closest friends also will attend. They were among the 20 or so people calling at the house yesterday afternoon.
Chris Chewing and Chad St. Clair met Sgt. Swanson through their church youth group.
"There were about 12 of us who were pretty close. We'd hang out, go bowling, do things," Mr. Chewning said.
But what sticks in the Upper Marlboro man's mind was how easy it was for Sgt. Swanson to make a friend.
"If you met him, it was enough for him to call you a friend," Mr. Chewning said. "He would do anything to get to know more about you."
He knew his friend was fully dedicated to his mission.
"He believed it was right," Mr. Chewning said. "In his eyes, and in his heart, he knew it was the best way to serve his country, his Lord and his family."
Mr. St. Clair, a Dunkirk resident, remembered that his friend had a big heart, a love of sports and endless energy.
"He always wanted to do something outdoors. He could run all day, non-stop, then want to do more. He'd say, 'Let's go,' " Mr. St. Clair said.
Carol Nutwell, a secretary at Southern High, learned of the young man's death yesterday morning when Mrs. Swanson came by to share the news. She remembers Chris as a happy-go-lucky, down-to-earth kid who couldn't wait to go into the Army after being recruited during his senior year.
"We became kind of close," Ms. Nutwell said. "He would come hang out in the office, and help out too."
She keeps a picture of him in uniform on her desk.
"He would tell me how he was doing, how much he loved the military," she said.
When told of his returning to duty so shortly after being wounded recently, she said, "It does not surprise me at all."
Friends and relatives are getting through the shock and are in awe of the people who have come to offer support.
"We have neighbors who have offered up their homes for people to stay in," Mr. Swanson said. "This community has gone above and beyond the call to help."
They're also relying on their faith. His mother recalls telling her son that everyone in the family and at church was praying for him and his fellow soldiers.
"I know Mom, we can feel it," he said.
"There is no way to prepare for something like this," Mr. Swanson said. "I don't know how someone gets through it. But we know we will see him again someday."
More than one person at the house yesterday told the story that Sergeant Swanson relied on, and tried to live up to. It was one particular Bible verse - John 15:12-13.
"This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
On his personal Web site, Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Swanson called himself "Just a regular Joe," and he blogged about growing up in the 1990s, and the valor of soldiers and of his troops.
"They are my life and my family right now," he wrote on his myspace.com page, which family and friends used to post word of gatherings and milestones. "I would do anything for them even if it means giving my life to save theirs."
On Saturday, Sergeant Swanson, who wrote that his goal was to bring his soldiers home safe, died in an ambush in Anbar, his family said yesterday. The southern Anne Arundel County resident was 25.
The Department of Defense had not confirmed Sergeant Swanson's death as of yesterday evening, but his family was making funeral preparations. More than 50 Maryland soldiers have died in the war in Iraq.
"Chris was a dedicated servant, he was a leader, and he wanted to be out front," said Glenn Swanson, his uncle. "He was going to be a career soldier, that's what it looked liked to us."
It looked that way because Sergeant Swanson, of Rose Haven, kept serving. He was on his third tour of Iraq when he was killed,
Public service was something he learned from his parents - both work in law enforcement - and began years ago.
As a teenager, he traveled on mission trips with members of First Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, preaching the gospel on Florida's beaches and teaching lessons about love, honor and integrity to gang members in Ohio.
In West Virginia, he helped build part of a church, moving concrete and hammering nails in the afternoon sun.
At Southern High School in Anne Arundel County, where he was captain of the soccer team, he was the student who spent his free period in the principal's office.
Not because he was in trouble, but because he wanted to help.
"He was always lending a hand, running errands, sorting mail, making copies," said Carole Nutwell, an administrative secretary at Southern High. "He was just a really happy-go-lucky, likable kid."
Toward the end of his junior year, he began talking about joining the military, said his father, Gary Swanson.
By his senior year, his mind was made up, even when others tried to dissuade him.
In August 1999, three months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted. "You don't ever want to let loose of a child, but it was his decision, and we supported him," said his father. "He could have chosen any career in life, but this is something that he wanted, to serve his county."
Sergeant Swanson served in Kosovo as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, and was part of the initial assault on Iraq in March 2003, his uncle said. He returned home in October of that year and was redeployed a month later.
His third tour began in November last year. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, his uncle said.
The second came about two weeks ago, when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.
He refused to be sidelined, he wrote his brother, Kenneth Swanson, after the incident.
His troops needed him.
"Chris' main thing was to be there for his men, he got them to the places where they needed to be," his uncle said. "He was a true soldier's soldier."
With his father, he enjoyed fishing and following the Ravens and Orioles.
His father said he would leave an empty seat for his son at the games.
"He was every man's dream son, but he didn't stand out. He was just an average kid, doing what he loved, " he said. "He's our hero. .. This has brought us to our knees."
To Our Family, Friends, and Community:
We thank you from the bottom of our broken hearts during this trying time. Your support has been a Blessing from above. words can never be enough to express our GRATITUDE TO all of you.
We know that you grieve with us as we have given this Great Country one of it's best.
We will get through this. Christopher is in a Place that we know by GOD'S GRACE and Promise we will see him again one day.
TO OUR MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY:
SON'S, DAUGHTERS, Brothers and Sisters before him have served this Great Country and have Fought to Protect our Freedom and our way of Life. We thank you and their families for THE SACRIFICES you have made.
Have no doubt that our SON, Staff Sergeant Christopher William Swanson was doing just what he wanted to dO - Serving this country and Leading his MEN!
TO OUR LEADERS OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY:
SOMETIMES IT is NOT EASY TO TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, BUT IT'S JUST THE RIGHT THING TO DO for our country. YOU ARE FOREVER IN OUR PRAYERS.
It is not by accident that terror has not rained on our shores since 9-11, It's because men and wOMEn from all walks of life heard the call that Liberty was in jeopardy and wanted to make this world a better place.
please, please remember this: "IT'S OK to hate WAR, but you have got to love the WARRIOR"
TO OUR SON AND BROTHER:
THANK YOU FOR BEING YOURSELF. YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD A CARING HEART. YOU HAVE LOVED AND ARE LOVED. YOU HAVE ALWAYS GIVEN YOUR BEST.
WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU. tHANK YOU FOR BEING A WONDERFUL SON AND BROTHER.
WE TAKE COMFORT IN KNOWING THAT YOU ARE IN HEAVEN AND ARE WATCHING OVER US AND YES, WE WILL BE TOGETHER SOMEDAY.
PROUD FAMILY OF A AMERICAN SOLDIER AND HERO
GARY, KELLY AND KENNEY SWANSON