A story from College Station, TX
We were fortunate enough to meet CPL. Sullens. This story was in the local paper.
After eight years of enlistment, it wasn't until Andrew Sullens' seven-month stint in Iraq that he received a nickname from his Marine buddies.
They started calling the College Station resident "Tackleberry," a joking reference to the character who showed an overzealousness for firearms throughout the Police Academy movies in the 1980s.
The nickname stuck after Cpl. Sullens "” preparing for a two-day mission with two other Marines "” ordered 3,600 rounds of machine-gun ammunition, nearly 250 grenades, four anti-armor rockets and six Claymore mines.
"I ordered more ammunition than a platoon would get," he said last month, laughing as he recalled how command eventually refused the Claymore mines request.
"It was heeaaavy," he added as he told the story with a smile, stretching the word to emphasize the weight. "I didn't care."
While Sullens can joke about the mission now, the situation that spawned his nickname wasn't so much an indication of any love for weapons, he was careful to point out. Instead, he explained, it was influenced by a determination to be able to eventually return home to his newlywed wife unscathed.
And now Sullens has reason to smile. He did return home last month, and with his third term of enlistment coming to an end in September, the 26-year-old has plans to start a fitness business and to enroll at Texas A&M University.
But in addition to the hectic pace of putting together a post-military life, the veteran is taking steps to remember his Iraq experience "” specifically, those servicemen and -women who weren't as lucky as he ended up being.
Sullens has started a project to write letters to the families of each of the more than 150 military personnel from Texas who have died fighting in Iraq. Along with each letter, he said, will be a bracelet displaying the soldier's name, rank and date of death.
The purpose of the correspondence, he said, will be to let the families know "that we remember their sacrifice and we're very thankful for what they've given up."
"I want them to know somebody else is thinking about them, and they're missed," he said. "It's a tremendous loss to society."
Sullens' project to remember his fallen comrades started last year with the death of 20-year-old Army Pfc. David Parker, the first soldier from the Bryan-College Station area to die in the war.
Although he didn't know Parker, Sullens joined the many strangers who attended the soldier's funeral out of respect for the young man's sacrifice. After listening to his eulogy, Sullens felt as though he had missed out by not knowing Parker, he said, and he later introduced himself to Jim Parker, the soldier's father.
One year later, Sullens was in Iraq himself "” the third combat zone of his military career "” and Parker still was on his mind, he said. So in January, on the first anniversary of Parker's death, Sullens made arrangements to have an American flag flown over Iraq in his honor.
After two more months of training Iraqi soldiers and hauling bunker-busting weaponry during missions, it was time for Sullens to come home. He invited Jim Parker to a welcome-home ceremony in Austin, surprising the father with the flag and a certificate.
"I just felt like it was something that needed to be done," Sullens recalled. "Someone else should remember besides family and friends."
Jim Parker initially was speechless.
"I just think that's the greatest thing that ever happened," he said last month of the surprise. "It just kind of blew me away."
Sullens has just begun the project to purchase the bracelets, which he plans to buy for $12 each from herobracelets.org. So far he has bought two "” for Cpl. Zachary Kolda of Corpus Christi and Cpl. Joseph Fite of Round Rock, both of whom were attached to his unit when they were killed.
He currently is wearing both of the black aluminum bands around his own wrists, but he intends to present them to his comrades' families in August when his unit begins drilling again in Austin, he said.
Herobracelets.org was launched in December by an Austin businessman who was looking for a way to support the troops, according to the company Web site. All after-tax profits from the business are directed to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial support to the families of military personnel killed in action.
"We felt that these men and women deserved to be honored and respected by all of us, without retribution," the Web site states. "We also thought that in a world of huge legal settlements, the surviving families of our fallen heroes just didn't get enough to help them cope with the financial burden that naturally came along with the great sense of loss they were experiencing.
"So we looked back to the POW bracelet of the 70s and saw a way to help address both of those problems."
The most difficult part of the project won't be raising the more than $1,800 needed for the endeavor, but tracking down each of the families, Sullens predicted.
But it should be worth the effort, he said, explaining that it is important to recognize such heroes.
"I'm not a hero "” I went over there and did my job and came back home, whereas these guys didn't," he explained. "I just want to be known as a nice guy who maybe helped somebody out along the way."
Not everyone has agreed with Sullens' humble self-assessment. As for Jim Parker, who said he still is touched by the effort Sullens put into remembering his son, he believes there is room for Sullens to be a hero as well.
"He's everything that's right about our country," he said.