FORT POLK, LA (KPLC) - For the many men and women who serve in our armed forces, it's no surprise that the people who serve alongside them become something like family to each other.
Recently, families of fallen soldiers were invited to a luncheon at Fort Polk's Army Community Service Center after the conclusion of the installation's Memorial Day ceremony on May 23 to share a meal and connect through the post's Survivor Outreach Service program.
Two families that spent the day at Fort Polk and attended the day's remembrance observations found their lives connected in ways they never knew until the stories of their sons were completely unraveled.
The two sons who became battle buddies were Sgt. Timothy M. "Smitty" Smith and Sgt. Joseph A. Richard III. The two men became fast friends and influenced each other in positive ways and their friendship made them better men and soldiers. The two were apart of Fort Polk's Alpha Company, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and were deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in November 2007.
On April 7, 2008 Timothy Smith's tactical support vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb and after immediate evacuation to the brigade's medical treatment facility and continuous life-saving efforts to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead.
Timothy's death weighed heavy on Joseph and unfortunately, just seven days after Timothy's death on April 14, Joseph was a passenger in an RG-31 mine-protected vehicle during a route clearance mission when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle and he was mortally wounded.
Parents of both soldiers were devastated. Elaine, mother of Joseph, said, "We have to be stronger than the pain, we have to step over it and beyond it so that we enjoy the gift of life we are given."
Retired Staff Sgt. Damon Daigre, of New Llano, performed a special service for the Richard family at the time of their son's death. He went to Dover, Del., to escort Joe's remains to his hometown of Grand Prairie. At the time, Daigre was with the Warrior Transition Unit recovering from injuries sustained in Iraq in 2004. Daigre said, "Being from my home state, I considered Joe to be my 'home boy.' My personal belief is that it means more to the Family to have someone you know bring their child home."
The decorated combat vet, and his wife Allison Daigre, joined Patty Smith (mother of Timothy) and the Richards May 23. The day brought up old wounds, but just as when he served as a soldier, he was there to tend to the families and ease their pain and suffering, he said.
Each survivor family received personal attention throughout the day and Sgt. Matthew Rogers served as the Richards' escort. As he listened to the group's stories, he realized his past coincided with the fallen soldiers' — the day he arrived in Sadr City, north of Baghdad, was the same day Joe was killed.
The parents also visited the barracks room that Timmy lived in while stationed at Fort Polk.
Patty said, "Fort Polk treated us like VIPS — like gold, the entire day. Battalion command knew I wanted to see his room and they let me take my time. It gave me a sense of relief."
"I'll never have complete closure," Patty continued. "But visiting Fort Polk was part of the healing process. I could feel Timmy's presence with me as I made my way through the day."