I am so humbled and honored when a family member of a fallen warrior reaches out to me via my blog. It has happened several times and I am always in awe that a family going through the tragedy of losing a loved one takes the time to reach out to me.
I then wrote about this same incident again on September 2nd as there was a series of videos put together by the 4th BCT, 25th ID about the specific attack that happened on July 4th and these videos discuss the brave acts of one young man, PFC Justin Casillas.
The original report from the Army and to the family was that PFC Casillas and PFC Fairbairn were killed when their checkpoint was attacked. Part of this story gained worldwide attention when PFC Fairbairnâ€™s father tweeted on Twitter â€œThey killed my son..â€.
We now know the initial report given to the Fairbairn and Casillas family was not accurate. The videos released by the unit mentioned above tell the real story.
Thanks to PFC Justin Casillas Mom reaching out to me and sharing some stuff with me, I now have the first-hand account also. This first-hand account came in the form of a letter sent from the Sr. officer on the ground at COP Zerok to Ms. Casillas. I have re-typed the contents of this letter below, verbatim.
I will tell you first-hand knowledge of the day of the attack. Our Combat Outpost (COP) took heavy indirect fire (IDF) and small arms fire (SAF) from almost all directions. Your son, being a mortar gunner (mortars are the companyâ€™s most lethal weapons), knew we needed to get suppressive fire on the enemyâ€™s positions. He ran to the Command Post (CP) and received a fire mission to destroy those enemy positions. Justin was able to run back under fire and return fire with our 60mm mortars. Due to the effectiveness of the enemy fire, one IDF round landed next to the mortar pit and wounded one of the other mortarmen. At that point, they all ran back inside and Justin along with another Paratrooper dragged the other wounded Paratrooper back in to safety. Realizing that the Paratrooper needed to be taken to the Medics, Justin picked him up and ran back outside under enemy fire to get him immediate medical fire. Justin made it outside the mortar pit when another IDF round landed about five feet away and mortally wounded him. Justin paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country while trying to save a fellow Paratrooper. Your sonâ€™s actions on July 4, 2009, speaks volumes on his character. Justin most definitely has left a lasting impression on me and on the entire company.
Now you know the whole story.
From what I understand PFC Casillas has been put in for a Silver Star because of his actions on this day. Not that an award will bring him back, but it is important to recognize the unselfish and heroic actions performed on that day. PFC Justin Casillas and PFC Aaron Fairbairn ran out under enemy fire to perform their jobs. They were doing what they were trained to do, put effective indirect mortar fire on the enemy in order to suppress the attack. Both had more courage than can ever be measured. Then after being hit themselves and Aaron Fairbairn being seriously wounded, Justin Casillas took it on himself to get Aaron to the medical help he needed in order to survive. Justin did this without any regard for himself or his safety. Because of his courage, his training and the care he had for his fellow soldier, he gave his life. He gave it not only for his country, his Army, his unit, but for his fellow man. I hope this story is told far and wide, because there is a lot that not only soldiers could learn from, but also Americans in general.
Justinâ€™s actions remind me of a quote from a book that I have carried with me since about 1991. To me it says it allâ€¦.
â€œ..And men donâ€™t exhibit uncommon valor for scraps of metal and ribbon to pin to their uniforms. They donâ€™t do it for a couple of hundred bucks a month theyâ€™re paid. They donâ€™t do it because they want promotions or because theyâ€™re afraid of a court-martial. When the chips are really down, they donâ€™t even do it for the Constitution of the United States. That may be why they enlist, but it isnâ€™t why they become heroes. When the chips are down, they do it for each otherâ€¦â€ (William Roskey, 1988, â€œFrom the novel Muffled Shotsâ€}