Thursday, May 1, 2008

Salute, Sergeant Chris Kiernan and rest in peace...

Sometimes you just have to post a story about people.

One where ordinary folks do extraordinary things.

This is a wonderful story of promises made and promises kept.

A story that shows how we, as Americans, can be and are great.

I salute Sergeant Chris Kiernan and his comrades-in-arms for their sacrifices. I send my condolences to Sgt. Kiernan's widow, Donna Kiernan, on her loss.

Soldier's last wish realized
Roger Croteau: Express-News

NEW BERLIN — The place along Church Road with the new red barn and the gate with “Chris Crossing” on the arch looks like another typical “ranchette” popping up in rural Guadalupe County, but this one tells a story of a band of brothers and of promises kept.

Donna Kiernan, 43, is moving into the 3,000-square-foot barn this week — it has an 875-square-foot apartment built in.
And it has a bunkhouse, where the guys from her husband’s unit can sleep.

Her husband, Staff Sgt. Chris Kiernan, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while on patrol in a tank in Baghdad on May 6, 2007, and much of the work on “Chris Crossing” has been done by members of his Army unit, committed to helping out their friend’s widow.

“We and some friends of ours had all talked about buying land together and retiring,” Donna Kiernan said.
And Chris asked her to follow the plan without him.

“He left me a letter in case of death,” she said, and seven hours after getting the news, she retrieved it from a drawer and opened it. “He said to buy the land we dreamed about and get all the animals we wanted and live life to the fullest. And most of all, laugh.”

The friends found and bought the land, cutting out five acres to sell to Donna. Shortly after that, the guys started showing up, making the drive from Fort Hood every other weekend to help out and visit.

“They enjoyed it,” Kiernan said. “They worked hard and they drank hard, and they kept coming back. Six or seven come out every other weekend.”

Spc. Jimmy Roy Walling, 24, gives a puzzled look when asked why he gives up his weekends to work at “Chris Crossing.” It’s as if not coming is out of the question.
“Well, one day somebody said, ‘We’re going to Donna Kiernan’s place, you coming?’ and I said,

‘Yeah,’.” he said. “The people who knew Chris, they are here. There is nobody who would say, ‘No, I’m not going because I didn’t like Chris.’ Everybody liked Chris. This was going to be their dream. It just sucks they can’t live it together.”

Chris Clark, 24, known among the group as “Little Chris,” left the Army after his Iraq tour but still catches up with the group when he’s not working on an oil rig. He said he owes a special debt to Chris and Donna because he was sent back to Fort Hood ahead of the rest of the unit.
“It was the loneliest time of my life,” he said. “And then Chris had called her and asked her to visit me and we became friends.”

Several of the group described Chris Kiernan as a mentor and said they feel they owe him for his help during their tours in Iraq.

“My first couple of years in the Army were kind of rough. I was too wild and got in a lot of trouble. When I was at my lowest point, the only person at the time who took me under his wing was Sgt. Kiernan. He helped me stabilize my life and I loved working under the guy,” said Thomas Vandeventer, who lost both legs above the knee when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on patrol.

Often, a couple of the guys go to Brooke Army Medical Center to pick him up and bring him to Chris Crossing for weekends.
“I can’t do a lot of work,” he said. “I’m kind of like the mascot.”

Donna said she met Chris in 2000 at a Collective Soul concert at Fort Hood, where she worked for a commercial travel agency. Two months later they were engaged.
Chris went to Iraq for his first tour in 2004.

“He said that he wanted to help make a better life for those people, but he wanted to see them help themselves, too,” Donna said. “There was one soldier in his platoon who was hit and lost a leg. That stayed in his mind quite a bit. He was very protective of the younger soldiers. He knew they had to come home to their families.”

When it came time for his second tour in 2006, he hated the idea of going and promised Donna it would be the last time.
“He didn’t want to be separated from his family for another year. Actually this time it was going to be 15 months,” she said.

With Chris gone, it means a lot to her that his fellow soldiers have not forgotten him.

“These guys have been really swell for Donna,” said her mother, Joy East. “For them to be here really helps her, not just the work they do, but just being here.”