Service honors MPs killed in combat

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 12:56
A rifle team from the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade prepares to fire a volley during a June 22 ceremony honoring four military policemen killed in combat in Afghanistan on June 4.

A memorial ceremony held June 22 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson honored four military policemen killed in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Joshua David Powell of Quitman,Texas, 28; Sgt. Christopher Roger Bell of Goldman, Miss., 21; Sgt. Devin Arielle Snyder of Cohocton, N.Y., 20; and Spc. Robert Lee Voakes Jr. of L'anse, Mich., 21, were killed by an improvised explosive device, June 4, in Afghanistan's Laghman Province while on patrol.

The Soldiers were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and were deployed since March. They were assigned to the 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

The four Soldiers were remembered as heroes because their job was to look for IEDs. All of them were trained to find the bombs and destroy them, clearing roads for American Soldiers.

"I think the memorial service was really a feeling of pride, a sense of honor for our fallen comrades," said Army Lt. Col. Stephen E. Gabavics, commanding officer, 793rd MP Bn. " Obviously there was a sorrow of having the loss of these heroes, but I think largely it was a celebration of their life and what they brought to this battalion and to all the Soldiers that knew them."

Spc. Mikel Systo, a member of the 545th Military Police Company, remembered Powell as more than a co-worker. He remembered him as a big brother.

"Joshua would tell you something about what he thought even if you didn't want to hear it, but that is what true friends do," Systo said. "They say what needs to be said, not what you want to be said. He was a true friend. No matter what time it was or what he was doing he was always there watching over me like a big brother I never had. Sgt. Powell always thought more of other people than himself."

Powell was fond of hunting, fishing and western movies, Systo noted.

"We always joked with each other that we had been born in the wrong time period and that the 1800's is where we should have been," he said.

Spc. Robert Worthington, a member of the 545th Military Police Company, remembered Bell as a leader who looked out for other Soldiers.

"If he saw that someone needed help, he did not hesitate to step in and lend a hand, Worthington said. "If he noticed one of the Soldiers was struggling to understand something in training, he would try his best to explain it and show it to them in a way they could understand. He always put others before himself.

"After his daughter Lana was born, he would always talk about the funny things she would do, how much she made him laugh, and how happy he was that he had a daughter," Worthington said. "He would also say how grateful he was for his wife, all things she did, and how proud he was of her. Sgt. Bell strived for perfection in every aspect of life, and knowing that perfection was out of reach, he still never stopped trying."

Spc. Jessica Jeffords, a member of the 545th Military Police Company, said Snyder had a smile which could light up a room.

"She looked at things in life in a positive, upbeat way," Jeffords said. "She enjoyed seeing new places, meeting new people and definitely wasn't afraid to take on challenges. She enjoyed everything life had to offer. Every time I think of her, I remember her smile. She smiled 99.9 percent of the time.

"She impacted countless number of people in a positive way," Jeffords continued. "On her way back home there were thousands of people lining the streets to pay their respects. She impacted people she never got the chance to meet. She will be missed greatly but never forgotten."

Army Capt. Greg Williamson, former 164th MP Commander, remembered Voakes as very proud of his Native American heritage and how he displayed pride in all he


"Robert's name - even early on - was already on the lips of many of the NCOs and officers of the 164th and on many occasions his name would come up as a Soldier that was developing as a leader and standing out in a positive manner," Williamson said.

"His mother told me that as is customary in his native culture, he went in the forest for several days to clear his head and meditate on all the options he had before him," Williamson said.

"The result of this journey was a decision to serve his nation honorably, work toward a degree in criminal justice and eventually return to his community to work with the tribal police department. Although Roberts's dreams were cut short, I know that Robert made a difference in all of those he came in contact with and we are all better to have been a part of his life."


This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.

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