Soldier's memorial draws hundreds


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

There was standing room only in the Army chapel at Camp Virginia in Kuwait yesterday as more than 650 citizen soldiers from the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, sailors and civilians lined the walls to pay their final respects to Spc. Casey Hills, who was killed when his Humvee flipped over during a convoy run to Kuwait.

; Hills—who was assigned to 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry's Charlie Company after the unit was called to active duty in August as a part of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team—was just seven weeks from returning home.

Hills, 23, from Salem, Ill., and a former Illinois National Guardsman, was a gunner on the Humvee that was providing security for a convoy when the accident occurred in southern Iraq. Two other soldiers in the Humvee received minor injuries. The accident is under investigation.

Capt. Timothy Zeisset, spokesman for the 100th Battalion, wrote in the June issue of the 29th Brigade's newsletter, “;Lava Flow, “; that as of June 11, his battalion had logged 1,069,099 miles. Up to that point, the unit had experienced only five accidents with no deaths in the day-long trips from Kuwait to areas near Baghdad.

“;This is what we have been doing since day one,”; said Lt. Col. Mike Peeters, the 100th Battalion's commander, in the newsletter. “;We emphasized discipline in our training, from annual training to post mobilization and deployment.”;

Almost all of the 150 soldiers in Charlie Company are from American Samoa and those who spoke at Hills' memorial service said he quickly became part of its ohana.

“;Casey is the one who surprised his fellow soldiers with a quiet demeanor, a hard work ethic, and a commitment to the platoon that made him a platoon favorite,”; said Peeters, according to a news release from the 29th Brigade.

At the memorial service Peeters talked about Hills' dedication to the mission, his commitment to serve and his willingness to always go the extra mile, noting that Hills' platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Edwin Seui, said: “;If there were 10 Hills available, I would take them all.”;

Hills wasn't supposed to be on Wednesday's convoy since he had just completed a mission into Iraq, but he volunteered to step in for another soldier who was one of 70 from the 29th Brigade studying to take the test to become a U.S. citizen.

Hills' company commander, Maj. Ralph Robinson, said, “;He was the king of turn and burns,”; meaning he was always willing to go back out.

“;With all the overwhelming tasks, he never once complained and continued mission,”; he said.

“;The news worldwide this weekend is filled with coverage of the death of entertainment superstars. I respect the impact of their talents. But unlike them, as an American soldier, Spc. Hills joined a team in which we are all just a small part of something much larger, and in which we receive no celebrity adulation,”; Robinson added.

“;We will always remember you,”; said Capt. Kevin Gilbert, the battalion chaplain, “;and we will live our lives better because of you.”;

At the end of the ceremony, 1st Sgt. Uluao Letuli, C Company's first sergeant, called out the ceremonial final roll call.

Hills was the third soldier belonging to the 29th Brigade who has died during its latest deployment, which began in November. All the deaths were non-combat related.

The brigade's first combat deployment since the Vietnam War was in 2004, when it was sent to Iraq.

The brigade will begin leaving Kuwait during the middle of next month and will have to spend at least a week at Fort Hood in Texas to complete the demobilization process before coming home in August.