News: Fallen 'Silver Lion' honored with building dedication
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher Jelle
MILLINGTON, Tenn. - A large yellow flag is placed into a stand at the end of a row of several other flags, beginning with the national colors. A glass display case and a small table sit in front of the row of flags. The case contains old football equipment, a set of military boots, a Spider-Man pajama top, and a small array of family photos containing a similar face at various ages. Many of the items bear the name of their previous owner.
On the table lay a wooden box, shaped to fit the triangularly folded flag inside, with military awards and decorations, including a purple heart. In front of the folded flag, lay a plaque framing a long scroll of thin paper bearing the rubbing of a name from the memorial outside of the main gate of Fort Carson, Colo. The name matches one that can now also be found on a large granite sign outside a high-ceiling building on a paved country road in Millington, Tenn.
The name on the plaque, the name on the granite sign, and the name that can be found upon many of the items on display, all read "Spc. Christopher Fox."
The large open bay of the recently completed maintenance facility was the site where family, friends, military representatives and state officials gathered to reflect upon and honor that name as the Army Reserve’s 81st Regional Support Command held a ceremony to officially open the Spc. Christopher Fox Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility.
According to Billy Manley, the building commander and supervisor, the facility is designed to support the tactical maintenance needs of the Army Reserve units in Memphis and the surrounding area
Manley submitted Fox’s name for the dedication after a chance encounter at a doctor’s office with Kay Jackson, Fox’s aunt.
“We just got to talking about the military and she mentioned her nephew was killed in Iraq,” said Manley. “At the time, I was still looking for somebody [to dedicate the building to] and it just dawned on me as she started talking about his background, the unit he was with and how it happened.”
Fox, an infantryman assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during his second deployment, was killed by small-arms fire during a dismounted patrol in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad.
While Manley said he believes that any fallen soldier would be a good candidate for this kind of recognition, he chose Fox for being from the local area and the recent timeframe in which he was killed.
Manley proposed Fox’s name to the 81st RSC and once they agreed, he contacted the family and began speaking with Amy Frost.
Frost, who considered Fox as her own son, spoke at the ceremony, while wearing white leather vest bearing a photo of Fox and adorned with numerous buttons and patches from his former units.
She recalled to the audience about how she met Fox while working as a teacher at an inner-city high school in Memphis, Tenn., in the spring of 2003. According to her, he was “the only white student in a school of twelve-hundred kids.” He introduced himself with a joke and handed her a picture of himself on a football card, which she still keeps today.
“He was an over-the-top, bigger than life kind of kid,” said Frost.
Fox had failed his freshman year twice, due to a strained relationship with his family. Frost was awarded temporary custody of Fox through the court system after filing a dependent and neglect complaint.
Facing the possibility of a third freshman year at the age of 17, Fox expressed his desire to join the Army. Frost supported him in making a plan to meet the educational requirements needed to enlist. In late fall of 2004, Fox joined Job Corps. He earned his carpentry certification and General Education diploma by February 2005.
Fox enlisted in the Army and entered into basic training in March 2005. By fall of the same year, he was stationed at Fort Carson and scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
While deployed, he was assigned to the 1st. Bn., 68th Armor Reg., and responsible for patrolling one of the rivers and the mentorship of the local police. Throughout the tour, Fox was known for keeping the morale high through his jokes and singing.
“Specialist Fox was the one soldier who everybody went to,” said 1st Sergeant Jesus Medina, senior noncommissioned officer for Company B, 1st Bn. 68th Armor Reg., and Fox’s platoon sergeant during that first deployment. “He was the guy that even the leadership would go to for a pick-me-up. The soldiers just gravitated to him.”
After redeploying and spending a year back home, Fox deployed a second time in the fall of 2007. During the following March, Fox was injured in a blast from a roadside bomb, earning him a purple heart. Frost, who was listed as Fox’s mother on his emergency data form, was notified.
“He loved what he did and the people whom he did it with,” said Frost. “He wasn’t always happy about the location or the conditions, but he loved what he did.”
Fox remained in theater and returned to duty. He took mid-tour leave in July to see his adoptive family. Two months later, Fox was killed. Frost was again notified.
“On September 30th, 2008, two Army personnel in dress greens rang my doorbell at 6 a.m.,” said Frost, recalling the moment. “I will forever have that memory burned into my mind, as well as what happened afterwards.”
Due to Federal law at the time, the Army could not release the remains of a soldier to non-relatives. Even though Frost was listed as the mother and the Personnel Authorized to Direct Disposition, without the supporting documentation required by regulations, the Army had to defer the rights to Fox’s half-brother. Frost asked to have the body buried in a Veteran’s cemetery in his hometown of Memphis, however, he was buried in a private family grave in Arkansas, next to his biological mother and grandfather.
“All I asked was that [he] would be remembered and taken care of for the rest of time and given the honor due, by having him buried in a Veteran’s cemetery,” said Frost. “I just wanted him remembered as a hero and given the respect of someone who died fighting for their country.”
Frost reached out to several Congressmen and Representatives in order to find out how to change the law and Army Regulation and to broaden its definition of family.
“America is a country with many different types of families in it, due to the diverse population that makes us what we are,” said Frost. “What a soldier puts on that form should be considered their last will and should be followed.”
In 2009, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) authored the “Honor the Written Intent of our Soldier Heroes Act” or “Honor the WISH Act,” citing Fox’s case specifically as the catalyst.
“Someone who puts their life on the line defending our country should be able to designate whomever they wish to make arrangements for their memorial services,” said Cohen in a statement he published online. “The Honor the WISH Act will amend current law to let soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen designate who they want to organize their funeral arrangements should they be killed while serving their country.”
The act was approved in 2011 by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the 2012 Defense Authorization bill and became public law in 2012.
“[The law] now reads the way it should,” said Frost. “It’s too late for my family…but no other family will lose their child twice because they are not “family” enough, despite what their soldier said.”
Knowing how much the Army, Fox’s unit and the people he served with meant to him, Frost extended an invitation to the dedication ceremony to the “Silver Lions.”
“When asked to participate in today’s ceremony, we accepted without hesitation,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Wilson, commander, 1st Bn., 68th Armored Reg., during his opening remarks. “We simply did not want to be anywhere else.”
Three members of the unit traveled from Fort Carson to attend the ceremony to help honor the memory of one of their “Fallen Heroes.”
“I’m really grateful to be out here and have a chance to meet [Fox’s] mom,” said Medina. “I’m really honored and I really have to give it to the family and Millington as a whole who have shown an amazing hospitality.”
The Fort Carson soldiers spent the afternoon after the ceremony with the family to share their condolences.
“It was amazing to see the people come down from Fort Carson,” said Frost. “It really shows me that they care and they won’t let [Fox’s] name be forgotten.”
The items in the display case, the flag, and the plaques, will be given a special place in the new facility to honor the person of its namesake.
“I hope to provide the family with some closure by being able to come out here and look at the display case and the memorial,” said Manley.
As the crowd moved from the large open bay to the main entrance for the ribbon cutting and official unveiling of the bronze plaque that will adorn the outside of the building, one thing was clear.
They were all there to remember and remind others of the name of a self-confident but caring young man who was proud of his unit and their large yellow flag.