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    New addition to Camp Ashland honors fallen heroes

    New addition to Camp Ashland honors fallen heroes

    Photo By Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes | Maj. Gen. Daryl L. Bohac, Nebraska National Guard adjutant general, Boy Scout Michael...... read more read more



    Story by Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes 

    Joint Force Headquarters - Nebraska National Guard

    CAMP ASHLAND, Neb. – The families and comrades of Nebraska’s fallen service members now have a new place in which they can reflect upon their service and sacrifices, thanks to a Nebraska National Guard father-son team and years of perseverance and hard work.

    On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 – nearly 20 years to the moment that the first airborne terrorist attack on New York City signaled the United States’ entry into its longest war in history – a new “Fallen Heroes Memorial” was dedicated on the banks of the Platte River at the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland. The memorial is due to the combined efforts of Brig. Gen. Gary Ropers and his son, Michael “Mikey” Ropers.

    Mikey Ropers said his goal was to help create a memorial in a place where people could come to remember and honor those military service members who died while serving in uniform following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    “It’s a place for families to come to and reflect on their family members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Mikey, 17, who is a junior at Millard West High School in nearby Omaha and an active member of Boy Scouts.

    The memorial consists of a bronze statue depicting the military’s traditional salute to the fallen: a set of military boots, M-14 carbine and a Kevlar helmet, held in place by a large slab of granite. The statue is surrounded by the seals of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard along with flowers and solar lights.

    Prior to the ceremony, the two Ropers took a few moments from their preparations to reflect upon all that had been accomplished since the project was first conceived almost a decade earlier. Both father and son noted how the final “Fallen Heroes Memorial” is significantly larger than the monument that Gary Ropers originally envisioned while serving as a lieutenant colonel at Camp Ashland in 2013.

    “My original idea was that we needed to have a memorial somewhere out here at Camp Ashland to honor those Nebraskans who had fallen in the Global War on Terror,” said Ropers, now a Nebraska Army National Guard brigadier general who serves as the special assistant to the Nebraska National Guard Adjutant General. “At that time all that I had thought of was wanting to buy a statue and having it placed as a memorial to our fallen, possibly inside of Memorial Hall.”

    Ropers said when he broached the idea with Camp Ashland and National
    Guard leaders, there was significant support for the idea. However, as he started working with local organizations to raise the funds needed to purchase the statue, numerous hurdles began emerge. Soon, weeks turned into months and then years, yet the memorial seemed no closer to reality than when he first conceived it, Ropers said.

    The memorial seemed destined to be just another good idea that never quite got off the ground.

    That began to change two years ago when Gary Ropers began helping his son conduct research on possible community service projects that Mikey needed to complete in order to earn his coveted Eagle Scout badge.
    Those conversations quickly turned to the memorial at Camp Ashland.

    Before long Mikey decided that he wanted to take on the project and see it through to its final completion and installation. What he didn’t realize at the time, Mikey said, was how much work it would take to make his father’s original idea a reality.

    “I learned a lot of communication skills,” he said about his Eagle Scout project. “We had to communicate to a lot of different people on this and constantly keep refining and communicating our timelines.”

    As Mikey Ropers dove into the project, he sought inputs from a number of different groups including Col. Shane Martin, the state construction and facility management officer and commander of the 209th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), which runs the military “school house” at Camp Ashland. Others included officers and noncommissioned officers at Camp Ashland and local Veterans Service Organizations.

    “As we started talking about the project, we started talking about (what we could do to) maybe make it a little better,” Gary Ropers said.

    “As time went on, we started raising more funds,” Mikey said, “and with those additional funds we had more ideas… we kept adding to it.”

    They also solicited the help of retired Col. Kevin Hittle, whose architectural firm help create the physical designs for the memorial, which allowed local concrete workers and electricians to get to work.
    Gary Ropers said the memorial was actually a huge collaborative effort that involved numerous people and organizations. “There were a lot of people involved in this, not just Mikey and myself,” he said. In fact, he added, there is a long list of donors and supporters who are due credit in helping take the project from an idea into physical form. “This was not a small undertaking by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Much of the project was completed a few weeks prior to the Sept. 11 dedication ceremony. The two Ropers were on hand to help with the installation of the statue and the surrounding flowers and landscaping.
    They then drove back to the site later that evening to see the memorial illuminated by the newly installed solar lights.

    They both said they were mesmerized by what they had helped create.

    “I was astonished,” Mikey Ropers said. “I didn’t think it was going to turn out so well.”

    His father said that initial impression just further heightened the nervous anticipation he felt as the days to the Sept. 11 dedication ticked down. He said that on the morning of the ceremony he woke up hours early, his mind filled with thoughts about the meaning of what they had accomplished.

    “I started thinking about how we all remember where we were 20 years ago when America was hit,” Ropers said. “To dedicate this on the 20th anniversary of it… I just kept thinking about how I hoped the people who attended that morning’s ceremony would one day remember where they were at on the 20th anniversary… that I was at this event where we dedicated a memorial to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marine and Coast Guardsmen who gave their lives during the Global War on Terror.”

    The morning ceremony at Camp Ashland did in fact leave a powerful image for those involved. With the sun barely rising above the nearby Platte River, the crowd that had assembled to mark the dedication included members of the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard, local American Legion and Veteran of Foreign Wars organizations, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and family members of fallen service members.

    According to Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska adjutant general who accepted the memorial on behalf of the Nebraska National Guard, the Ropers constructed a monument befitting the memory of Nebraska’s fallen.

    “Mike, congratulations on the completion of an amazing project,” Bohac said. He said he believes the monument will now be a special place where families and Nebraska service members can gather, reflect and hopefully gain a sense of peace.

    “I go back to that day when nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives… and another 7,000 who have fallen on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world,” Bohac said. “It’s really important that we have a place to come to; to have a place to remember and to reflect and to grieve, but also to honor. So, I am really pleased that we have this place at Camp Ashland and please know that you are always welcome to come here whenever you need a quiet place to be.”

    “This is your place.”

    Following the ceremony, Ropers said he’s proud of what his son accomplished in taking his idea and pushing it to its final form.

    “It was my idea, but it turned into his dream and his vision. And it turned into him having to work to get this done,” Ropers said. “It’s an honor to have a kid work on an Eagle Scout project like this.”



    Date Taken: 09.15.2021
    Date Posted: 09.15.2021 18:02
    Story ID: 405362
    Location: ASHLAND, NE, US 
    Hometown: OMAHA, NE, US

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    Downloads: 0