On Feb. 15, the Soldiers of the 571st Sapper Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade moved to a new base in preparation for a large-scale company operation in Diyala province, the first of such operations during the company's deployment. Upon their arrival, they began the usual activities of setting up their living areas and checking out their new surroundings. Their mission had just begun when they were given the bad news: a fellow member of the 14th Engineer Battalion had been killed in Al Salam, Iraq in an IED explosion. The Soldier was a veteran non-commissioned officer of the 610th Engineer Support Company, Sgt. Sean D. Diamond of Alameda, Calif.
Many of the Soldiers took it hard. Some had served with SSG Diamond as members of the 610th ESC. He was a beloved NCO, father figure to many subordinates and peers, and a truly caring and hard-working sergeant. Leaning on each other and sharing their memories of him, the Soldiers of the 571st kept Sgt. Diamond and his family in their thoughts and prayers. As Soldiers in combat do, they drove on with the mission, pushing forward into an unknown area, unsure of how long they would be in this new place.
After supporting operations in the south Balad Ruz area of Diyala province for over two weeks, the 571st was charged with a new aspect of the mission: build a forward patrol base to be used as a Joint Security Station. This base was to play an important role in upcoming operations as it would provide American Soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts a place to stage equipment and take a breath after combat missions.
Several Soldiers of the 571st knew immediately what they wanted to call the base. Thinking of Sgt. Diamond and his family, they raised the question to their company commander, Capt. Lou Nemec of Kittanning, Pa. He agreed that the name JSS Diamond would be a fitting way to honor Sgt. Diamond's memory. When asked by the TF 3-66 Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Lou Rago of Chicago, Ill., what he thought the new base should be named, Capt. Nemec answered with his Soldiers' suggestion and spoke briefly about the 14th's recent loss. Without hesitation, Lt. Col. Rago turned to his staff and commanders and declared that JSS Diamond would be the name of the new patrol base so long as the area was his operating environment. Known for being a decisive man who means exactly what he says, Lt. Col. Rago's subordinates understood the message exactly.
Spc. James Saunders of Pinebluff, N.C., the company radio operator, having served in the 610th with SSG Diamond, was more than happy to make the sign commemorating the base in memory of his former squad leader. "I liked Sgt. Diamond a lot and he taught me quite a bit as a newly arrived Soldier. I felt like making a sign to honor him was the least I could do", Spc. Saunders would later say. Capt. Nemec and the company first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Walter Stevens of Bangor, Pa., agreed and set the date for completion and dedication of the sign for March 17, the last day of the company's operations in south Balad Ruz. Spc. Saunders worked on his sign, receiving help from Task Force 3-66, the 5th Engineer Battalion and 571st Soldiers. On March 17, he placed the sign at the entrance to the base. As the Soldiers who helped erect the sign remembered their fallen comrade and observed a moment of silence with Spc. Saunders, they mentioned that March 17th was Sgt. Diamond's birthday. He would have been 42 years old.
Somber, but pleased that this small corner of Iraq bore the name of a fallen hero close to their hearts, the Soldiers of the 571st packed up to leave JSS Diamond for the last time. Each took one final look at the sign and remembered their comrade. A true patriot, SSG Diamond joined the Army shortly after the attacks of 9/11. He was the father of four children, and was known to everyone as extremely loyal and committed to his family. Though far away from them, his Army family and squad members universally regarded him as fatherly, caring and committed.
Southern Diyala province is a desolate, war-ravaged portion of Iraq. The opportunities for solace are infrequent. After six years of fighting, a joint security station still offers the kind of necessary respite Soldiers require after long hours on the road. In a similar manner, Sgt. Diamond cared for Soldiers, and offered the type of mentorship and care that kept his subordinates safe, motivated and focused on their mission. He will forever be missed by those privileged enough to serve beside him.
As the Soldiers of 571st left their job site for the last time, the radio crackled in their ears and other units were heard announcing their arrival or departure from JSS Diamond. The new name sounded good, and although a small gesture as compared to his enormous sacrifice, the name Diamond will continue to be associated with the safety and welfare of Soldiers.