Now a void where no new memory
Grows as we grow older
A place once warmed by camaraderie
Now cold, and each year colder
— Nelson Gibbs
December 5th marks the 10th anniversary of the US military’s first combat losses in Afghanistan. Three Special Forces soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (A) died alongside five anti-Taliban Afghan fighters when a 2000-lb bomb missed its target near Kandahar. One of those killed that day was my friend, Staff Sergeant Brian Cody Prosser.
Ten years ago, I was driving to work on a crisp December morning in Würzburg, Germany, listening to the news on my car radio. A familiar announcer somberly reported the “friendly fire” incident, and she read off the names of the three Americans killed the day before,
“Master Sergeant Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tennessee; Sergeant First Class Daniel Petithory of Cheshire, Massachusetts, and Staff Sergeant Brian Prosser, 28, of Frazier Park, California . . .”
“No,” I said, fumbling with the volume knob as the announcer clarified,
“… known to family as “Cody”. . .”
My heart sank into my stomach, “Dammit!” I shouted at the radio, pounding the steering wheel. “Not Brian, not Brian!”
It is a tragedy, I know, whenever and wherever we lose a service member. America suffers a great loss whenever we lose one, especially in their prime. But fratricide — “friendly fire” — that really hit me hard, and on top of it, I knew this one.
Ten years on, I still often think of Brian. He impressed all who knew him as an outstanding soldier, absolutely dedicated to the profession. I remember him as an intense, clear-eyed, square-jawed guy with “Sergeant Major” written all over him, but his serious demeanor in uniform also belied an easy-going nature and a wry sense of humor.
I try to remember the others, too. I pray for the bereaved and grieving. I also wonder about the five Afghan fighters — who mourned for them? Each was some mother’s hope, a father’s pride — did their families recover them? Did they know how brave they were? Do they think of them while standing in the voting line (the first one was reportedly a mile-and-a-half long) in Kandahar, near where the men died? Do they still think it was worth it? These are the things I think about.
I think about conversations Brian and I had; about the NCO Corps, our expectations and reservations about a military career; about the SpecOps community (he imagined he’d end up in a Ranger Bat and wanted to go to Ranger School); how we swapped stories from our experiences in different combat zones. We talked books and authors — he was a fan of the “Conan the Barbarian” graphic novels. We discussed Clancy and Ambrose, and Dick Marcinko. We discussed Audie Murphy and other heroes; what kind of guy throws himself on a grenade, and could I do that? Is it something you “just do” in the moment, or was it a quirk of exceptionally noble character that enables one to do that? Serious discussions about life, death and duty.
I think we got on well because of how seriously we both took the service. We were “true believers” so to speak. We served and trained with many “non-believers” — even some dirt bags — those more interested in advancing themselves than learning to lead; those who cared only about the next promotion, or getting laid, or just skating by while others did the heavy lifting — the welfare soldiers (a term coined by retired Command Sergeant Major J.D. Pendry) for whom the question “What’s in it for me?” is always paramount — they were prevalent in the pre-9-11 ranks. In the end, Brian was where he belonged in Special Operations — a community which naturally tends to separate the “wheat from the chaff” when it comes to character and motivation. Consider that the highest percentage of casualties in the GWOT have been Special Operations personnel.
There are intersecting memories, too: Shortly after 9-11, my wife received a heartfelt letter from a dear German couple we’ve known some 20 years. In it, the wife expressed her appreciation for my wife as a military spouse, adding that she knew her own country’s prosperity was due in large part to the presence of U.S. Armed Forces “keeping the peace” and subsidizing defense on that Continent. Hardly three months after that letter — the weekend after Brian was killed — my wife and I were again guests in their Munich apartment. We’d been there many times over the years, sharing great conversation, great beer, and hearty laughs.
This particular evening, my host was preparing our customary quaff of Edelstoff (a favorite local brew) and I asked him for a third glass. He seemed puzzled, but obliged. We settled down at the small table in their dimly lit kitchen, safe in the heart of the Bavarian metropolis. I turned the third glass upside down on the table, and toasted, “Staff Sergeant Brian Prosser, rest in peace, cold soldier.” Mitch drew a quick breath and looked up at the ceiling, his glass still poised in toast. By the candle light I could see his eyes had welled up. “He’s here,” he said quietly, “I feel him with us.” And then, in German, he said a prayer. This gesture is a memory I will always cherish.
Brian represented the finest our nation had to offer. My prayers go to his widow and family.
I am ever thankful for your courage, commitment and ultimate sacrifice. I feel an empty place where ten years of new memories should have been collecting, but never will — a place once warmed by camaraderie, now ten years cold.
Rest in Peace, Brian.
SFC Stan Lavery, USA, (Ret.)
View pictures of Brian’s Memorial at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/bcprosser.htm