VILSECK, Germany — Iraq-bound soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment were prepared for loss, strife and difficult days, but they didn’t expect to lose one of their own so soon, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cav commander Lt. Col. Rod A. Coffey said Friday.
Coffey was speaking at a memorial for one of his Company H soldiers — Sgt. Jonathon Russell “Rusty” Gilbert, 22 — who died June 9 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Gilbert was shot in the head during predeployment training at Grafenwöhr Training Area on May 30, according to an Army press statement.
The Old Town, Idaho, native and member of the Cherokee Nation was preparing for his second Iraq tour. He served in Mosul from 2004 to 2005 with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division before it reflagged as 2nd Cav in Germany last year. Gilbert survived a mortar attack in Iraq, and the Purple Heart is among his many decorations and medals.
“In a conflict where how to interact with the civilian population is part of the fight, I can see no better example than Sgt. Gilbert,” Coffey said. “Give him one week in a neighborhood in Iraq and he’d have all the kids telling him where the bad guys are. He wouldn’t even need a soccer ball,” he said.
The 2nd Cav will move into Iraq with the memory of Sgt. Gilbert in soldiers’ minds, he said.
“He has done his part against an enemy filled with reckless hatred,” he said.
Company H commander Capt. Mike Stinchfield praised Gilbert’s decision to join the Army, in May 2003.
“He volunteered to serve at a time when he knew he could go into harm’s way often. People are questioning now why we fight. Sgt. Gilbert never questioned why we fight but he fought for the rights of people to question that fight,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Tim Davis, Gilbert’s team leader in Iraq, said he’d watched the young man transform from a follower to a leader whom other soldiers looked up to for guidance.
Staff Sgt. Jiess Solon said Gilbert introduced him to country music when the pair roomed together at Fort Lewis, Wash.
“He loved country music and if your ears weren’t bleeding it wasn’t loud enough. I hated country music,” Solon said.
“Whenever he went to turn on that country music he looked at me with a smile that went ear to ear. When I saw that smile I couldn’t say no. As time went on I started turning on the country music. Now I love country music and every time I hear it I will be reminded of Gilbert.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Willie Mashack recalled Gilbert’s love of the War Craft computer game, bowling and bar-hopping with his mates.
Gilbert is survived by his mother, Rebecca Kerns, his father Dennis Gilbert, brothers Billy and Smokey and sister Michelle.