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Mr. Speaker, noble sacrifice dominates the character of a man who so willingly dedicates his life for others. There are none who understand that any better today than the men and women in our U.S. military. They personify the very essence of what it means to be an American.
Today, under the morning sky at Arlington Cemetery, myself and other Members of Congress--Rob Wittman from Virginia, Jo Bonner from Alabama, and Senator Sessions from Alabama--joined several hundred other family members and friends as a 21-gun salute and "Taps" was played for United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mark E. Stratton, II. The somber silence of the grave sites was broken with this tribute.
Colonel Stratton trained as a navigator on an Air Force KC-135. In his honor, one of these massive aircraft flew low and slow over Arlington Cemetery, over the flag-draped coffin of one of Air Force's finest. He gave his life helping the Afghan people to know dignity of a life lived in freedom.
He was assigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon here in Washington, D.C. and he served as the commander of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. On May 26, 2009, Mark died near Bagram Airfield of wounds that he sustained from an improvised explosive device, what we call an IED.
Mark had strong Texas ties. He graduated from Texas A&M University in December of 1991 with a degree in political science. And while at Texas A&M, he was a member of Squadron 1 in the Corps of Cadets. He received his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1992. He has numerous Air Force commendations, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
He is remembered by friends as a man of unquestionable character and loyalty. He was a patriotic individual who exemplified the spirit of the American airman.
Lieutenant Colonel Gil Delgado, Mark's former roommate at Texas A&M, described Mark as a man who passionately loved God, his family, his friends and his country, and it showed in everything Mark did.
Through his heroic work in Afghanistan, Mark lived a life helping other people. His time was spent building roads and clinics, schools and canals for the Afghan people. He was an ambassador for the American spirit. He described the job to family and friends as the best he had ever had in his entire career. When he was killed, Mr. Speaker, the villagers in Afghanistan had a memorial service in his honor.
Mark held a deep sense of tradition. Just a few weeks prior to his death, Mark made a special effort to share his Texas Aggie spirit with the Afghan friends that he had met. Mr. Speaker, each April 21, the day Texas gained independence, Aggies from Texas A&M observed what is called Aggie Muster. This occasion is where all Aggies gather in all parts of the world to honor Aggies who have died the previous year.
Even though Mark was the only Aggie within 100 miles of his forward operating base, he convinced the Panjshir Provincial Governor and his security detail to join him atop a nearby mountain to observe the very special occasion of Aggie Muster. One Aggie Air Force colonel and Afghan villagers paid tribute to Americans who died the previous year; that must have been a sight to see.
Texas Aggies have a long tradition of military service. In fact, during World War II, Texas A&M produced over 14,000 officers, more than came from West Point or Annapolis combined. Mark was a proud Texas Aggie.
Mark is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and their three children, along with his mother, stepfather, and his brother, Michael. Mark's late father and namesake served as an Army captain in the Vietnam War. His stepmother, Debby Young, lives in southwest Houston. Mark's brother, Michael, and stepbrother, Steven, also live in the Houston area.
A great testament to Mark's life is the lives he forever changed through his work; every structure, every canal and road well traveled. Every school Mark helped build will offer generations of Afghan children the opportunity that comes from education. Every clinic he helped build will be a place where sickness will be cured, where human suffering is relieved, and where lives are being saved every day.
Mark has left a noble legacy as he has come to the end of this Earthly journey. It is for others now to pick up the torch he used to light a way for the Afghan people in the rugged mountains and deserts of this remote nation.
Mr. Speaker, it has been said, "The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example." Next year, on April 21, at Aggie Muster, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stratton's name will be called. His name and life will be remembered by Aggies and other grateful Americans and by his Air Force buddies. But no doubt the people of Afghanistan will also remember the man from America, the Air Force colonel who built their schools, their water wells, and their villages. And maybe those villagers will return once more to that mountaintop and pay tribute to this American hero, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stratton.
And that's just the way it is.
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