Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson couldn’t “put a price” on the care packages his sister’s friends in Las Vegas sent to his squad in Afghanistan.
He said so in a thank-you note to the nonprofit Douglas J. Green Memorial Foundation 12 days before a roadside bomb exploded Sunday, killing him and three other soldiers.
“My sister was nice enough to throw my name out to this foundation and I recently received two packages that I promptly shared with my squad,” begins the note he penned Sept. 25 from a remote location in the war-torn country.
“Needless to say, after two deployments, they were easily the best care packages I’ve ever gotten. It’s cliche, but the small things coupled with the gesture of sending something in the first place is something you can’t put a price on over here.”
Now the government of the nation for which he served and gave his life owes his half-sister, Lititia Williams, 31 of Las Vegas, and her family a “thank you” and also an apology for dropping the ball during the government shutdown for not immediately providing travel costs and the $100,000 gratuity as had been promised to those killed in action.
So while the U.S. House scrambled Wednesday to pass a bill for paying death benefits to families of soldiers who died during the government shutdown, Williams and Patterson’s other sister, Taylor Patterson of Philomath, Ore., stood on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, Del., to watch the dignified transfer of their brother’s remains.
Williams’ travel costs from Las Vegas to her mother’s home in Corvallis, Ore., and then to Delaware and back aren’t being paid for by the government. Instead, members of Patterson’s squad from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan paid for her airline ticket out of their own pockets.
And her friend, LeAnna Marchese, CEO of the Las Vegas-based Douglas J. Green Memorial Foundation, with the USO in Las Vegas, have offered to cover any of her remaining travel costs.
“It’s the real hard stuff nobody wants to talk about,” Marchese told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an interview about an hour after Williams called her from Delaware. “Instead we should be shouting it from the mountaintop.”
Marchese said Williams, 31, sent her “all the photos of the casket (transfer case) coming off the plane and just said, ‘It’s hardest thing I’ve ever seen played out in my life.’ She was very close to her brother.” She said her friend is a marathon runner who works as a personal assistant for some executives in Las Vegas.
“We’ve never been at war when we’ve had a shutdown,” Marchese said. “We’ve allowed ourselves to turn our backs on the people we sent over there. For lack of a better word, I’m disgusted about it.”
She made the comment about an hour before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Pentagon had forged an agreement with the nonprofit Fisher House Foundation to provide family members of fallen service members “with the full set of benefits they have been promised, including a $100,000 death gratuity payment.”
With Hagel’s announcement, lawmakers set aside their push for legislation to pay death-related military benefits that the government has paid to surviving family members since 2009.
The Maryland-based Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing near medical facilities and military installations for families visiting hospitalized service members, would be reimbursed by the Department of Defense when the government reopens.
Patterson, 24, who Marchese described as a “light-hearted” pro-military man who “went straight out of high school into the Army” to become a Ranger, died in the attack Sunday in Afghanistan’s Zhari District.
The blast also killed fellow 75th Ranger Regiment soldier Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pa.; Madigan Army Medical Center, Wash., 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego; and Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo., who was assigned to the 5th Military Police Battalion, Vicenza, Italy.
In all, 26 members of the U.S. military have died since the government shut down on Oct. 1, including five killed in combat, defense officials have said.
Hagel said he was “offended, outraged and embarrassed” that the shutdown had cut off the Pentagon’s ability to offer benefits, including funeral costs and travel expenses, for military families. He said he had warned Congress the legal authority to continue the payments would lapse.
Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 425-0 to restore the death benefits. Senate Chaplain Barry Black invoked the denial of benefits in his daily opening prayer.
“Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on far-away battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough,” Black said. “Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness.”
After the House acted, Sen. John Cornym, R-Texas, moved to pass the benefit bill in the Senate but agreed to hold off after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the White House was preparing to announce a fix within a short time.
“They are going to be restored without any question,” Reid, D-Nev., said of the benefits.
Marchese was watching a Sunday football game with Suni Chabrow, mother of the Las Vegas foundation’s namesake, Spc. Douglas J. Green, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
“We had sent out 1,200 care packages from the foundation and he was the first one who sent us a thank you letter,” Chabrow said, recalling how Williams called Marchese with the sad news about her brother. “We were in complete shock. Again it hit home. We were taking care of this wonderful guy.”
Chabrow said it’s the Army’s duty to take care of the families of fallen soldiers. “It trumps everything,” she said. “They need emergency funding because you really don’t want to think about that when you’re grieving over your son or daughter.”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.