Almost five years ago, near midnight, on Oct. 1, 2009, Sgt. Ryan Adams and his fellow Soldiers were conducting a convoy mission in Logar Province, Afghanistan. As they pushed on, through the blackness of night, two unidentified men were spotted on a hill near the route where the convoy was headed. As they monitored the bystanders, one of them lit up a cigarette. Immediately after that, the lead vehicle was hit with a rocket propelled grenade.
The cigarette was probably the signal that let the Taliban know that the convoy was in position, said Sgt. 1st Class Lyle Scott Spurgeon. Now medically retired, Spurgeon was a platoon sergeant with the 951st Engineer Company (Sapper) in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Spurgeon was the convoy commander at the time of the attack.
Adams' vehicle was third in line in the convoy. Spurgeon recalled Adams' vehicle being struck by a second rocket propelled grenade. Adams died tragically in the attack from wounds suffered in the explosion.
"I knew it was bad," Spurgeon said as he recalled Adams' vehicle rolling off of the road engulfed in flames.
Spurgeon's vehicle was struck with a third rocket propelled grenade, which wounded him and knocked him out. His story became more fleeting, with vivid remnants of memories which he recalled from the attack.
On May 17, 2014, on a windy afternoon, crowds gathered in the street near the National Guard armory in Rhinelander for a ceremony to honor a fallen hero. Sgt. Adams' family, leadership from the 951st and some distinguished guests spoke of Adams' life and the ultimate sacrifice he gave for his country and for freedom.
The ceremony dedicated the street, which leads up to the Rhinelander armory, with a fitting name change from Military Road to Adams Way.
"It's nice to see that somebody cares for what Ryan died for," Spurgeon said. He was close with Adams and was chosen to be the one to officially unveil the new street sign.
"Ryan was a pretty special guy," Spurgeon said.
There were many heartfelt remarks about Adams' life. His candor, charm and his sense of humor are just some of the things that those who knew him best said that they will miss the most.
"He was a great Soldier, and I am proud, honored and thankful to have served with him," said 1st Sgt. Gregory Fulton, now the first sergeant of the 273rd Sapper Company in Medford, Wisconsin.
Fulton deployed with the 951st as the company's first sergeant during the time that Adams was killed.
"It is my hope that all future Soldiers assigned to this armory ó who travel down this road or go down this path ó will do so in a manner that reflects Adams' way," Fulton said.
Army Maj. Brian Barth commanded the 951st as a captain on their mission to Afghanistan. He could not be present during the ceremony, as he is currently deployed to the Middle East. Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, read aloud a letter from Maj. Barth.
Barth wrote: "If people wonder why Americans volunteer for military service, deploy forward and carry out missions with complete conviction, it is because of ceremonies like today to honor Ryan."
Dunbar spoke highly of the Soldiers of the 951st and of Sgt. Adams.
"The American flag stands for freedom all around this world," Dunbar said. "But it would stand for nothing without the courage of men like Ryan Adams.
"He is to be celebrated," Dunbar said.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. E. Larry Harrington was also present at the ceremony. Harrington was the commander of Task Force Storm in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 951st was under the direction of Harrington's leadership during the time that Adams was killed. He flew up from Mississippi to attend the ceremony.
"The actions of Sgt. Adams speak more eloquently then I ever could at this podium," Harrington said.
The renaming of the street was an idea that had been brought up to the city council of Rhinelander by the local American Veterans Post 724, and the Oneida County Veterans Service Officer, Tammy Walters.
It's a small community, Walters said. "Everybody felt like they lost someone when they lost Ryan."
Walters lives next door to Peter and Jalane Adams, and she said that the community still can't get over his loss.
"People miss him ó they love him," Walters said.
"The community support has always been fantastic," said Jalane Adams, Sgt. Adams' mother who spoke at the ceremony. Jalane and her husband Peter Adams moved to Rhinelander when Ryan was in 2nd grade. "With all of this, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else," Jalane said with regards to the community and the support that her and her family had received.
"Ryan paid the ultimate sacrifice of his country by giving his life fighting for freedoms we hold dear and yet often take for granted," Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns said.
In a city council meeting held on April 7, a unanimous vote was approved in honor of Sgt. Adams.
"On behalf of a thankful City of Rhinelander, we gladly rename this street," Johns said. "Let us remember, each time we travel down this street, the high cost of our freedom."
Ray Zastrow, a retired Army captain from Rhinelander, spearheaded the renaming of the road along with fellow volunteers from Post 724. Zastrow offered the invocation and closing prayer during the ceremony.
The local AMVETS Post 724 also presented both Peter and Jalane Adams with replicas of the street sign for Adams Way. 1st Sgt. Dan Keck, a retired first sergeant from the 951st, presented the family with the signs along with kind words.
"He was a great Soldier ó but more importantly, he was a great friend to anyone who knew him," Keck said.
Adams was in Keck's platoon when he first enlisted in the Army in 2001.
"As the years passed, I watched him mature into a great soldier," he said.
The sign for Military Road will stay in place for one year. After that time it will be removed and Adams Way will be the official street marker, Zastrow said.