FORT MCCOY, Wis. - With broken ribs, a punctured lung and the loss of his spleen, Spc. Charles Kaufman could have opted out of his unit's deployment to Iraq in 2005.
But the Fairchild, Wisconsin resident who joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard's Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry with his cousin Kelly was not going to stay home. A month after falling out of a tree stand, he joined his unit in Iraq.
"That leads me to the way that I view Charles - he embodied the warrior ethos," said Maj. Andrew Johansen, who was Kaufman's platoon leader back in 2005, during a command remembrance ceremony June 18 at Constitution Park, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. "That's how I remember him. He placed the mission first. He never accepted defeat. The thing about Charles is he could have stayed home, but he chose to come to Iraq, he chose to meet up with his brothers in Charlie Company, including his cousin Kelly. And Charles never quit."
Kaufman was killed by a roadside bomb June 26, 2005 in Baghdad. He was the third Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier to be killed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the second Soldier from Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry. One decade later, a new generation of Soldiers stood in formation on a sunny, breezy day to pay respects to a fallen comrade.
"It is vital that we, as a nation, pause to solemnly remember and pay tribute to our brave fallen who secured the prosperity and liberty we enjoy today," said Brig. Gen. Ken Koon, assistant adjutant general for training and readiness. "Wisconsin's noble legacy of service and sacrifice began with the Civil War, in places like Gettysburg and Antietam . and more recently on the streets of Baghdad and in Samarra, Iraq, and in the mountains of Afghanistan.
"We enjoy our freedom today because of people like Spc. Kaufman," Koon continued, "who selflessly volunteered twice to serve our state and nation - first when he enlisted with his cousin, and then again when he was injured from a fall. He could have stayed home safely, but instead he chose to catch up to his unit and serve with his best friends.
"We must never forget their legacy, and we owe it to our war dead to live lives every day that are worthy of their sacrifices."
John Dehnke, a former Wisconsin Army National Guard recruiter, recalled meeting with Kaufman's parents Celeste and Mark when their son wanted to join the Guard. He called Kaufman an inspiration, and wears a wristband with Kaufman's name on it to this day.
"Hopefully when you look at that wall in Charlie Company and you see his picture up there, and you see the memorial, you think about that sacrifice that he and several others made for this great nation," Dehnke said. "Just remember the pride and honor he served with - let it resonate amongst you and in your hearts. And never forget, because it would be a damn shame if we did.
"He's a hero," Dehnke continued. "Don't forget him."