Saturday, July 11, 2009

notes about our hero, Mark, I don't want to forget

Mt. Airy News .... Capt. Mark Garner, the man, his service to his country, his dedication to his family, friends, and community can only be told through the words of those who loved, befriended, and respected him.

ELKIN — The body of fallen soldier Capt. Mark Garner returned to the country Wednesday during a tear-drenched ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Garner, an Elkin native and alumnus of Elkin High School, was one of seven slain soldiers brought home.The official notice of death from the Public Affairs Department of the United States read: Garner, 30, was the commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment (1-4 Inf.) of the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) based in Hohenfels, Germany, and died of injuries sustained Monday, when an improvised explosive device detonated near a military convoy, striking his vehicle during combat operations in Afghanistan.Garner was on his third deployment and served two tours in Baghdad, prior to his most recent deployment to Afghanistan.

“There is a sense of loss today. We’ve lost a friend, comrade, and brother-in-arms,” said Col. Michael S. Higginbottom, chief of staff and acting commander of the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany. “We are saddened by the loss, but also proud and humbled by the demonstration of this soldier’s commitment to peace, cooperation, and camaraderie as displayed by his selfless service.”The 1-4 Inf. has supported the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since 2004. The unit deploys a company-size element, during each ISAF rotation to Afghanistan. While in the country, the soldiers are attached to the Romanian Land Forces.

Garner initially entered the Army in 2002, after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering.The JMRC plans to host a service for the community, family and friends later this month.Garner is survived by his wife, Nickayla; father, Donnie Ray; mother, Elizabeth; sisters, Rachel and Jo; two nephews, Luke and Ethan; one niece, Liz; and brother-in-law, Matt Slawter.

Local funeral services have not been finalized as of yet.

A soldier called Smiley-Garner was the type of man parents wish for their son to be. Honorable, loving, giving, and happy are but just a few of the words spoken by numerous people who commented on his loss.

“People who knew Mark know what type of person he was,” Beth Garner, Mark’s mother, said. “He was genuine, and he had a big smile. He was always happy and smiling. I remember when he was in boot camp, a picture was taken of the group while they were in their camouflage uniforms that were covered in mud, and it was hard to discern each individual. Each one with the exception of Mark, because right in the middle of the crowd was a big, white smile.”

“Students and coaches during high school called him ‘Smiley,’” Matt Slawter, Garner’s brother-in-law, said.A profound grief was evident in the Garner home in State Road on Thursday evening, after their return from Dover Air Force Base, Del.

But pride about the son and brother was also very evident. Each family member had stories to tell of memories with Garner, and each story told brought a sense of pride and a little laughter to a somber day.“He was kind to everyone regardless of popularity status or socioeconomic levels,” Susan Hayes Lane said in a card she sent to the family.

“He was always honest and sincere, and he had a generous soul.”Garner’s sisters, Rachel and Jo, felt that Lane’s comments were on point with who their brother was.“Mark was the type of brother that didn’t mind if I tagged along when he was with his friends,” Rachel Slawter, Garner’s younger sister, said. “Some brothers don’t want their sisters, especially younger ones, following them around, but Mark welcomed me and Jo.”“I was always kidding him,” older sister Jo said. “I always told him I was the one who made him tough by picking on him.”

“Jo was always tall as a child,” Don Garner, Mark’s father, said. “When Mark was little, all the way through the ninth grade, he would walk around measuring, waiting to be taller than Jo. It was the ninth grade when he achieved it.”

A wonderful brother-“He was a wonderful brother,” Jo said. “I called him ‘little brother’ all our lives. Even when I wrote to him and sent care packages every two weeks, I started my letters out ‘Hey little brother.’ I don’t have hardly any childhood memories that he wasn’t a part of. I grew up with him and his buddies. He was always a part of Rachel and my lives.”Both sisters faces glowed with pride and love as they spoke of their childhood with their brother.“Mark always mediated fights between us sisters,” Rachel said. “He was the peacemaker, but he never fought with us.”

“Mark loved team sports,” Don Garner said. “He loved playing with other team members and doing the best job he knew how. He played soccer when he was little and really wanted to play football, but his mom would say no because she thought he would get hurt. Instead of playing football, she had him take piano lessons. In the fourth grade, he completed his piano lessons with a recital where he was one of three boys with 12 girls. He concentrated so hard on his song that it sounded like ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’ instead of the selection chosen. After he completed the recital, Beth said I’ll have to let him go to football now, and away he went.”

Garner played football, baseball, basketball and soccer all through high school.“In the ninth grade, Mark was on the junior varsity team and all set to play the first game when coach Harry came to find me at school,” Beth Garner said. “He wanted me to give him permission to move Mark to the varsity team. Mark played varsity through all four years of high school.”

“Mark was all-conference his junior and senior year, was Blue Ridge Conference his senior year and named permanent captain of the team in his senior year,” Don Garner said.Garner’s high school class chose him as DAR good citizen and the Elkin school board named him as the good sportsman citizen.

“Football was his favorite sport,” Don Garner said. “Grissom (Garner’s coach) would say, ‘We’re gonna practice ‘til Garner wipes that smile off his face.’”

“There will be a memorial fund set up at Elkin High School for a scholarship,” Beth Garner said. “It was important to Mark to do something for students who may not have had the opportunities he had. This is just the kind of person Mark was.”

Garner seemed to know from an early age that he wanted to serve his country in the military. His mom told of visiting the United States Military Academy at West Point while he was deciding whether or not to make application there.“We visited the campus and on our way back to the car he said, ‘Mom, I really want to come here,’ and until Monday he was so proud to serve his country and help the Afghany people.”

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