Sgt. Rusty Christian Is Laid To Rest
BY BILL JONES
Former Greeneville resident Rusty Christian, 24, was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Christian, a U.S. Army Special Forces staff sergeant, was killed Jan. 28 by an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Afghanistan.
He was laid to rest in a time-honored military ceremony attended by members of his family and friends.
Sgt. Christian is believed to be the first person with direct ties to Greene County to be killed in action in Afghanistan.
A 2004 graduate of Greeneville High School, Staff Sgt. Christian was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
His brother, Aaron Christian, is a mathematics teacher and assistant football coach at Chuckey-Doak High School.
Sgt. Christian's wife, Amber Christian, and their two young children, Taylor and Gavin, reside near Seattle, Wash.
His mother and stepfather, Donna and Jim Ball, are residents of Kingsport.
His father and stepmother, Mike and Nancy Christian, live in Laurel Bloomery, in Johnson County, Tenn.
FULL MILITARY HONORS
The Secretary of the Army approved a new policy, effective Jan. 1, 2009, that authorizes all soldiers killed in action by the enemy and who are being interred, inurned or memorialized at Arlington National Cemetery the option to receive full military funeral honors.
Those honors can include a horse-drawn caisson, band and a military escort, according to Arlington National Cemetery's Web site.
Christian's funeral included all those elements, family members said.
During a Friday telephone interview, Rusty's father, Mike Christian, recalled his son's military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Donna Ball, Rusty Christian's mother, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Mike Christian said friends and family members gathered at Arlington National Cemetery's administration building at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
There, he said, nine members of his son's extended family received from Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, U.S. Army Special Forces lapel pins that bore a gold star.
Maj. Gen. Repass is commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command.
As the time for the funeral drew nearer, he said, family members and friends lined up for the funeral procession that was led by a military band and included a horse-drawn caisson (a 19th century artillery ammunition wagon) that carried Christian's coffin to the burial site.
To the drum beat of the military band, the friends and family members walked about 400 yards to a point near the burial site where the funeral ceremony was conducted, Mike Christian said.
Near the end of the funeral service, Maj. Gen. Michael Repass presented the U.S. flag that had covered Christian's coffin to his widow, Amber Christian.
The general then presented folded U.S. flags to Donna Ball and Mike Christian. Two other folded flags were presented to Amber Christian for later presentation to Rusty's young son and daughter, according to Mike Christian.
"Being there as a parent having lost a child is difficult, but they make it easy for you to be there to honor your child," Mike Christian said of the ceremony.
"It just makes you proud to be associated with the military and proud of your son. You couldn't ask for those people to treat you any better than they do," he said.
The most difficult part was waiting so long to have the funeral, Mike Christian said, noting that it had been nearly a month since Rusty's death before his funeral was held.
"But by then, you've accepted things and you're more aware of what's going on around you," he said.
THE 'OLD GUARD'
Military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery are conducted by soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army.
"Since World War II, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president.
In that capacity, 3rd Infantry soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation's capital.
In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in parades at Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair.
Despite this schedule, The Old Guard continuously prepares for its security and infantry missions by conducting year-round training, culminating in a rigorous evaluation of unit tactical proficiency.
Because of this, all soldiers are as familiar with traditional infantry or military police duties as they are with ceremonial duties.
Arlington Mansion and 200 acres of ground immediately surrounding it were designated officially as a military cemetery on June 15, 1864, by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, according to the cemetery's Web site.
More than 300,000 are buried at Arlington Cemetery.
Veterans from all the nation's wars are buried in the cemetery, from the American Revolution through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900.