Today is the funeral of Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, 32, killed April 23 in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, during a mission to secure the crash site of a downed U.S. Army scout helicopter.
I knew Justice, although not well. We worked alongside each other last summer at Camp Shelby, Miss. Each of us was a non-deploying soldier assigned to help the Iowa National Guard mobilize 3,000 troops of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. We were to help get them out the door to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and onward to Afghanistan.
In September or October, we'd each subsequently gone off to different assignments back in Iowa. I eventually retired from uniformed service. Justice somehow managed to volunteer to re-join the Red Bull. He was assigned to Iowa's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.). The unit had been in Afghanistan since November. Justice arrived in February.
I didn't find out that he'd deployed until I heard the news reports of his death.
The press release announcing Justice's death said that everybody called him "Juice," but I didn't know that. I've got another, smaller story to tell: Justice was a hard worker. He'd single-handedly set up training events for deploying soldiers, working late hours into the night, then happily adapt to last-minute changes demanded the next morning by less-dedicated soldiers, civilians, and contractors.
Taking offense on his behalf, a few of us on the team shared a running joke--a word-play on his last name.
"At least," we would say, admiring his cheerful diligence in the face of Army bureaucracy, "we have Justice on our side."