Saturday, May 21, 2022

A dedication to service ended too soon

Tom Ragsdale (left) helped Ron and Margaret Weber of Bartonville honor the memory of their son. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

You may have noticed a flagpole on a hill across from the FM 407/Lantana Trail intersection. This new landmark holds a special meaning for a Bartonville family.

This coming March 15 will be the first anniversary of the death of Bartonville’s Capt. Mark K. Weber, a Combat Rescue Officer (CRO), who was killed in Anbar Province, Iraq– near the border of Syria– while augmenting the 308th Rescue Squadron (RQS) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. His Pave Hawk helicopter went down with six other, equally heroic, servicemen; all seven on board were killed.

Their moonless night-mission involved two U.S. Air Force Pararescue helicopters on their way to rescue other U.S. Military Special Operation Force (SOF) Units under assault. The pilot of Weber’s helicopter saw the overhead power line in time to alert the second aircraft, but too late to avoid it for his own.

The members of the U.S. Air Force Pararescue unit are among the most elite– and most decorated– of any Special Forces group in the world. The training they go through is referred to as “Superman School,” because that’s what they produce. The leader of these teams are CROs.

“When I was five years old, I wanted to grow up to be a hero,” said Weber family friend Tom Ragsdale of Bartonville. “We dreamt of braving the harshest and most dangerous conditions to save those in danger. We dreamt of traveling to remote parts of the world, jumping out of helicopters and diving under the sea– and literally walking through fire to save others.”

The Pararescuemen– also known as Guardian Angel Airmen– are the only SOF units with medical training and are exclusively dedicated to the rescue and aid of other personnel.  The sustained will, discipline, training, mental and physical toughness required to become a rescue officer is unparalleled.

They are regarded as the first responders for all the other SOF personnel, including: U.S. Navy Seals and Seal Team 6; U.S. Army Delta Force, 75th Ranger Regiment and Intelligence Support Activity; and, U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, MARSOC, ANGLICO and Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, as well as any member of any branch of military service.

In fact, their motto is, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.”

Their mission is to preserve the lives of others, while putting their own at great risk. Regardless of enemy threat or environmental conditions, these elite warriors stand ready to find isolated and injured people, render expert medical care and return them safely.

Weber was a highly-recruited high school football player at Guyer High School and chose to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy to serve, graduating in 2011 as a contracting officer, but felt a strong calling to do more.

As a CRO, Weber was trained to direct combatant command and control of combat search and rescue operations; and, to plan, manage and execute such tasks. Weber was hand-selected to fulfill these duties, while augmenting the 308th RQS.

Air Force Capt. Mark Weber

The middle of five children — and only son– Weber came from a family with a long history of military service. His father, Ron, had attended the Air Force Academy and was an Air Force pilot; plus, of his four sisters, including Kristin and Lori, two of his sisters are current service members– Leah in the U.S. Air Force and Kathryn in the U.S. Coast Guard. His mother, Margaret, has served others in her career as a nurse.

“I was stunned, literally frozen, when I heard the news,” said Ragsdale, remembering the day he learned of Weber’s death. “Over the years, I was impressed with Mark in so many ways. He always stood tall, was very intelligent and extremely athletic. In addition to all his physical attributes, it was his inherent goodness and Godliness that struck me. He was always seeking to do the right thing; and I mean always.”

More than 1,000 Airmen, family and friends gathered to say their final goodbyes and honor the life of Weber during a memorial service on March 21, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

“It’s apparent to everyone that you cannot replace someone of the caliber of Mark Weber,” said Maj. Jason Egger, 38th RQS commander. “Instead, it is now left to us to carry his memory forward and pay tribute to him and live up to his truly exceptional example. Mark has become part of the storied legacy of combat rescue officers and Pararescuemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is now up to us, who continue to wear the beret, to honor that sacrifice and to understand that our words and our actions carry the full weight of our fallen comrades.”

Senior Airman Daniel, a 38th RQS Pararescueman, who worked closely with Weber, added: “In the pool, he would help the last team member across before surfacing for his own breath. On a ruck, I watched him carry a teammate whose body had quit. When the team screwed up, it was Capt. Weber who shouldered the responsibility. I never saw him tired and I never saw him afraid – not because he didn’t feel pain or experience fear, but he placed his duty before his own personal desires and comforts.”

When Ragsdale first drove past the Weber’s home, a small number of American flags had been placed on the front lawn.

“It just seemed so meager and so inadequate an honor for Mark and his service,” said Ragsdale, who sent out a call for support to honor Weber. “Frenchy (André J. Rheault) of Frenchy’s Lawn Service in Denton supplied and planted many more flags, plus wounded Rescueman Johnny Yellock covered the Weber’s hillside with flags.

Locally, a memorial service was held for Weber on March 29, 2018 at Village Church. American flags lined the route from the Weber’s home to the church.

Finally, friends, family and fellow Guardian Angels gathered on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, to pay their final respects and honor the life of Weber as he was laid to rest on July 9, 2018– 22-days before what would’ve been his 30th-birthday.

Weber’s entire squadron flew to Washington, D.C., for the service and participated, as well as many from other units and branches of military.

In remembrance, a physical tribute to honor Weber is under construction on the Weber’s property on FM 407, opposite the main entrance to Lantana. It has 90-degree angles like those on a military base.

A memorial fund to support the construction of the military tribute to Weber was created by Ragsdale:

“Mark’s mom had said she’d wanted a flag pole for a long time,” said Ragsdale. “Jeff Stevens of Double Oak Concrete, Tracy Long of Long’s Fencing and Aaron Goldstein of Gold Landscaping have donated materials and their services. Now, we’re finishing the solar lighting and will have a stone information plaque.”

In part, a written statement by the Weber family included: “On 15 March 2018, seven elite warriors took flight on Jolly 51, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. On this night, tragedy claimed their lives.

“Each day of their lives, whether at peace or at war, these seven warriors practiced and applied the craft of rescue. Together they are credited with saving hundreds of lives. Although their lives ended unexpectedly, their unyielding commitment and selfless sacrifice lives on in those they saved … and with those they loved.

“The entire Weber family is grateful to Tom Ragsdale for spearheading this project and to our friends and family along with all those who donated both labor and materials for building this memorial on the property where Mark spent so much of his youth playing. Hopefully, this flag will remind us that freedom isn’t free.”

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

Related Articles

Popular This Week