SF soldier remembered
Editor's note: The special forces operators who spoke at the memorial ceremony are not identified at their request for security reasons.
He sought responsibility and volunteered for tough assignments so that others wouldn't have to go. That was the consensus among eulogies by eight Soldiers, most of them special forces teammates of Sgt. Andrew J. Creighton, 23, who with family, friends and fellow warriors, filled the Joint Base Lewis-McChord North Chapel July 13 to mourn his passing.
He died July 1, apparently drowned while crossing a river returning from a patrol in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan. A signals intelligence specialist, Creighton reportedly carried 40 extra pounds of communications equipment. His body was recovered three days later on Independence Day. "A.J. was the warrior who stood tall and said, ‘Send me, I will go. I will fight for those who cannot and defend those who seek our protection,'" said Col. Brian Vines, deputy commander of 1st Special Forces Group, "‘and I ask nothing for myself in return except to serve.'"
A former team sergeant said Creighton had volunteered for duty in Afghanistan when another Soldier broke his arm and couldn't go. It was not his first short, selfless turnaround back to combat. Creighton had previously gone to the Philippines in January 2009, only five months after his return from Iraq, again volunteering in the place of another.
"He was always on the front lines no matter how difficult or dangerous the mission because he knew that was where he was most beneficial to his teammates," said his detachment sergeant. "He led a team in (an area) that was constantly under fire."
To a friend's concerned wife, Creighton had guaranteed that he would ensure her husband returned safely from Afghanistan. He made good on his promise on his final operation.
"On this last mission, I was pinned down in a cornfield in a close ambush behind a tree maybe 8 to 10 inches wide," said the Soldier. "Rounds were snapping and popping around my head. I couldn't move or return fire. A.J. stood up and laid down covering fire on the enemy long enough for me to sprint for better cover. This caused them to orient fire onto his position, but he called out to make sure I was OK, even as the rounds were impacting the berm he was hiding behind. He was more worried that I was out of the line of fire than he was his own safety. It wasn't the first time he had done that for me."
For his professionalism and selfless attitude, Creighton's battalion commander said he had earned the deep respect of his fellow warriors, resulting in a by-name request for him to support Special Operations Team-Alpha 1302. It was an honor bestowed on few - to serve with the close-knit band of SF brothers and become part of the team.
"He was a SOT-A Soldier doing exactly what SOT-A's do," his commander said, "fighting alongside his special forces teammates in the most difficult, dangerous places while carrying heavy loads of technical gear that saves lives of our forces and takes the lives of our enemies."
One fellow NCO took comfort that he had died among fellow warriors, doing what he loved. His brother said he decided to join the Army while he was still in high school. It was no surprise to him that the charismatic Creighton had made an impact on so many, just as he had profoundly influenced his younger brother.
It was a difficult day for friends and family alike.
"Our 1st Special Forces Group family grieves and mourns the loss," Vines said. "Sergeant Creighton will always be remembered as an American Soldier, as a Special Forces enabler, as a signals intelligence professional, a teammate of the men of (Special Operations Team-A) 1302, a combat-proven warrior, a husband, a son, a brother and a friend."
Creighton posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal. His awards and decorations include two Army Commendation Medals, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge and Combat Action Badge.