Mountain Home veterans were honored this past Saturday at Veterans Plaza 2000 as members of the community came together for formal ceremonies with guest speaker Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4) (Retired) Jason Nazarenko.
Nazarenko retired in October 2019 after 23 years of service in the U.S. Army. The last 10 years of his career were spent flying Black Hawk helicopters with the army’s elite special operations aviation unit known as the Night Stalkers.
Curiously centered in front of the stage at Veterans Plaza sat a family that traveled from Little Rock to be with the Mountain Home community.
This family represented the legacy of CWO3 Donovan Lee Briley who was killed in action in Mogadishu, Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993. Briley was the co-pilot of Super-Six-One which was the first Black Hawk helicopter shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Briley and pilot CWO3 Cliff Wolcott were killed on impact. The crew members survived the crash.
The Academy Award-winning film Black Hawk Down depicts the story of this tragic 18-hour battle where 17 other elite soldiers were also killed in action. The Battle of Mogadishu was fought on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993. A total of 73 U.S. soldiers were wounded in action.
Donovan Briley left behind his wife Sharri Briley and daughter Jordan. Donovan and Sharri were married just two months shy of 10 years. Jordan was only five years old at the time of Donovan’s death.
Sharri, Jordan and Jordan’s husband Jacob as well as their three children were those sitting center stage being honored in Mountain Home this past Saturday.
Sharri says that supporting and serving others, especially families of the fallen, has given her a purpose. Having faith through tragedy has inspired her servant’s heart which empowers her to serve one another humbly in love.
As a spokesperson for Gold Star Families of Arkansas, Sharri has worked closely with the Marine Corps League and the committee members of the Hershel “Woody” Williams Gold Star Families Memorial Monument project. Arkansas was the first state to commit to building a monument on the state capitol grounds. The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was dedicated on Gold Star Family Day in September 2019.
A Gold Star Family is the immediate family member of a fallen service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.
In her own words, Sharri said, “Donovan was a warrior and lived life to the fullest. It is sometimes very difficult to express how I feel about losing Donovan, but I do know that there are two moments that I will never forget: the moment I met Donovan, and what became our last ‘take it easy.’”
Last month marked the 30th anniversary when the U.S. lost those 18 souls in Mogadishu.
“Thirty years ago, I was a senior in high school down the road in Cotter,” Nazarenko said. “I was horrified by what I saw on TV with the images that are still burned into my memory. I had no idea back then that just 20 years later, I would serve in the very unit, that Donovan Briley and Cliff Walcott had served and given their lives. And then 30 years later for us to be back here in Mountain Home and with Donovan’s family on this Veterans Day, is a true honor for us all.”
Continuing with the ‘service above self’ theme, Nazarenko highlighted Veterans and their impacts on the U.S. economy, saying that the SBA noted that veterans were 45% more likely than their civilian counterparts to start their own successful businesses.
There are nearly two million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S. today which employ over five million Americans.
“Many veterans, find volunteerism to be their avenue to serve people. Like my friend Dan Hall can be seen volunteering with many of the veterans’ organizations, regularly, advocating and providing resources to help stop veteran suicide among many other much-needed causes,” said Nazarenko.
Nazarenko also honored several veterans of the Korean War who were present in the crowd and presented them with a coin from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, of which Donovan Briley and Nazarenko were members.
On the back of the coin, the last sentence is the Night Stalker creed which Nazarenko used in closing.
“I serve with the memory of pride of those that have gone before me, for they love to fight. Fought to win and would rather die than quit. Night Stalkers don’t quit.”
Dr. George Wolford was the Master of Ceremonies and offered words of appreciation.
“Veterans appreciate those of you that come out and just stand there and be with us, you know, to commemorate some of the things that we’ve been through, some of the places we’ve been,” said Wolford.
Some elected officials attended the event such as State Representative Jack Fortner, State Representative Stetson Painter, Baxter County Judge Kevin Litty, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery, several Baxter County Justices of the Peace, at least one Mountain Home School Board member, and others.
Police Chief Eddie Griffin, Former State Representative Nelda Speaks and Former Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass also attended. KTLO broadcasted the event and provided audio services.
After the ceremonies, veterans and their families headed to the Elks Lodge and other businesses that were offering free luncheons and plates for veterans.