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Sgt. Kelly Cast, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, waits inside Soldiers Memorial Chapel, holding an M16 rifle used in a memorial display for a fallen soldier after the service for Capt. Joshua Byers.

Army captain led by example

Joshua Byers served as inspiration in Iraq

By Dick Foster, Rocky Mountain News
July 31, 2003

COLORADO SPRINGS - Capt. Jesse Sellars stood outside Soldiers Memorial Chapel at Fort Carson on Wednesday and was asked what kind of a person Capt. Joshua Byers was.

He gave this example:

A group of Iraqi children gathering firewood had wandered into a field that was scattered with mines and other unexploded munitions.

Byers saw what was happening.

"He tiptoed around a lot of scattered mines and explosives to save the lives of these children that were trying to gather firewood," said Sellars.

A few weeks later, on July 23, Byers was killed.

The 29-year-old commanding officer of Fox Troop in Fort Carson's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was riding in a convoy west of Baghdad when attackers hiding beside the road detonated a bomb as his vehicle passed.

Sellars joined 700 soldiers, family members and friends who filled the chapel to overflowing Wednesday, to remember the man they called "Sweet Tea."

He was the 13th Fort Carson soldier to die in Iraq, and the 11th from his regiment, since the troops deployed in April.

From commanding officers to enlisted soldiers, they lined up in tribute to the young man with enormous talents, ranging from imitating South Park characters to developing the squadron's most sophisticated engagement tactics in Iraq.

"He always had a smile and he could keep people laughing. He charmed everyone. He just had a love for life all the way around," said Sellars, who called himself Byers' best friend.

Byers found a way to hook up satellite television in his troop's bombed-out barracks.

On July Fourth, he bought some chickens to have chicken races and built a mudslide for his troops.

"When you see your boss doing that, if you're a soldier, it has an effect. That's leadership," said Lt. Col. Toby Green, who was Byers' first commander in Iraq.

The West Point graduate was the consummate soldier. Before leaving for Iraq, he was assigned to develop and conduct his squadron's training for urban conflict in Baghdad, including search tactics and entering and securing buildings.

"The training that he organized and directed enabled us to do so many dangerous missions without the loss of a single innocent life," said Green.

Byers was assigned to prepare the squadron's mission plans in Iraq, a job usually done by a major.

"Josh continually performed above his rank and experience level. I doubt that you would find a soldier that served with him that didn't believe wholeheartedly that he would become a general officer," said Sellars.

"He was the finest among all of us, which makes it particularly hard to deal with among the men over there," he said.

Byers "led from the front," said Green.

He saved lives, not only of the Iraqi children, but of his own soldiers, before his own ended suddenly.

When attackers set off a barrage of explosives at their base, Byers led soldiers to safety. He saved another captain by throwing him behind a wall as shrapnel rained down on the camp, Sellars said.

The son of a Baptist minister, Byers' faith was at his core, guiding his life, friends said Wednesday. His mother and father are both missionaries who work in Guam, and his brothers have a Christian rock band in Nashville, Tenn. His wife, Kim, lives in Fountain.

"He was probably the moral compass for our unit. Because of his example, his words carried weight," said Green.

Born in South Carolina, Byers was what Sellars described as a true Southern gentleman. Others in the office once overheard him ordering flowers for his wife, and teased him with the nickname, "Sweet Tea," he said.

The name stuck, said Sellars, because, for his soldiers, it said everything.

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