Neb. senator honors Josh Ford

Posted at 11:42 AM, Jan 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-29 12:42:37-05

Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer delivered a Senate floor speech in honor of Sgt. Josh Ford of Pender, Nebraska, beginning a series meant to honor fallen Nebraska soldiers.

Below is the full transcript of the speech as prepared for delivery: (Click here to watch the full speech)

Mr. President, I rise today to pay tribute to the brave men and women of Nebraska who have served and are serving in the United States military.

Our state has a rich and powerful history of answering the call to serve.

For nearly 150 years, we have witnessed this bravery in each of America’s wars.

Over the past decade, the men and women of Nebraska have risen to defend our precious freedom against Islamic terrorists, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

These events changed the lives of Nebraskans and our nation forever.

Nebraskans stepped up, ready to fight.

Those serving in uniform, be it active duty, the National Guard, or reserves, knew they would likely wind up on the battlefield at some point in the future.

Many young Nebraskans enlisted after high school.

ROTC units in Nebraska had no problem filling their ranks and applications for military academy nominations poured in at record numbers.

We should all be so thankful to this generation for answering the call and standing up to defend freedom across the globe.

Today, I begin a new initiative to honor this generation of Nebraska’s heroes here on the Senate floor, and I will focus on those who lost their lives in combat.

All of our fallen Nebraskans have a special story.

According to the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 77 Nebraskans who lost their lives to combat-related incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Throughout this year and beyond, I intend to devote time here on the Senate floor to remember each of these heroes.

Telling their stories keeps their service and sacrifice alive in our hearts, while reminding us of the principles they fought and died for.

Time after time, Nebraska’s Gold Star families tell me the same thing.

They hope and pray that the supreme sacrifices of their loved ones will always be remembered.

It is my hope that these presentations will allow us to pause and reflect on these brave Nebraskans.

The freedoms they secured are personified by the courage they embodied.

Today, I would like to begin with Specialist Josh Ford of Pender, Nebraska.

Joshua A. Ford was killed in Iraq on July 31, 2006.

His parents, relatives, and high school classmates look back lovingly on the boy who quickly grew to be a courageous soldier.

As a young teenager, Josh was described as a “couch potato” who liked video games, painting, and watching horror movies.

But deep inside, there grew a strong desire to serve his country in military uniform.

He joined the Nebraska Army National Guard between his junior and senior year at Pender High School in 2003. That same year, he began basic training at Fort Jackson.

He was just 17 years old, and it was a tough transition.

His dad, Lonnie, remembers Josh talking about being placed in “fat man’s camp” at Fort Jackson.

Josh was overweight by 35 pounds at the time.

Lonnie and his wife, Linda, along with classmates and friends, noticed how dramatically Josh had changed when he returned from basic training.

A year later, after graduating from Pender High School, Josh attended the Army’s heavy-vehicle driver school at Fort Leonard Wood.

He was assigned to the 189th Transportation Company, Detachment #1, in Wayne, Nebraska.

A senior sergeant remembers that Josh “grew up from a kid to [a] soldier, almost overnight.”

The 189th had just been recognized as unit in April of 2003.

Two years later, the 189th received orders to deploy to Iraq.

Following training at Fort Riley, the unit arrived in Tallil, Iraq, in October of 2005.

For the next year, they traveled over 2.5 million miles throughout the country.

Specialist Ford became known as an energetic and reliable battle buddy, eager to tackle extra missions.

Josh came home on leave in April of 2006.

He had a number of things on his mind.

At the top of his list was his girlfriend, Michelle, whom he proposed to that spring.

She happily accepted.

He also kept things in order, leaving behind an audio will for his friends.

According to Josh’s father, Lonnie, “he just wanted everyone to celebrate his life after he was gone.”

Josh returned to Iraq with just six months to go in the deployment.

In the early evening of July 31, 2006, near An Numaniyah, Iraq, the heat was unbearable, but typical for a summer day in Iraq.

Specialist Ford and his battle buddy, Specialist Ben Marksmeier, were part of a 189th convoy that was driving through an area they had patrolled many times.

Out of nowhere, an IED blast obliterated their vehicle.

Unit members reached their truck immediately.

Specialist Marksmeier was seriously injured, but Specialist Ford died at the scene.

Lonnie, Josh’s dad, will never forget the day he heard the knock at the door.

Three members of the Nebraska Army National Guard had arrived at his home in Pender, and he knew before he opened the door why they had come.

The next day, Lonnie and his wife, Linda, traveled over 250 miles to tell Josh’s grandmother and three sisters of his death.

One can only imagine the pain, sorrow, and agony they felt every step of the way.

Specialist Josh Ford was buried in Pender Nebraska on August 10, 2006.

Pictures show the road from the church to the cemetery lined with people as the Patriot Guard veteran motorcycle group escorted Josh to his final resting place.

For his service to his country, Specialist Josh Ford earned the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Action Badge.

He was promoted posthumously to the rank of sergeant.

His father, Lonnie, later retired from teaching and joined the Patriot Guard.

Today, Lonnie ensures those who served and died are never forgotten.

He attends funerals and events with his fellow Patriot Guard riders across Nebraska.

Josh’s photo and service information are proudly displayed on his rider’s vest.

He recalls Josh saying to him, when home on leave the April before his death:

“Old man, I now understand why you were so tough on me while I was growing up. You only wanted me to become the best person I could possibly be.”

During his limited time on earth, Josh did just that.

Our nation, and all Nebraskans, are forever indebted to his service and sacrifice.

Sergeant Josh Ford is a hero, and I’m honored to tell his story, lest we forget his life and the freedom he fought to defend.

Thank you M. President. I yield.