The Hawthorne Army Depot community, along with members of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, took a ceremonial step in the healing process on Wednesday to bless seven Marines who were killed in March in a live-fire training exercise at the sprawling military installation 70 miles south of Fallon.
Tribal Chairman Lorren Sammaripa led attendees in song and prayer to honor the men and women serving their country.
“This blessing is for those in our military wherever they are serving …. and a blessing we ask for to help heal not only our servicemen but for those that went on, and we pray for the victims,” said Sammaripa, who wore his ceremonial headdress.
The tribal chairman said the blessing gives strength for people to move forward from the March 18 incident and to face the burdens and hurdles as one people in the healing process. The Walker River Paiute Tribe, which has a long history with the Hawthorne Army Depot, said the relationship is solid, and that the ceremony is showing the bonds of government to government relationship.
“Through our lifetime, we help other people through our people,” Sammaripa said, adding no matter the color of a person, “we are one.”
Although he never served in the military, Sammaripa said he had four siblings in the service, three brothers who joined the Army and one sister who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Priscilla Carrera, Walker River’s tribal administrator, talked of the pride the communities of Schurz and Hawthorne have with the depot to which she called a “military and patriotic home since 1930.” During World War II she said more than 5,500 employees, including Native Americans, worked at the depot.
Her remarks then moved to the present.
“We bless and honor the Marine troops from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejune (1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Regiment Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force) and the seven who were killed last month,” Carrera said. “We bless all who are here and those who aren’t here today.”
Those killed last month were Private First Class Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.; Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.; and Corporal Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill. Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman were injured.
Carrera said she was humbled to stand before a group of about 50 people honoring those who served or have served in the armed forces. She offered prayers and condolences to the families either for their losses or for the Marines and sailor recovering from their injuries. She then blessed the ground with pinenuts, juniper seeds and beads.
“We give our thanks to let the base go in a good way,” Carrera said, explaining the purpose of the ground blessing.
With Nathan Whistler playing drum and singing, attendees joined hands to form a circle dance that symbolizes the beginning and ending of life with events occurring in between. She said the circle’s direction was reversed to end the sorrow and to move ahead.
“It felt so touching and sacred to be there and share what we do,” she said.
Russ Collier, the depot’s safety and operations manager, works closely with the Walker River tribal administration and was touched by the ceremony.
“It’s key in the healing process for everyone’s heart to heal,” he said. “The tribe has a way of getting everyone to come together and heal.”
Collier, who has worked at the depot for 2 ½ years, said the Hawthorne community has a long history of taking care of each other as does the tribe.
“It was awesome to have the tribe to come and show their respect,” he said.
Lt. Col. Craig Short, commanding officer of the depot, added the gesture from the Walker River tribe was a nice tribute to the Marines and to all those who serve in the military.
“This is all part of the healing process,” he said.
In one of the first interviews with the media after the March incident, Short said he is proud of the depot’s contractors and government employees and the communities reaction to help after the live-fire incident.
“Our sympathies go out to all those who were injured and to the families of the fallen,” Short said.
According to Short, several investigations are ongoing by both the Marine Corps and Army. He said results from both military services will not be available until the Marine Corps finishes its investigation. Short said the Marine investigation is assessing the entire incident to include the technical aspects and equipment. He said any incident of this nature, which would occur in the Unites States or overseas, is standard. Short also said the March training exercise was set up and monitored by the Marines.
”This incident could have happened anywhere in the world,” Short pointed out. “It wasn’t peculiar to Hawthorne, it just happened in Hawthorne.”
Short said the internal investigation conducted by the Army looks at risk assessment, polices and procedures. Until the military releases the results, Short said the Joint Munitions Command has temporarily suspended training at Hawthorne, which is one of 14 ammunition depots in the United States.