|From baker City Herald bakercityherald.com
Soldier with ties to Baker City killed in Iraq
Published: May 13, 2008
By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald
A 24-year-old soldier whose parents live in Baker City died Sunday in Baghdad when her vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
U.S. Army Cpl. Jessica A. Ellis, who was a combat medic, lived in Bend.
Her father, Steve Ellis, has worked as supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which has its headquarters in Baker City, since October 2004.
Jessica's mother, Linda Ellis, works as a nurse practitioner in Baker City.
Steve and Linda Ellis moved to Baker City from Lakeview, where Steve Ellis had managed the BLM's Lakeview District since August 1997.
Jessica visited her parents in Baker City last summer before she returned to Iraq, in October, for her second tour of duty there, said Judy Wing, the Wallowa-Whitman's public affairs officer.
Jessica is the first member of the military with such close family ties to Baker City to die in Iraq since the war started in March 2003.
"The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest employees are deeply saddened by the death of Jessica Ellis," said Betty Mathews, the Wallowa-Whitman's deputy supervisor.
We mourn for Steve and Linda during this time of great sorrow. Steve shared with us many stories of Jessica and we all feel the loss of such a courageous young woman. Our hearts and prayers go to the Ellis family during this difficult time in their life."
Jessica graduated from Lakeview High School in 2002, attended Central Oregon Community College in Bend for two years, then joined the Army in September 2004.
Steve and Linda Ellis have three children, Wing said.
Jessica, the couple's middle child, is survived by a brother, Cameron Ellis, and his wife, Irena, who live in San Francisco; and by a sister, Mandy Ellis of Corvallis, Wing said.
Both of the Ellises' surviving children are with their parents now, Wing said this morning.
A military liaison also is helping the family, Wing said.
No date has been set for Jessica's memorial service.
Jessica was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ken.
During her military career she earned the following awards and decorations: Army Commendation Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Meritorious Unit Citation; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; Combat Medical Badge; and Weapons Qualification, M4, expert.
|From The Oregonian oregonlive.com
CPL Jessica Ellis of Bend, killed in Iraq
Posted by Mike Francis, The Oregonian May 14, 2008 11:19AM
Further update: My colleagues were able to speak to Jessica's family.
RICHARD COCKLE and DAVID AUSTIN
The Oregonian Staff
Three weeks ago Cpl. Jessica A. Ellis escaped with cuts and bruises when her heavily armored vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
"She told me on the phone, this is a very dangerous place to be," her father, Steve Ellis of Baker City, said Tuesday. "She told us on the phone it was heating up again."
Sunday night, two uniformed officers knocked on the front door of Steve and Linda Ellis' rural home to notify them that their 24-year-old daughter did not survive a blast Sunday that once again destroyed her Buffalo armored vehicle.
"In the back of my mind, I always feared this knock on the door. She was so brave, and I was so proud of her," Ellis told The Oregonian. "To go through that three weeks ago and to go back out there, knowing the danger . . ."
Jessica Ellis, an Army medic who graduated from Lakeview High School and attended college in Bend, is the 118th member of the military with strong ties to Oregon and southwest Washington to die in the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kuwait. She is the second woman from Oregon to die in the conflicts and the first soldier from the region to die in the past 31/2 months.
Ellis was seated behind the driver when the device exploded, said her father. She was among five soldiers riding in the vehicle, but the only one killed.
The usual image of a combat medic is an unarmed soldier accompanying troops into battle. But Ellis was equipped with an M-4 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and body armor in addition to her medical bag, her father said. She often went on patrol with combat engineers who cleared away roadside explosives.
Steve Ellis is supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon's largest. Linda Ellis works as a nurse practitioner. They have an older son, Cameron, and a younger daughter, Mandy.
Ellis visited her parents last summer before deploying for her second tour of duty in Iraq in October. Her parents noticed a change, from always happy to serious.
"She seemed detached at times, like she was doing a lot of thinking," he father said. "We were patient with that."
Ellis said his daughter cared about people -- the reason she became a medic. She never discussed politics or her opinions about the war.
"Between tours I broached that, and she said, 'I'm there for my buddies,' " Ellis said. "She put it in the context that if she wasn't there she would be letting her buddies down. It was a fascinating response, but very telling."
Steve Ellis said his daughter had seen buddies die in combat more than once during two tours in Iraq.
"The guys looked out for her and she helped them," he said. "She trained with them in Fort Campbell and she went to war with them, and she died with them."
|From The Bulletin bendbulletin.com
‘She gave the largest sacrifice’
By Jayson Jacoby / WesCom News Service
Published: May 16. 2008 4:00AM PST
BAKER CITY — Steve Ellis remembers a little girl who had curly hair, a sunny disposition and a smile — always that smile.
She was his little girl. His Jessica.
Jessica Ellis, who attended college in Bend for two years and was killed Sunday in Iraq.
He used to hold her steady as she stepped into a wobbly canoe, and they would float together down the placid South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
This was when Steve worked in Washington, D.C., and the whole family would, as he puts it, “escape” on the weekends — Steve and his wife, Linda, and Jessica and her brother Cameron, three years older, and her sister Mandy, two years younger.
They would fish for smallmouth bass, and at night they would paddle to shore and drag the canoe out of the water, and roast marshmallows over a small, bright campfire.
“Jessica loved that,” Steve says.
When he worked in Twin Falls, Idaho, he would sometimes take her to a frozen lake, and they would cut a hole in the ice and hook a few trout.
She loved those days, too.
One summer, Steve was sent to work on a wildfire at Glacier National Park in Montana, and while he was walking through the fire camp, he saw from a distance a face he thought he recognized, and when he got closer, he glimpsed that curly hair, that hair which no one could tame, and he knew it was his Jessica.
“She was all dirty and grungy,” Steve says.
But then, of course, she smiled and she was beautiful, and her dad just relished this happy coincidence that brought them together, the fire boss and his smoke-eating daughter, hundreds of miles from their home in Lakeview.
“We had some quality time together that day,” he says.
A dangerous job
A few years later, Jessica was an Army medic in Baghdad.
She would call her parents, who had moved to a place near Baker City, and always she would ask about the animals, how were the dogs and the cats doing, how were the horses getting along, the horses the family had owned since they lived in Virginia.
“I think that was her umbilical cord to home,” Steve says. “I think it brought her peace knowing everything was OK here.”
Jessica’s parents knew that where their daughter was, everything was most certainly not OK.
Baghdad’s a dangerous place, of course. But Jessica’s job, a medic working with combat engineers from the 101st Airborne Division, is a particularly perilous one.
The engineers, Steve says, search for and defuse the roadside bombs that have killed hundreds of American soldiers since the Iraq war started in March 2003.
“Her job, she told us once, was to stop their bleeding,” Steve says on Wednesday morning. “I just wonder how many of her fellow soldiers she helped, or saved.
“She loved her buddies. She told us that.”
After Steve says this, he gets up from his chair, and he walks across the office to his desk, here on the top floor of the David J. Wheeler Federal Building in Baker City.
He isn’t working, of course. He simply chose this place for an interview.
Steve is supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which has its headquarters in this building. You can see the Elkhorns from up here, and the Wallowas, and a goodly chunk of the 2.3 million acres of public land for which Steve is responsible.
He is right now looking for something quite smaller than that. He finds it and brings it back to the table, setting it next to his mug of tea. It’s a metal ornament, maybe an inch across.
This is the combat medical badge Jessica earned during her first tour in Iraq, a one-year stint that started in the fall of 2005.
“She gave this to me while I was visiting her at Fort Campbell,” Steve says. Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, is the home of the 101st Airborne Division.
During Jessica’s first deployment to Iraq, two times a bomb exploded near the vehicle she was riding in. Both episodes happened in March 2006. Jessica was not hurt in either case. She returned to Fort Campbell in the fall of 2006.
Jessica’s second tour in Iraq started in October 2007. It was supposed to last 15 months.
‘What a brave thing’
About three weeks ago, in late April, Jessica called her parents.
She had gone on a night mission with five other soldiers. They were riding in a Buffalo, a heavily armored vehicle that’s much safer than a Humvee.
A bomb detonated.
Two soldiers inside the Buffalo suffered severe concussions. Jessica sustained cuts and bruises.
Steve, who in telling this story is recounting one of his last conversations with his daughter, pauses.
He closes his eyes and sighs audibly.
“She went right back out there,” Steve says. “What a brave thing.”
He says that last line again, slowly, as if he is tasting the words, and their flavor is soothing.
“She knew the risks, but she felt that if she didn’t go, she was letting her buddies down. She felt a commitment to be there for them, and they for her, I’m sure.”
On Sunday evening, less than a month after that phone call, soldiers came to the Ellis home.
The soldiers told Steve and Linda that another bomb had detonated. They told the couple that their daughter, Jessica Ann Ellis, had died. She was 24 years old.
“Always in the back of my mind I knew the danger she was in,” Steve says. “But nothing can prepare you for that knock on the door.”
About the only thing that seemed to annoy Jessica was her hair. Steve chuckles softly as he remembers that unruly mop of curls.
“It was always out of control — much to her disgust, I guess, but to everyone else’s humor.”
Yet those stubborn locks in no way diminished the pure joy for life that Steve noticed in his daughter even before she took her first toddling steps.
“One of Jessica’s special gifts is her sunny and easygoing disposition,” he said, glancing at a sheet of handwritten notes that he and Linda compiled. “She always saw the bright side of things, was always the cheerful one.”
Although Steve’s career with the BLM and, later, the Forest Service required the family to move more than half a dozen times during Jessica’s childhood, the frequent changes never clouded that bright personality of hers.
“Jessica always adapted immediately and made new friends,” Steve says.
And no matter where the family lived, Jessica had two constant friends: her siblings.
“Jessica absolutely worshipped her brother, and she and Mandy were basically inseparable,” Steve says.
After she graduated from Lakeview High School in 2002, Jessica enrolled at Central Oregon Community College in Bend.
She enlisted in the Army in September 2004.
“I think she was looking for an adventure,” Steve says.
He said Jessica thrived on the rigorous training at medic school.
“We were very proud of her when she graduated from medic training,” Steve says. “It’s what she wanted to do, to help people.
“Unfortunately, that meant going to war.”
Steve and Linda moved to Baker City just 3½ years ago, but as they endure the ultimate tragedy this week, they feel almost as if this has always been their home.
“Linda and I want to thank the community, the Forest Service, Eastern Oregon Medical Associates (where Linda works as a nurse practitioner), the Army, for their outpouring of support,” Steve says. “It’s been a comfort to us.”
The family has received phone calls of condolence from Congressman Greg Walden, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
“The governor called me this morning,” Steve says, just before noon Wednesday. “We had a very nice chat.”
He says Kulongoski, a former Marine, asked how it was that Jessica ended up in the elite 101st, one of the Army’s two airborne divisions (the 82nd is the other).
Steve says he appreciated that question because he and Linda had once asked it themselves.
“We asked Jessica about it, and she told us she had a very high fitness score, the second highest in her company,” Steve says.
But then Jessica had long been an athlete. She competed in cross country, track and swimming. “She really loved to run,” Steve says. “She went out for track, but she especially liked cross country.”
Jessica’s death leaves her parents to ponder all the questions they never got around to asking their daughter.
Jessica’s four-year enlistment with the Army was scheduled to end this September.
“Lin and I wondered if she would re-enlist,” Steve says. “We never asked her that, though. She liked the Army, liked being a medic. I think she felt comfortable. We wondered if she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.”
It would not have mattered, of course, what Jessica did or where she went.
What mattered is that she would always be their daughter, their curly-haired little girl, forever with that smile.
“We supported her decision,” Steve says. “You have to support your kids when you’re a parent.”
And so Steve and Linda supported Jessica when she returned to the streets where the bombs lay in their disguised malevolence, when she insisted on going back before her gashes had healed.
They knew that their daughter could not have done otherwise.
“Once she started something, she always saw it through to the end,” Steve says.
“She gave the largest sacrifice a person could, selflessly, like she did everything else in her life.”
|From the Washington Times washingtontimes.com
Honoring life on Memorial Day
Monday, May 26, 2008
This Memorial Day, like others before it, we will honor the memory of those who have fallen in battle. But I also hope we take time to honor their lives.
Because if Memorial Day is really about anything, it's about life. It's about bravery and camaraderie. It's about courage and calm. It's about laughter and tears and fear and joy, all the things that make us human. To truly observe Memorial Day is to observe the life these heroes lived, and to pledge ourselves to live ours accordingly.
Army Cpl. Jessica Ellis of Lakeview, Ore., was one such hero. She loved life so much, she became an Army medic, deploying to Iraq not once but twice. "I'm there for my buddies," she told her father. And there, this month in Baghdad, while assigned to the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Jessica was killed. A roadside bomb ripped through her vehicle. She was 24 years old.
What people remember most about Jessica is her personality, her spirit. High school principal Bob Nash called her the "most friendly kid you'd ever want to meet." Her track coach said you couldn't help but love her. Steve Ellis, Jessica's dad, told a reporter that she was always the cheerful one. "One of Jessica's special gifts," he said, "is her sunny and easygoing disposition. She always saw the bright side of things." One supposes that this is exactly how she'd liked to be remembered, not for her tragic death but for the way in which she lived -- not for the life she lost, but for the ones she saved. Jessica knew fear and faced it. She knew suffering and eased it. She was truly there for her buddies.
We can be there for her this Memorial Day. We can and should be there for her family and the families of all those who died defending our freedom. It could be as simple as just checking in on them from time to time, making sure they don't need anything. It could mean donating our talents to a veteran's group or charity, or helping out with car pool duties and homework.
We can honor the sacrifice of the fallen by making sure those left behind get the support they need to carry on. I would extend this to our wounded as well, whose lives have likewise been changed forever. Some have injuries we see; others have injuries we can't see and may never know are there.
We must improve our ability to identify and treat the trauma of war, both physical and mental. We must work hard to better understand the great toll taken by combat on those who survive it.
Our system is good at focusing on the disability side of things, the benefits and payments and treatments. That needs to continue, obviously. But we also need to focus on "ability," on what these returning warriors and their families need to do and want to do with the rest of their lives. I'm not sure we've even begun to scratch at that surface yet.
There is, I am convinced, a sea of goodwill out in the country of people and places yearning to help. We need to tap into it. We need to make that connection. We need to come up with new ways and new ideas to make life better for those affected by this war, so that kids can go to school, incomes can be sustained and homes can be both purchased and lived in for a long time.
The truth is, we live in deeds, not days; in actions and thoughts and feelings, not heartbeats. If the untimely battlefield deaths of generations of American heroes have taught us nothing else, it should be this unalterable fact: What you do with your time here on earth is far more important than the time you had to do it.
Those who live most are those who love most, who act the noblest and do their best. Memorial Day gives us another chance to honor those who lived most and acted noblest, just like Jessica Ellis. I hope we take it.
Adm. Mike Mullen is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
|From The Spokesman-Review spokesman.com
Top U.S. military leader wears Idaho soldier’s name
By Kathleen Kreller The Idaho Statesman
BOISE — In an Oct. 2 interview with CBS “Sunday Morning,” Adm. Mike Mullen said he wears a bracelet with Jessica Ellis’ name in memory of all the service members who have died while he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I’ve tried to keep that as close to me every single day, every waking moment,” Mullen told CBS. “It’s a reminder to others but also to myself. … We routinely go by her grave.”
“We were not aware he was wearing that,” said Steve Ellis of Boise, the father of Ellis. “It is quite a tribute to Jessie and who she was.”
In 2008, Steve and Linda Ellis stood at the Arlington National Cemetery grave of their 24-year-old daughter, an Army corporal.
The medic from Idaho died on Mother’s Day that year, killed by explosives on an Iraqi road.
As the family mourned at Ellis’ simple white grave marker, they were joined by Mullen and his wife, Debra.
Mullen had spoken of Ellis’ sacrifice in his Memorial Day message to the nation that year.
Ellis is buried in Section 60 at Arlington, the area reserved for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those buried there represent great sacrifice, Mullen said.
Mullen was appointed in 2007 and finished his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs early this month. During those years, more than 2,000 U.S. service members died in the global war on terror. Mullen is declining all interviews.
Jessica A. Ellis was born in Burley and raised in Idaho, Oregon, Virginia and other states as her dad changed jobs with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. He now serves as Idaho director for the BLM.
“That’s part of having a father that works for the federal government, you get moved around quite a bit,” Steve Ellis said.
Still, Jessica thrived, running cross country and participating in track.
After high school in Lakeview, Ore., Ellis earned an associate of arts degree from community college and went to work as a wildland firefighter. Eventually, she was motivated to join the Army and work as a medic, stationed with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Ky.
She was twice deployed to Iraq — both times as a combat medic with the Army’s Screaming Eagles.
Sgt. Bruce Hillway, one of Ellis’ close friends from Fort Campbell, was present on both deployments, the first time in 2005. Ellis was friends with Hillway’s then-wife.
“We both happened to be in a shopette one day, she saw me and recognized the name on my chest and just walked up an introduced herself and shook my hand,” Hillway said.
Ellis loved spending time with the couple’s young twin girls, he said. She was known in the 101st for her cheerful nature and desire to help her fellow soldiers.
“She was the type of person if she saw somebody who wasn’t smiling, she made them smile,” Hillway said. “She was that bright, friendly personality, and she made it her business to make people happy.”
Hillway would often have Ellis help train other soldiers in first aid. She was competent, funny and well-liked.
Both Ellis and Hillway deployed again in 2008.
After the first deployment, Ellis became more serious and deliberative, Steve Ellis said.
Still, she was determined to help “her boys” in the 101st.
She regularly accompanied road-clearing convoys to offer medical assistance. She witnessed several explosions, her father said.
Known as “Doc Ellis,” she had volunteered that Mother’s Day to replace another medic on a road-clearing convoy.
Such missions take hours and are dangerous because the convoys travel slowly and make easy targets.
“She wanted to look after the soldiers,” Hillway said. “Other soldiers kind of saw her as their goofy little sister.”
Ellis was sitting behind the driver in an armored vehicle when three projectile bombs detonated. She died of wounds suffered in the attack.
Hillway was on an airplane returning from leave when he heard Ellis had been killed. He was one of the soldiers who fired a rifle salute at her Baghdad service; the crowd overflowed the small chapel and its foyer.
Ellis was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
The family held a funeral for Ellis in Oregon and buried her at Arlington, which was her wish, Steve Ellis said. They visit the grave as often as they can — which is how the family met Mullen.
They’ve had occasion to keep in touch with the admiral and his wife. When Mullen visited Boise earlier this year, he met with the Ellis family and other Idaho families who have lost service members.
Though Jessica Ellis lived for just 24 years, she made an impact. She is memorialized in places beyond Mike Mullen’s wrist, including Idaho’s Fallen Soldiers Memorial.
Steve Ellis is grateful for such “honorable places” as Arlington.
“The section 60 families, they understand the journey,” he said. “It’s just difficult; you don’t get over it. It’s a journey.
“It is a club you didn’t want to be in but you can never resign. Behind every headstone out there in Section 60 is a family like ours going through this.”
Every story of another Idahoan killed in action reopens the wound, Ellis said.
Jessica Ellis is one of 59 Idahoans, and one of two Idaho women who have died since Sept. 11, 2001, in the war on terror.
“We never want to forget her and her sacrifices,” Steve Ellis said. “It changes the family forever. We are the price of freedom, are we not?”