FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Family, friends and current and former Virginia National Guard Soldiers gathered to remember two fallen VNG Soldiers Dec. 21, 2019, at the Mason-Ruhren Readiness Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, marking 15 years since their deaths.
Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason and Sgt. David A. Ruhren, both assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, but were deployed with the 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, were killed in the attack in a mess tent Dec. 21, 2004, on Forward Operating Base Marez, in Mosul, Iraq. A total of 22 people were killed in the attack, including 14 U.S. troops. Dozens of others suffered serious injuries, including others deployed with the 276th.
Gathered at the armory named for the two fallen Soldiers, the group paid homage to Mason and Ruhren by sharing stories about the two men during a toast in their honor. Lead by Mason’s mother Christine Mason and Ruhren’s mother Sonja Ruhren, they then proceeded outside to release dozens of red balloons skyward.
Honoring the two men is just as important fifteen years later as it was after their deaths, said Lt. Col. Beau Mason.
“You’ve got to remember what these guys sacrificed,” said Mason, who was deployed with Mason and Ruhren. “They were our brothers, and you never want to forget them.”
The gathering included many former Soldiers from the 276th as well as the 229th. Their continued support of Mason and Ruhren’s families has been essential for the mothers of both men.
“The only reason we are able to do what we do is because of everyone else who comes out and supports us, and the fact that 15 years later, this many people still care, all of the posts on Facebook and emails and texts we get every year… It’s very humbling,” said Christine Mason during the ceremonial toast. “One of the things that gives us the most comfort is knowing the character of the men and women that spent the last year of Nick and Davey’s lives with them. You all have become part of our lives.”
Ruhren’s mother Sonja agreed.
“People always tell us how much strength we have and how they feel for us, but I want people to remember that they were with their brothers when this all happened,” said Ruhren. “So, as much as we gave life to them, you were there with them when we couldn’t be. We can’t even begin to thank you enough for that.”
She also spoke about how angry she was when she was first told about her son’s death, thinking he would soon be forgotten.
“I’ll always remember, I told the chaplain in six months, you won’t even remember his name. I told the chaplain that’s the truth. You won’t remember his name. But he never met the 276th,” said Ruhren. “David Allen and Nicholas will never be forgotten.”
Sgt. Ruhren and Sgt. Mason were both 20 years old when a suicide bomber dressed as an Iraqi soldier walked into a mess tent on FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq and detonated his explosive-laden vest. At a ceremony in 2014, 10 years later, the readiness center in Fredericksburg, Va. was renamed the Mason-Ruhren Readiness Center in honor of their sacrifice.
Mason, a native of King George, is survived by his father Vic Mason, mother Christine and sister Carly Mason. He was a 2002 honor graduate of King George High School where he was a star wrestler, cross-country runner and track athlete. He completed his freshman year at Virginia Tech and was preparing for his sophomore year before being called to active duty.
Ruhren, a native of Stafford, is survived by his mother Sonja. He graduated from Garfield Senior High School in 2002 where he was active in many extracurricular activities including wrestling and football. He was one of the first members of the Garfield Senior High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Program when it was established, and was promoted to the rank of cadet lieutenant by the first semester. While serving in the Guard, he took classes to become an EMT at the Rock Hill Fire Department in Stafford.
Read more about Mason and Ruhren and the readiness center named for them at https://go.usa.gov/xECKc
In addition to honoring Mason and Ruhren, event organizer Tim Curtin also stressed the importance of remembering other Soldiers the 276th has lost.
Sgt. David E. Lambert, 39, of Cedar Bluff, Virginia, died Oct. 26, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command of the Virginia National Guard.
Sgt. Derek R. Banks, 24, of Newport News, Virginia, died Nov. 14, 2007, in San Antonio of wounds suffered Oct. 25 in Baghdad, Iraq, when the vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, Virginia National Guard, West Point, Virginia.
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah E. McNeal, 23, of Norfolk, Virginia, died April 6, 2008, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, Virginia Army National Guard, West Point, Virginia.
1st Lt. Todd W. Weaver, 26, of Hampton, Va., died Sept. 9 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Weaver was enlisted in the 276th prior to earning his commission and going on active duty.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan M. Forde, 26, of Vienna, Va., died on Aug. 13, 2007, while on federal active duty training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, while assigned to the 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion. His unit was preparing for overseas deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom