AL ASAD, Iraq -- The “Chieftains” of Marine Air Support Squadron 1 recently dedicated their command post at Camp Fallujah to a fallen brother.
The MASS-1 Marines dedicated CP Bryson to the memory of their fellow Chieftain, Staff Sgt. James Bryson Jr., March 14.
“He sacrificed a lot for his country,” said Lt. Col Ward Quinn, the MASS-1 commanding officer. “The loss of him directly impacted the unit. To have us back here at the same base where he basically spent the last 13 months of his life, we thought we would do a little bit and dedicate the command post to Staff Sergeant Bryson”
Bryson, a Columbia, S.C., native, attended recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in 1997. He was attached to MASS-1 in the spring of 2001, as a radio operator.
The Marines of MASS-1 remember Bryson as a person who had a great sense of humor and who knew how to raise the morale of the people around him.
“He was one of those people who could be at a bus stop and be ‘Hey how’s it going?’,” said Sgt. Abimael Clemente, an aviation systems communications specialist with MASS-1. “He just made your day. That’s what I liked. He was a people person. He was always in a good mood and he spread that around.”
The Marines also remember Bryson as a good leader who knew how to get the job done.
“If something needed to get done, it always got taken care of pretty quickly,” said Cpl. Lionel Fermin, a MASS-1 tactical data systems technician. “He was pretty good on that. He took care of his Marines.”
Bryson deployed with the squadron in January 2005. During that time he was he was instrumental in moving the Direct Air Support Center from Camp Blue Diamond to its present location at Camp Fallujah.
“Nothing probably would have gotten done if Staff Sergeant Bryson, well he was a sergeant at the time, if he wasn’t there,” said Maj. Alfred Sanchez, the MASS-1 operations officer. “He was just the go to guy. If you needed a HESCO barrier filled or if you needed a piece of heavy equipment, not to mention the operational side. He was just a fantastic facilitator.”
Bryson chose to stay with the second rotation of Chieftains to Camp Fallujah. He was promoted to staff sergeant February 2006, just before returning home.
“I remember when he was getting ready to be pinned on (as staff sergeant), we talked a little bit about stepping up, adding that rocker,” said Sanchez. “He was ready for it.”
Bryson was murdered in Havelock, N.C., March 3, 2006, just three weeks after coming home from a 13-month deployment to Iraq.
Bryson’s death devastated the Chieftains.
“Here you have a good Marine that people looked up to, and he was gone,” said Fermin.
The loss affected the Marines of the squadron in various ways. Some lost a good friend. Others, a good leader. Even those who did not know Bryson were affected, according to Clemente.
“It affected everybody else because of the simple fact that it could happen to every single one of us,” said Clemente. “He spent 13 months in a combat zone and didn’t get a scratch on him, and then he goes back to the states and something really bad happens.”
The dedicated command post is not the only way the Chieftains remember Bryson. Every year they run the Chieftain Challenge.
For 24 hours, the Marines of MASS-1 run a three-mile course aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. While the Marines run, they carry batons with the names of fallen Chieftains written on them, according to Sanchez.
Sanchez said as long as the Marines of MASS-1 continue the Chieftain Challenge, they will never forget Marines like Staff Sgt. James Bryson Jr.
He will always be a Chieftain.