Alaska soldiers make climbing trek to honor 77 members of the 4-25

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Though the approaching Memorial Day will look much different than in years past - between national and local restrictions and health guidelines, most of the usual events that would've otherwise taken place have instead be cancelled - a group of retired and active duty soldiers wanted to make sure that their comrades were still honored for their sacrifices over the last 19 years.

Seventy-seven flags, each representing a 4-25 soldier lost since 2001, wave after being placed atop Gold Star Peak in Eagle River, Alaska.

More than 150 people ascended Gold Star Peak, many of them for the first time, as part of an event honoring those members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, who were lost in combat since September 11, 2001.

"Some of these young paratroopers today carried the picture of their roommate who was killed in action," said Ret. 1st Sgt. Kirk Alkire, who also led the way in naming Gold Star Peak, dedicated to those who have lost loved ones in service to the United States.

"It's powerful stuff," he said. "It's emotional, absolutely. It never gets easier. But we have not forgotten, and we have not forgotten the sacrifices that so many have made for the freedoms we enjoy today."

The hike, meant to be a challenge in itself, is an indicator of the nature of the task that lies at the mountain's summit, where no fewer than 77 members of the 4-25 who have passed serving the United States would be honored.

"Make it to the top," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Castillo, speaking on the mindset during the difficult climb. "That can be related to a whole lot of topics throughout life, but, remain goal-oriented, get to the top, and then just like everything else, we have to take that moment to stop and reflect on what's happened before."

Some, like Castillo, carried heavy rucksacks; many carried photos of those lost; but all carried the weight of being touched by loss, whether directly or indirectly.

[RELATED: Days after return from Afghanistan, 4-25 soldiers summit newly-minted Gold Star Peak]

"My soldier was Sgt. Kennedy," said Sgt. Anthony Maldonado, a Protective Services Detail Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge and paratrooper with the 4-25. "It was nice to be able to carry a ruck for him all the way up. I was able to plant his flag, and it was awesome. It was a remembrance, to say, 'Hey, Brother, Thank you for your sacrifice, and you'll never been forgotten.'"

On this morning, 77 soldiers' legacies lived on, with their photos brought from the base of the mountain, their names spoken aloud, and small flags planted in their honor.

"Years pass, and we don't want these soldiers to be forgotten," said Brigade Chaplain and Maj. John McDougall. "We keep their memories alive by continuing to tell the stories, and continuing to say their names.

"There's power in a name," he said. "When we say their name, they're remembered."

This story originally aired on May 20, 2020.
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