Cpl. Nicholas R. Roush was like a “redhead Viking warrior from the dark ages … who traded in his axe for an M4,” according to his friend and team leader, Master Sgt. Jason Montesanto.
Originally from Middleville, Michigan, Roush decided to enlist in the Army after meeting a special operations Soldier in college. Roush’s first deployment after graduation from the Psychological Operations Qualification Course was to Herat, Afghanistan with Company C, 1st Military Information Support Battalion (Airborne). Company C was embedded with a United States Marine Corps Special Operations Command team. Their mission in August 2009 was to assist in regional stabilization ahead of vital upcoming national elections.
“We were figuring out how the local populations operated, and why and determining how we could affect it,” explained Motesanto. “It was important that the people, particularly in the third largest city, Herat, where we were, saw that these elections were legitimate and turned out to vote. However, we also had a shadow government operating in the area that needed to be sidelined … the shadow government fought back.”
On Aug. 16, 2009 after a successful operation, Montesanto described hearing a loud explosion that was followed by a complex ambush. One of the vehicles had been hit. It was the vehicle Roush was driving. It had been overturned. Roush and the team’s interpreter were killed instantly and four Marines were severely wounded. Montesanto accompanied Roush’s remains on the journey home to his loved ones.
His sacrifice has not been forgotten. Eight years later, on Aug. 16, over 100 psychological operations Soldiers convened at the parking lot on Psyops Lane as the sun began to rise to honor and remember Roush in a way he would truly appreciate.
“It’s just a way for us to stay connected with his memory and it is something that he just really loved when he was alive. By all accounts the people who knew Nick knew he was a physically minded individual,” said Lt. Col. Michael A. Stone, battalion commander, 1st MISB (A). “We built this (hero workout of the day) last year, it is all built on the tenants of his memorial. It’s eight different stations for August, 16 repetitions for the day that he was killed, and 22 minutes for how old he was when he died.”
Some knew and served with Roush and others felt compelled to honor a fallen hero even if they did not know him.
“What’s important is remembering these kids. So, a lot of people that are out here, they didn’t know him and they weren’t here when he was here. It’s important not only for us the older people that did know him, but it’s important for his Family. We get to remember their Family member and we get to introduce a whole new generation of Soldiers to the men who have come before them and given the ultimate sacrifice, it’s really important,” explained Command Sgt. Major Jody Hall, 8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne).
Robert and Donna Roush, Roush’s parents, smiled through tears while sharing stories of their son.
“We did a lot of laughing together … his thing was to say ‘Dad you are cracking yourself up,’ and he was mocking me. Then he would start laughing, and I would start laughing, and she (Donna) would start laughing, and we’d be crying. We would be sitting at the kitchen table crying together because we would be laughing so much,” said Robert.
He expressed his gratitude that eight years after his death his son was being honored and remembered.
“It’s probably a Gold Star parents biggest fear that that sacrifice is forgotten. That your child is forgotten and you know it’s just amazing,” he said.
In addition to the events of Aug. 16, Roush’s parents completed a tandem jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights, Aug. 17.
Donna was looking forward to the upcoming jump.
“We are very excited … our other kids are like ‘who are you? Our parents have become dare devils,’” she laughed.
Later that afternoon, the 8th MISG (A) and the 1st MISB (A) hosted a memorial classroom dedication in Roush’s name. The room was full and attendees lined the walls when no more seats were available.
Stone, Montesanto and Robert all spoke at length about Roush.
When Montesanto initially stood to make his remarks, he was unable to speak, overcome with emotion. Robert rose from his seat and embraced the man he earlier described as his adopted son.
Montesanto closed his remarks with quote from Abraham Lincoln.
“It’s not a perfect fit as Lincoln was dedicating an entire battlefield but nonetheless when I hear these words I think of Nick,” he explained.
“… We can never forget what they did. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work for which they fought … from these honored dead we take increased devotion… these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and this nation of the people for the people shall not perish from this earth,” quoted Montesanto.
Robert shared anecdotes about his son’s preparations to become a Soldier both physically and spiritually.
He would undertake ruck marches along the trails around his home with his high school backpack filled with barbells, which left his back bruised, Robert explained. He also reached out to his grandfather, a pastor, to be baptized before he left for training.
Robert described how his son influenced those around him. Roush personally restored a 1995 Eagle Talon, which he named “Monica.”
Once restored, Roush showed the car, and Robert explained that with his sparkling personality and charisma, his son won the respect of those he encountered on the car show circuit, from influential event promoters to fellow car enthusiasts, who were initially skeptical about Roush and his vibrant orange sports car.
The ceremony culminated with the presentation of a commemorative plaque to be hung outside the classroom and a fallen rose presentation. Twelve roses were presented to Roush’s mother, Donna.
As attendees left, many lined the room waiting to pay their respects to Roush’s Family. They shared tears, embraces and stories of their time with Roush with his Family and talked about the ways in which he forever impacted their lives.