And that’s how Sgt. Shawn Farrell became a member of Staff Sgt. Mike Mazinga’s combat assault platoon.
The hundreds of friends and family who gathered Saturday morning, March 7 at the ceremony to name Army Reserve Center on Kings Highway in his honor nodded and smiled knowingly in the memory of a 24-year-old soldier who lost his life in combat in Afghanistan last April.
“You didn’t argue with Sgt. Brown,” medically retired Sgt. Mazinga told a standing room only crowd at newly named Farrell Center, referring to an incident in Afghanistan some two years ago. “So I took him. That kid never stopped smiling. He laughed in the middle of a firefight. He smiled when he was punished. I thought at first he was just Forrest Gumpin’ me.”
But Mazinga said Farrell was a soldier’s soldier. “He was the epitome of the infantryman’s creed, a soldier. He represented the supreme values of courage and selflessness,” Mazinga said. “He was always there for his buddies. Usually he was the first one to greet a new member of the platoon, always with that big smile. His enthusiasm was infectious. I think morale went up ten times more after he joined us.”
Sean’s mother remembered her son the same way. “You knew when he was in the room,” she said. “He was loud and present, the welcome guy.”
Farrell was born in Kingston but grew up in Accord. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Rondout Valley High School in 2006. He joined the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in 2010 and served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was decorated numerous times. Farrell held the combat infantryman’s badge, the air assault badge and the expert infantryman’s badge. His wife and mother wear his dog tags and his purple heart. He is buried in Krumville Cemetery.
Mazinga, 41, was a 13-year army careerman when he was severely wounded in Afghanistan and forced to retire. He was not with Farrell’s outfit when the young sergeant was killed.
Mazinga reflected on the cost of war, and peace, following his brief remarks.
Asked how he felt about war, given his experience, Mazinga said, “You have an army to keep the peace and sometimes that army has to go to war to protect that peace. It doesn’t matter how I feel. I don’t have the power to change it. It’s about the guys I served with. Politicians will do what they do, but we should hold them accountable. Was it worth it? Were the lives we sacrificed worth it? I think it was worth it. Those people were free, even for a short time. I hope they understand what we gave for that.”
“Sgt. Farrell’s was a hero’s journey from ordinary citizen to extraordinary soldier,” said Maj. Gen. Margaret Boor, commander of the New Jersey-based 99th Regional Support Command under which the 854th Engineer Battalion serves. “This building honors (Sgt. Farrell’s) sacrifice. The price he paid cannot be matched, the debt can never be fully repaid.”
Rep. Chris Gibson, a retired army officer, was represented by staff member Kathy Fallon, a former member of the 854th. Sen. George Amedore was represented by district coordinator Heidi Haynes; like Fallon, a friend of the Farrell family. Fallon said Gibson was unable to attend due to a family funeral.
The West Point band provided music. About 50 members of various veterans organizations were in attendance along with town of Saugerties and county officials.
The 41,000-square-foot Sergeant Shawn M. Farrell II U.S. Army Reserve Center, the headquarters for about 175 Guards members, was opened in mid-2012 at a cost of some $12 million. It replaced the Sgt. Robert Dietz reserve center in Kingston, named after a World War II Medal of Honor winner. The Dietz center on Flatbush Ave. remains vacant.