BLUFFDALE — A gentle breeze blew on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon as the first overseas casualty for the Utah National Guard since the Berlin crisis in 1962 was laid to rest.
Staff Sgt. Alan Lee Rogers, 49, who was buried with military honors at the Utah Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery, died Sept. 29 in Afghanistan while serving as an ammunitions specialist with the Utah National Guard's 211th Aviation Battalion based in West Jordan. He was a full-time employee of the Guard and was a refueler for the Apache helicopter battalion.
The 211th went to Afghanistan in April to provide helicopters for the 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii.
During the graveside services, Rogers was praised by friends and associates as an honest man who could be counted on and who always stood up for what he believed in. His co-worker and friend, Sgt. 1st Class Travis Heywood, told several stories about working with Rogers, including the time Rogers pulled a "Tom Sawyer" on him and cleverly persuaded him to remove a helicopter tire.
Sgt. William LeJuene, who accompanied Rogers' remains from Afghanistan to the United States, said in the seven years they were friends, their companionship was initially based on sarcasm, coffee and cigarettes but evolved into a teaching friendship, with Rogers showing the younger soldier the meaning of honesty and taking pride in the job.
"He said life is full of mistakes and changes. He was proud of the humble beginnings he and (wife) Patty came from, but his crowning achievement was his grandchildren. He spoke of them often," LeJuene said. "He said to always get to work on time, do your job and don't forget where you came from. I'll miss our morning coffee and smoke sessions."
More than 200 people attended the graveside services during which Gov. Olene Walker spoke briefly, thanking the Rogers family for their service. "I did not know Al, but I want to say 'Thank you' to Al because he represents all the men and women who have stepped forward to serve our country and to defend our freedom.
"Thank you for realizing freedom is so important. Thank you, Patty, and your family. Your contribution to all of us is great. I hope you know that Al is representative of all the great individuals throughout time who were willing to serve. All we can do as citizens is say thank you for your brave sacrifice," Walker said.
Chaplain Capt. Clay Anstead spoke of Afghan elections scheduled for today and said to the Rogers family, "I hope when you look at the news and see the elections that were held in Afghanistan you will hold your heads higher because people who never knew Alan owe him a great debt."