116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As America commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the question remains: How will the lives sacrificed during the long war that ensued be remembered?
Amid 2,443 U.S. military members who died in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, the memory of National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Terryl Pasker has continued to stand tall in Cedar Rapids since he was killed in July 2011.
“Every man and woman sent did what they were asked to do. We can’t let that be degraded by leaving Afghanistan. He did his job to the best of his ability. That’s what we have to hang on to.”
Just eight days before the end of his last deployment, Pasker was killed while going through a routine security checkpoint in Panjshir Province. He was 39.
“He inspired people without really realizing it,” said Mary Pasker, his mother. “He just did it because that was Terry.”
In 2016, the U.S. Post Office at 615 Sixth Ave. SE was renamed in his honor by an act of Congress sponsored by former U.S. Rep. Rod Blum. Pasker was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.
Calling Pasker a “hometown hero,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said his sacrifice reflects the “uncommon courage” of service members.
“Several years ago, I was honored to help dedicate the naming of the post office in Sgt. Pasker's honor. I encourage Iowans who enter the building on Sixth Avenue to observe a moment of silence and give thanks for all those who answer the call to serve, especially those who have given their last full measure of devotion to keep us safe,” Grassley told The Gazette. “Sgt. Pasker did just that. His legacy reminds us to pull together in our communities to honor our veterans, from employment, to housing and mental health support, especially in this difficult time for those who served in Afghanistan.”
“While we will never be able to fully show our gratitude to him, I am proud his family, this community, and all Iowans will continue to honor and recognize him with the memorial from this legislation,” said U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst.
“We never dreamed something like this would happen to our son,” Mary Pasker said of the honor. “God has blessed him by making his name and his dedication to his country and God known to whoever would see his name and his story.”
His story has inspired at least two others to enlist, she said — a living memory that has transpired new paths beyond the building where his plaque hangs or the memorials around Eastern Iowa that adorn his name. One of Mary and Dave Pasker’s grandchildren, born in July, carries on Terryl’s name.
And though Terryl didn’t serve in the military for the honors or the prestige, he knew what he was doing. “‘Mom, I knew what I did when I signed on that dotted line.’ That’s what he would tell me,” said Mary. “He knew the responsibility.”
Enlisting in the Army at just 18 in 1990, Terryl’s Blairstown parents said he had a deep appreciation of his country from a young age. For them, the path Terryl chose was expected.
As a child, his fascination with G.I. Joe figurines evolved into patriotism and devotion perhaps uncommon for children. In fifth grade, he wrote an essay asking, “Who will protect this great nation of ours?”
“I realized that was his calling, and he knew that’s what he wanted to do,” Mary said. “He always told us freedom is not free. In the case of him, it was his life.”
By his second deployment in 2011, the Cedar Rapids contractor, newly married with 20 years of military experience, wanted to settle down and start a family. He went on one more deployment anyway, putting his fellow soldiers’ combat needs before his own desires.
“He said he would not let his soldiers deploy without him. He had their trust and confidence and thus carried a responsibility toward them,” his pastor, the Rev. Jeff Timmerman, said in 2011.
Nearly 10 years into the Afghanistan War, Terryl paid the ultimate price of freedom in an instant. His parents say it’s a sacrifice he would knowingly make all over again.
But 10 years later, as the United States exited under the Taliban’s return to power, were the sacrifices of soldiers like him made in vain?
“All I know is God told me he did not die in vain. I feel all of these people did not die in vain,” said Mary. “It was a tragedy. I know there’s a lot of people at risk over there right now because of how (the exit) was handled.”
Terryl accomplished his mission, his father said.
“Terry was asked by his country to serve. He did that, and he did it successfully” David said. “He accomplished the task he was sent to do.”
In that respect, he was no different from his fellow soldiers.
“Every man and woman sent did what they were asked to do. We can’t let that be degraded by leaving Afghanistan,” Dave said. “He did his job to the best of his ability. That’s what we have to hang on to.”
Ten years since he was killed, the people who loved Terryl most don’t grieve him — they just miss him.
“He’s just delayed in coming home,” said David. “But we’re going to be back together again one day.”
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