Rangers honor fallen students with memorial swamp expedition
By Tech. Sgt. Sam King, 919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 01, 2014
DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- Almost 20 years ago, four Army Ranger students lost their lives in the cold, wet darkness of the range swamps.
Since that day in February 1995, the soldiers of the 6th Ranger Training Battalion have remembered them. They remember them through up-to-date safety and reporting procedures and constant weather, temperature and water level evaluations. They also remember them when Soldiers come together to follow their fateful path and discuss the tragic events of the Sweet Gum swamp movement each year.
More than 40 Soldiers participated in this year's excursion down the Yellow River Sept. 25 to pay their respects to Capt. Milton Palmer, 2nd Lts. Spencer Dodge and Curt Sansoucie and Sgt. Norman Tillman at a memorial deep in the forest of Eglin's range.
The trip began with the Soldiers rafting down the river, before entering the swamp. They had to cross a section of the river via rope line to reach the wooden cross memorial and plaque with names of Ranger Class 3-95.
"This is the most significant event to take place at the Ranger School since its inception," said Lt. Col. Robert Robinson, the 6th RTB executive officer. "We cannot forget these past events and the lessons learned from those sacrifices."
Dan Matouzzi, a 6th Ranger Training Battalion training specialist, briefed the group of instructors and students what took place the night of Feb. 15 and 16, 1995, from first-hand experience. He served as a Ranger instructor during the Sweet Gum movement.
He explained that due to the extreme conditions of darkness, fog, temperature and water depth, the unit cohesion began to collapse and the situation became worse the longer it lasted. This resulted in the four Soldiers dying of hypothermia.
At each section of the journey, Matouzzi talked about what occurred at that point.
When the Soldiers arrived at the memorial, Matouzzi and the battalion chaplain spoke to them about the sacrifices of service and how the final moments played out. After paying their respects, the Soldiers hiked up through the woods to reach higher ground and end the journey.
The events of February 1995 led to many changes in weather and water movement measures, communications and medical evacuation procedures among others. There are water markers throughout the swamp now to indicate river depth. The battalion has two medevac helicopters now instead of one. The 6th RTB hasn't lost another Soldier since that event.