The veteran recently killed by police in Gresham, Sergeant Anthony McDowell, had Tualatin connections. He was a member of the 671st Army Engineer unit that the city adopted when Operation Iraqi Freedom started in 2003. Under the leadership of Mayor Lou Ogden, Ron Anderson, and me, the City Council voted to adopt the unit, followed by the Chamber of Commerce and many civic groups, churches, and schools. Just about everyone in town got involved.
The 671st was in the desert for 40 days without showers when the war started and suffered the first Oregon casualty of the war, Brandon Tobler.
Collection centers were quickly established at several locations for comfort items not available through Government Issue for the soldiers like baby wipes, personal care items, and entertainment. Barrels were set out at Haggen Grocery, Tualatin Library, Fred Meyer, and the Elks. Over 2600 pounds were sent to the unit.
The library waived late book return fines for those contributing to the collection barrel. The Honor Society at the high school canvassed neighborhoods over the Christmas holidays. Elementary school students sent heart-felt letters. Blood drives were held.
Sgt. McDonald’s mother was the family support coordinator for the unit. We helped with the first newsletter of troop activities sent to 671st family members. Many of them had no word from their loved ones for the first part of the war. We paid the postage for the first mailings. We did many things to help the families, including tax preparation at the VFW hall.
One family in a rural area on a tight budget ran out of fuel and we arranged for their tank to be filled to cover the winter. When hot water heaters went out, we were there.
We bought warm winter coats for kids and helped with the holidays. One soldier wrote us, saying it helped him concentrate on his duties in Iraq, knowing that we were helping at home.
They were in Iraq for over a year. On their return, we had a huge welcome parade followed by a catered picnic in Tualatin City Park. This citywide program brought national attention to our city.
McDowell had escorted Brandon Tobler’s body back home and maintained contact with his mother. Later, after the unit returned home, he was instrumental in having a building in the 671st compound named after Tobler. Our Tualatin Post paid for the food at the reception when the building was dedicated.
McDowell joined the Tualatin VFW Post and was active in fundraisers. He helped distribute Poppies at Fred Meyer on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Independently, he established the Sergeant McDowell’s Military Relief so he “could dedicate his life to continuing the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) responsibility of taking care of my fellow comrades, and Veterans in need.”
I still maintain contact with the 671st, coordinating the activities of a volunteer Santa team that visits local military units and low-income housing facilities.
Last year, McDowell transferred to the Gresham VFW Post and was becoming active there, arranging for fundraisers and a Veteran’s Day parade.
As this article is being written, we do not know all the details about his death. But I can’t help but wonder if he could have been helped by the ELF Seminar scheduled on February 23 at 7 pm at the Tigard American Legion. The presenter says the success rate is 80%.