KABUL – Army Sgt. Juan Hendricks lost two men in a bomb blast four months ago. Col. David Everett lost a friend in March who was hit by a suicide attacker. And last week, Master Sgt. Chantell Smith lost the woman she called "Rock Star Roz" to a roadside bomb on the edge of Afghanistan's capital.
On Monday the U.S. forces based at Camp Eggers in Kabul gathered wearing khaki, camouflage and blue blazers to salute their latest dead comrades — 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, or Roz, from Missouri and Shawn Pine, a former Army ranger who was working as a contractor to train Afghan army soldiers.
The troops at Camp Eggers are accustomed to these ceremonies: the flowers, the helmet propped up on the gun of the fallen service member, and the boots on display that won't be worn again. The Combined Security Transition Command based at Eggers has lost 70 U.S. troops since last Memorial Day.
"Memorial Day for us is intensely personal," Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing top general in Afghanistan, told the crowd.
"It is the empty seat in the mess hall, the battle buddy who is no longer here, or the friend who did not return from patrol, and it is the commitment to carry on with the mission in their honor," he said.
Schulte and Pine died when their vehicle hit a bomb on the road from Camp Eggers to Bagram Air Field for an intelligence-sharing conference, said Smith, the commanding officer for Schulte's unit.
The late morning sun shone down on the crowd, glinting off poles flying the flags of the nations that have troops at Eggers. The American and British flags flew at half mast. Taps played, and soldiers stood and saluted en masse, then walked in small groups to a memorial for Schulte and Pine and left mementos of those who died. Smith took Schulte's dog tags from around her neck and hung them over the dead woman's gun.
A woman who had known Schulte since high school cried into a friend's shoulder.
Fellow soldiers described Schulte as an energetic soldier who was always friendly and whose kindness shone through in small actions, like getting the instructions on over-the-counter drugs she handed out to Afghans translated into the local language.
"She was vivacious, bubbly and had this zeal for life," Smith said. "She had a passion for people who were less fortunate than her, and at that age that was impressive. I know that I was not like that at 25."
Smith, who has been in Afghanistan about six months, said she won't ever think of Memorial Day the same way again.
"Some people have died prior to you and the unfortunate thing is that some people may die after you," she said. "I'll never go back home and take this just as another holiday that I'm off, just another time to have a cookout ... I will truly see it as a holiday to honor fallen comrades."
At least 48 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far this year. The numbers of deaths have risen steadily over more than seven years of fighting. In 2008, 151 U.S. soldiers were killed, up from 111 the year before.
With an additional 21,000 U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's effort to turn back the resurgent Taliban, military officials have cautioned that the country is likely to get more violent before it gets better.
"We all know someone, closely, who we remember today," said Maj. Gen. Richard Formica, who is in charge of training Afghan soldiers and police. But he says he urged his forces to use it as a time to recommit to their mission, to ensure "that they were not lost in vain."