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Thad Montgomery


U.S. Army



Debra Hays didn’t find it unusual for her son, Staff Sergeant Thaddeus S. Montgomery II, to be assigned to a remote outpost in Afghanistan. She did not expect him to die there.

Staff Sergeant Montgomery was born with wanderlust, Debra Hays explained. And he wanted to see the country after high school in Decatur, Alabama. Staff Sergeant Montgomery landed a job in Montana at Yellowstone National Park. Thaddeus worked there for two years before enlisting in the Army in March 2003.

“He’s one of those dreamers,” Debra Hays said of her son. “He always wanted to go explore the world.”

Staff Sergeant Montgomery’s eagerness to explore the world in combination with his love of the outdoors, explained why he adapted so well to life in the Army.

“He loved the outdoors. He liked roughing it. Working in the outdoors. He never complained about how rough it was in Iraq or Afghanistan,” she added.

Staff Sergeant Montgomery was deployed on his third combat tour. The family was surprised initially when Thaddeus joined the Army.

“He said ‘Mom, it’s something I felt I needed to do,’ and I said ‘Then it’s what you need to do,’ ” recalled Hays quoting their conversation in 2003.

She said he’d been inspired by a family vacation to Washington D.C. where they visited the national monuments. Plus, Hays said, the family has a long history of military service. Staff Sergeant Montgomery enjoyed the Army and she described her son as a soldier whose main concern was watching out for the men in his platoon.

“He was the kind of guy who was always there for others,” Hays explained. “He wouldn’t let morale get down. He’d ask family members to send care packages for his guys and he’d send lists of everybody else’s needs.”

He also solicited care packages from businesses in the states. In one of his letters, he asked the editor of Arizona Highways magazine for copies of the monthly publication for his platoon to read. The exchange led to a bond between Staff Sergeant Montgomery and the magazine and even a television appearance in Arizona over the Christmas holidays, his mother added.

“I got to see Thad smiling,” Hays said. “He has a big smile and I could see his dimples. His smile just lights you up.” That television interview was the last time she saw her son.

“What a wonderful Christmas gift,” Hays said, her voice breaking as she cried. “It’s priceless.”

Since her son’s death, Staff Sergeant Montgomery’s mother told the Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror, condolences have “come from all over the world,” and she has been told her son will be remembered as a man “who helped his friends” and “tried to make it easier for his guys.”

These thoughts from Robert Stieve, editor of Arizona Highways Magazine also help to define Staff Sergeant Thaddeus Montgomery and the hero he will always be:

“Last fall I got an e-mail from Sergeant Montgomery. He was requesting some copies of our magazine — something that he and his fellow soldiers could use as a respite from the horror around them. I’d never heard of Sergeant Montgomery, Camp Vegas or the Korengal Valley. …he became the face of all the servicemen and women around the world. …he was connecting an otherwise disconnected group of Americans with a world that seemed a million miles away…shortly after our first shipment of junk food, I got an e-mail from Sergeant Montgomery. He wrote:

“I just want to thank you, Mr. Robert Stieve, and the rest of the folks there at Arizona Highways for the many packages that have begun to arrive here at COP Vegas from the editorial staff at your magazine. Originally, I had asked only for a few magazines that the soldiers here could enjoy thumbing through, and about a week ago boxes began to arrive with tons of good stuff in them. I can’t thank you all enough for the kindness you have bestowed upon our platoon. As for the packages, everything you all sent was absolutely awesome. It didn’t take long for everyone to grab a handful of the things they wanted. Thank you Arizona Highways! We are all grateful for everything you have done to help us while we are away on this deployment. If there is anything I can do in return, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

I’m well aware of the profound sacrifice he made on behalf of his country. I will never forget that sacrifice, and I’ll certainly never forget Sergeant Montgomery. …we lost a friend, a son and an American hero.”


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