Son of fallen Soldier receives special tribute
written by Maj. Randy Stillinger

The gun salute is an honor given to those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our country. This three-volley salute is traditionally followed by the playing of Taps and the presentation of an American flag that was draped over the coffin.

What many don’t know is that the spent shell casings are collected off the ground and then presented to the family.

The family of Army Sgt. Paul T. Sanchez received 21 shell casings after he was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq. Sanchez, of Irving, Texas, was killed in Baghdad on Jan. 14, 2007 during his second deployment to the Middle East.

He served as a Military Police Officer with the 89th Military Police Brigade at Fort Drum in New York and desired to return to Texas to become an Irving police officer. His son, Adrian, was only 10 years old at the time.

Adrian is now a senior at Irving High School and is preparing to graduate this spring. As a tribute to his father, he volunteers with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and helps with various events. He isn’t a cadet as his true passion is music, not the military, but he enjoys the opportunity to serve and be around the students in this leadership program.

Adrian has no problem being around the military, even with the loss of his dad, who also attended Irving High School. “It’s not like the military took my father,” he said. “My dad gave his life. The Army was something that he really enjoyed and loved doing.”

As a sophomore, an English class project prompted Adrian to bring the spent shell casings to school. Concerned that there might be an issue, he asked his teacher for advice and then brought them to the vice principal to be sure. A decision was made to have him turn the casings over until the end of the school year.

The vice principal transferred schools in the middle of the year, but sadly the shell casings, which meant so much to Adrian and his family, disappeared somewhere along the way, never to be seen again.

Upon hearing the story, Dr. Don Shelton, a board member with the Air Power Foundation, knew that he had to do something to rectify the situation.

The Airpower Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports the military community in the D/FW area by providing grants to those that work with the military, wounded warriors and the families of fallen military heroes. Among many organizations that the foundation sponsors is Snowball Express, which benefits the families of service members lost during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shelton and foundation chairman Roman Palomares were at an end-of-year recognition ceremony for the JROTC cadets on May 14. They were there to present a $500 check to continue funding a local radio station that Shelton helped set up earlier in the school year. The money will go to buy radio advertising, a means of raising money for the cadets.

After Palomares presented the check to the school, Shelton called Adrian up to the stage for a special surprise. He, along with his mother, Florence Garza and sister Ashliegh were presented a framed bronze plaque surrounded by 21 shell casings.

Although the casings are not the original ones from 2007, they were from a special tribute, done just for Sgt. Sanchez and his family earlier this year. Dr. Shelton told Adrian’s story to a Marine honor guard, who was more than willing to perform the tribute and provide the casings.

“It’s really a humbling feeling to know that there are people who still care about someone who gave his life for our country,” Adrian said. “My father being recognized means so much to me, especially not having him here during my senior year.”

Shelton, and funding from the foundation, helped the JROTC unit set up the local radio station, which is broadcast locally and around the world via the Internet. Cadets operate KIFR, AM Radio 1690, which teaches them about the radio industry, but also the importance of freedom of speech.

The awards presentation recognized cadets for outstanding performance during the school year in areas such as physical fitness, academics, leadership and color guard. The National Anthem for the event was performed by Adrian’s sister, Ashliegh.

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