Army Staff Sgt. Brandon M. Silk

silk_brandon_m_lg

25, of Orono, Maine; assigned to the 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died June 21 near Gaza Ridge, Afghanistan, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in which he was traveling made a hard landing.

To honor SGT Brandon M. Silk, his parents, Mark and Lynn Silk retrieved this stone from their camp on Green Lake in Ellsworth, ME.

Watch this video to learn why this stone is significant and what it says about SGT Brandon M. Silk.

8 thoughts on “Army Staff Sgt. Brandon M. Silk

  1. Dear Mark and Lynn,

    When I first heard about The Summit Project I knew it was going to be something special, something that I needed to be a part of. What I did not realize was just how much of an impact it was going to have on me, and how it was going to leave a permanent mark on my heart. As a Marine Corps veteran I understand what it means when someone makes the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I knew that was a possibility when service members chose to go on a great adventure and to see the world. That view is the only one I have ever known. That all changed for me the day I stood on the front steps of the Fourteenth Street School in Bangor and had a conversation with you, Lynn. It was during our conversation that day and realizing that you had just recently lost your son that my view changed. The Marine felt pride and respect for Brandon and his sacrifice, as a mother my heart broke for you. When I left the school that day with my girls safely strapped in the backseat of my car I had such mixed emotions. I have heard them say that they want to be like me when they grow up, that they want to be a Marine. I used to think I was all for it, but now I was torn. How would I feel when the time came? Would I let them fly away with a smile on my face and fear in my heart as so many mothers do?

    It was at the grand opening of the Student Veteran’s Lounge at the EMCC campus that I first had the pleasure of meeting Major David Cote and learning of TSP. It was on that very night I told him to sign me up. It was shortly after that I asked for Brandon’s stone. I can’t explain it other than to say “It HAD to be him.” This sweet young man with an infectious grin that I had never met, yet his loss had brought about a change in me that shifted to my very core. The mixture of pain and pride in your eyes was something that struck me so deeply. It was on those steps I stopped thinking like a Marine. I have always wanted to be a mother. I would like to think that I am a good one. But I have never known one who has lost her child in combat. You were my first connection to what could have been my story if the tables had been turned. You could have been my mother with a loss so deep that it left an empty space that felt void of light. The weight of it, the weight of Brandon’s loss that you and Mark, your entire family carry with you every day. You and your family became the face of all the families out there suffering with the same losses. I HAD to do something! This felt like something that I could do for you and for him, for you all. I learned everything that I could about Brandon. I joined his Facebook page, watched videos that were posted, read the book called Hero Birds that you suggested. I looked at his pictures every day. He was even my screensaver at work. I wrote in a journal, I wrote to Brandon. I told him about my countless squats and pull-ups trying to get ready for the hike. I wrote to him about how disappointed I was that this winter seemed to never end because I wanted to get in some practice climbs before the big day. I wrote to him after I was able to hike Mansell Mountain in SW. Harbor with my mother and aunt in preparation of TSB and how good it made me feel. I told him that I hoped it would be enough to get me up that mountain. That I WOULD get up that mountain for him and you if it was the last thing I ever did.

    What I realized during this time getting ready for the hike and learning about Brandon is that we were very much alike. Brandon had very strong connection to family. Family is everything to me. I need my parents and family now in my life more than I ever thought possible. As I listened to you both speak about receiving phone calls from Brandon when he was away from home I was transported back in time to countless late night phone calls to Maine just to hear familiar voices. I remembered how excited I was to see letters or packages with Maine return addresses, how a bag of Humpty Dumpty Barbeque chips brought me more joy than finding a $100 bill on the street. I learned that Brandon had a nickname, “Mighty Mouse” I had one too of course, though in school it was “runt” and for being small. Learning that Mighty Mouse came from his call sign and how he was always running around doing a million things at once with efficiency I smiled from ear to ear. I pride myself on my multi-tasking techniques! This was my kind of kid! His friends made him a shirt with a Mighty Mouse on it and put his face on it; Brandon went with the “Mouse” call sign and embraced it. He did this even though it wasn’t something super cool like “Ice Man” or “Maverick”, he did this because he was a young man who loved what he did and loved the guys that he worked with and they obviously loved him. I took this “Mighty Mouse” and had my cousin Jacob who owns OG pressmore in Virginia make up some “Mighty Mouse” shirts for me. It was of “Mighty Mouse” flying up a mountain carrying the American flag. I wanted to wear it for Brandon. I wanted to have a little of that spunk to help fly me up that mountain. I wanted to be a “Mighty Mouse” for him.

    When the weekend of the hike finally came I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe that it was finally here. I was finally going to get to do this thing that I had been training for and emotionally trying to prepare. However, there was no amount of emotional preparation that could have gotten me ready for what was about to unfold. I have never witnessed anything more powerful than this group of strangers all working together towards this one common goal, to honor Maine’s fallen. It started during the drive north and seeing all of the signs welcoming TSP along the way; the warm welcome we received when we walked through the door at the Twin Pines. The unbelievably powerful moment when the Patriot riders arrived carrying the stones, the sound of the bikes, the bagpipes playing. It was like a flood, a sea of black and steel headed towards us, the rumble, I could feel the tears streaming down my face but there was nothing I could do to stop them. I had never been so happy and blown away at the same time. Then, in the middle of the pack I saw a red jacket, it was David. The creator of it all and he was smiling. It is amazing! Once everyone came to a stop we were all welcomed by David. The poor guy must have given thousands of hugs over this entire weekend. The Patriot Riders had parked their bikes and were standing in front of us and all I wanted to do was to find Brandon. I had been waiting so long to finally hold his stone. I spoke with the riders and welcomed them asked how the ride was. There were smiles on everyone’s faces. They asked me if I was looking for someone and I told them I was looking for Brandon, within seconds I was introduced to the carriers of his stone, Jim and Terri-Lynn Cressey. What sweet amazing people they were. It felt like family, like we were all connected through your beautiful boy. We talked and posed for pictures and became friends. This is what TSP has done. It has brought together so many people. It has made so many connections that will never go away. Brandon’s story, your story, all of our hero’s stories has touched us all.

    Team Red was the first group to head to Owl. We all met in front of the River Driver and loaded into the vans to head up to the starting point. The one thing that I noticed right off was that I didn’t hear one person complaining about it being early. Actually, I never heard anyone complain about anything physical the entire weekend. This weekend wasn’t about our physical discomfort. Spirits were high and we were ready. When we started out on our journey we walked at a steady pace. I did my best to stay towards the front of the pack. I remembered that Brandon lived life at a “fast pace” and I wanted to honor that. The Owl has some pretty steep places and I have some pretty short legs. We worked together as a team, there were always hands held out and no one was left behind. Friendships were forged while honoring our fallen heroes, people brought together with by a common goal. It was simply beautiful to watch it unfold. When I felt that weight on my back and legs it was only physical. I kept thinking to myself “My pain is nothing compared to the pain of Mark and Lynn. Carry it away for them, just carry it away. Brandon died doing what he loved. He was flying. It was a life of adventure.” When we reached the summit we placed the stones on a flat rock. It was kind of a make shift alter. We each spoke of our Hero and what we were doing this for or thinking about while hiking. Then, we loaded up our precious stones and headed back down the mountain. Once back at Twin Pines we were met by the families of the fallen. I spoke about my feelings during the hike and of this entire journey with The Summit Project from start to finish. I spoke of what it felt like to have felt a shift in my heart; the shift from Marine to mother and how my view had changed. Sure, I still love my time in the Corps and I have no regrets whatsoever. I knew the risk I took for my adventure and I thought it would never happen to me. Just as I am sure Brandon knew the risks but never in a million years did he think that it this would be his fate. This hike up Owl was for Brandon; but it was for you too. I know in my heart that there is truly nothing that I can do to take away the pain in your hearts. I tried to carry some of the weight of Brandon’s loss away for you to a higher place, a place closer to him. Please know I tried.

    Semper Fidelis,

    Heather L. McGlauflin, AAS, NREMT-P
    CPL/USMC – Veteran, TSP Hiker 2014

  2. Dear Mark and Lynn,
    My wife and I had the honor of carrying Brandon’s memorial stone for The Summit Project from Portland to Millinocket. When we left our home in Arundel it was cold and drizzling. We arrived in Portland to the same. There was a very nice presentation of the stones to those carrying them by the Boy Scouts. After doing the Pledge and a short prayer we were on our way. When had stops in Gardiner and Bangor. When we arrived in Medway the sun burst thru the clouds and stayed with us for the final leg of the trip.
    The ride thru Millinocket was awesome. :People lining the streets cheering, waving flags and holding signs for the Summit Project or stating Maine Heroes are NOT forgotten.
    Upon arriving at Twin Pines campground to the sounds of bagpipes, we were lucky enough to meet Heather McGlauflin, the hiker carrying Brandon’s stone. What a vibrant young woman. It wasn’t until after I got home and read her story that I found out she was also a veteran.
    As a veteran of the USAF, i was moved by your video. As a father I cannot imagine your loss. As an avid outdoors man, I understood completely Brandon’s need to “decompress” in the Maine woods. How appropriate that the stone comes from a spot where Brandon enjoyed his first fishing adventures. I will always think of Brandon when I am enjoying my favorite fishing hole. And I fish a lot :).
    I grew up watching Might Mouse cartoons and after watching your video I can see why Brandon”s fellow soldiers chose that call sign for him. It was probably more appropriate than Brandon knew. MM, though a cartoon character, was a hero . Brandon is also.
    As Heather so eloquently stated I know there is nothing I can do to take away the pain in your hearts.Thank you so much for sharing Brandon’s story. I hope and pray I was able to carry a little bit of the weight of Brandon’s loss away for you. Maine heroes are not forgotten.

    Jim Cressey
    USAF (75-79)

  3. Garrett Corbin — finishing cyclist in the 2014 Trek Across Maine wrote —
    Some of my fondest childhood memories were forged on summer weekends at the camp we used to rent on Green Lake. While my father pulled my younger brother, Brandon, and I on inner tubes behind his boat, another kid around our age, also named Brandon, was out enjoying the lake too.

    My dad was on my mind throughout my 9th Trek Across Maine this year, as he used to meet me at the finish line on Father’s Day. Earlier this year, dad lost his fight against pancreatic cancer at the age of 63, and it was a phenomenally tough blow to the many people whose lives he touched. A common refrain amongst friends and family was that he was far too young.

    Also in my thoughts, with nearly each pedal stroke, was my neighbor Brandon whom I had never had the chance to meet. SSGT Brandon Silk was, incredibly courageously, fighting on behalf of all of us, on the other side of the planet from Green Lake, when his chopper went down. That was four years ago, when SSGT Silk was only 25.

    As is often the case with arduous physical expeditions, the Trek tends to test participants’ mental stamina more than their physical strength. Physically, this year’s ride was more painful for me than past treks, perhaps simply because I’m getting older, perhaps due to the first day being driving cold rain, but either way my knees and ankles were really hurting by the final day. The fact I was enduring physical pain while taking part in an activity I love, cycling, became a trivial matter when put in perspective against the backdrop of the pain our service members encounter on a day-to-day basis. In the ordinary course of their jobs, they put up with so, so much more than we typically do stateside. I’m sure a soldier who has been carrying a pack and other gear would not find the prospect of carrying a stone that weighs a few pounds to be the least bit daunting.

    Mentally, the ride was profound this year, on a whole order of magnitude greater than in the past. The tribulations imposed by lung disease had always weighed on me before, because the Trek is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. Added to that was the deeply meaningful experience of simultaneously participating in The Summit Project. The knowledge I was carrying SSGT Silk’s stone far outweighed the stone’s physical weight. The stone is from a place the Silks and I consider home, and it represents a soldier and son who made the type of difference in the world I can only aspire to achieve. I found myself asking why I was fortunate enough to be riding my bike on a beautiful day when someone who went to the same elementary school as me and eventually decided to act more bravely than I can even contemplate, and gave so much more of himself than I (a relatively altruistic person) ever have, was not so fortunate.

    As I’ve discovered before, and have sadly been viscerally reminded of this year, we will never comprehend why so many of humankinds’ best have their time here cut so short. But if we can appreciate that they were able to follow their calling in life and if we can continue to carry the torch for their cause, we can know that they would be both proud and grateful.

    To Mark and Lynn, please know that I will never forget SSGT Brandon Silk’s sacrifice, I will be reminded of it whenever I see a mouse, and anytime I drink a Guinness it will be in his honor. I cannot thank you enough for giving the world someone who gave so much back to it.

    Very Sincerely,
    Garrett Corbin

  4. June 24, 2014
    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Silk,

    On June 20th, 2014 I started my first ever GORUCK Challenge in Portland, Maine with 22 people I had never met. For many the word GORUCK means nothing, but for the few who have participated in these events they know how amazingly life changing they can be. The Challenge is an 8-12 hour/20+ mile team building endurance event all while wearing a 30-50lb ruck sack. Many physical obstacles stand in the way of finishing like large log carries, buddy carries, and whatever the Cadre decides to throw at us to make us meld into a powerful team by the end. For me the hardest part was going to be the mental anguish.

    None of the weight we carried was more special to me than your son’s stone. In early April I agreed to pick a stone to be the caretaker of for our team weight. It’s hard to admit, but the real reason I chose a stone at all was so I would follow through with the event. At this point in April I had been totally torn down from any happiness I had been enjoying and needed something real to hold onto while I trained. I was as devastated as a man could get. My wife and I had befallen a personal loss and all I was thinking about was how terrible I had it and how nobody else has had it worse.

    This is where The Summit Project came into my life. When I chose Brandon’s stone I had no idea how this would change my thinking on a great many things and pull me from the brink of depression to where I sit now feeling confident and more alive than I ever have. To be able to honor your family in such a way was something I could hold on to and never let go of. I was sure to succeed in this Challenge I had signed up for and make sure that Brandon’s spirit and legacy lived on.

    When I watched your video for the first time so many things seemed to align in all of our lives that I knew it was fate that brought me to that exact moment. Brandon is a hometown hero from Orono, where I spend my days working at the University of Maine. Mark, you went to the same high school as I did. Lynn, you are a school principal and my wife is an English teacher. Then I read the date of when Brandon passed away: June 21st, 2010.

    June 21st was the exact day we would be finishing our event. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to be standing in my way to honor all of you as you have given so much and had so much taken away from you.

    I trained as hard as I could on the trails behind the campus every day with my ruck and when I could sneak away for hours I would spend my time in Bangor City Forest. Brandon loved the wilderness and I often let my mind slip to thinking about if he had walked those exact steps at some point.

    When the arduous day came to go to Portland for the Challenge I finally made contact with you, Mark. When you told me about how you had just gotten off the phone with the Australian Commandos that Brandon helped save when his Black Hawk went down, and that they call you every year to check in, it made my heart melt. To have had such an honorable and wonderful son as yours capture the hearts of those around him, is what every parent wants and I am deeply sorry for your loss.

    The Challenge was hard on me physically, but at no point did I want to quit. As a team we all carried the weight of Brandon’s stone at some point, but you were always in my heart. I shed many a silent tear that evening in thought about your loss. I donned my finest Guinness hat for Brandon and watched the sunrise with my new friends as we rucked on through Portland. It never escaped my thoughts that four years ago that day Brandon had seen his last sunrise. My heart was heavy.

    When we crossed the last bridge into Portland I carried the team weight in silence the entire way across. When we were given our last task of getting our “wounded” teammates back to the Portland Observatory I knew what I had to do as a final tribute to your family. I volunteered to carry extra rucks and our American flag as I set the pace block by block until we reached our goal. Brandon liked to “go fast” and I gave it my all to bring us back to where we started, while carrying the symbol of what he gave his life for. It was an amazing feeling to let go of myself and my pain for that last 45 minutes and do it solely for Brandon.

    You were in my thoughts and feelings the entire time during this event. Please know that it was an honor and privilege to take care of Brandon’s stone. Thank you for letting us shoulder the weight for you for a little while that night.

    Yours Truly,

    Scott Stitham
    And
    GORUCK Challenge Class 1069

  5. TSP at ANP 2014

    Dear Mark and Lynn Silk —

    I had the honor of being a Team Lead during the ANP hike on Oct 4th, 2014. Team Tarn started out as a group of strangers and ended up as a family. We hiked together, laughed together, took care of each other and cried together. The day was rainy and grey, but the spirits of us all were positive and filled with support and determination for this worthy cause. Our hike was up the east side of Cadillac and it included two summits, Dorr Mountain and Cadillac. Where it was slick there was someone to catch you. If it was steep there was a hand held out to help you up. If someone needed a break we stopped for them. We looked out for each other the way a family is supposed to. Family has always been important to me, just as it was to Brandon. It was this connection that helped me make a difficult choice, the spirit stone I was going to carry. These special stones are carved with powerful words that represent the fallen and TSP. They are words like commitment, courage, valor, teamwork and the latest addition family. When I first saw this stone I just knew it was the stone for me. I chose it for the gold star families and how hard it must be to have an empty seat at the table. These courageous people who have the strength to keep going even after having the most heartbreaking of losses pressed upon them. How meeting all of these people and learning about their heroes only reinforced in me just how important family is. I chose this stone because TSP has brought so many people together creating for me a whole new family. As they days drew closer to this event I got more and more excited. I was excited to see the incredible people I had met while I was at Baxter State Park while having the honor of carrying Brandon’s stone. I felt as if I was going to a family reunion! I knew I was truly at one when I felt the warm embraces of the friends I had made at BSP. I tried to share what I felt as I saw the smiles on all of the new faces of people as I welcomed them to TSP. I have often wondered if I was ever going to be able to do something with my life that would really make a difference in the world. I believe that being a part of this project and helping to keep the memory of Maine’s heroes alive has given me that purpose. It is the piece in me that has been missing since I got out of the Marine Corps. I lost something in myself the day I took off my uniform for the last time. TSP helped me to find it again. The energy of TSP is growing. It is spreading like wildfire and warming the hearts of everyone that it touches. I am thankful every day that I was touched by its flames.

    MHANF

    Heather L. McGlauflin
    TSP Team Lead – TARN ANP 2014

  6. TSP at ANP 2014 hiker – Amy Johnston wrote —

    Lynn,

    I hope this email finds you well. It was so great to chat with you at Vine St School last month; the experience really left me with a smile on my face, as I hope it did you.
    I can’t thank you enough for spending time to chat with me about Brandon, show me your husband’s photography, and lead me to the book “Hero Birds”.

    As you may be aware, I hiked Brandon’s stone to the top of Cadillac Mtn on 4OCT, as part of a team of incredible hikers involved in a Summit Project venture that day.
    In keeping with Summit Project objectives, I am to write a reflection of that experience to post. After having met you, I consulted with David, and decided to send you a private email instead, and to keep things light.

    We have talked about some of this already: having family in a neighborhood near yours, that knew you and he, I was lucky to hear many stories of Brandon’s prowess both personally and professionally over the years. Carrying Brandon’s stone on a hike has been on my wish list for quite some time, after my initial involvement in the Summit Project.
    As we had chatted about, my draw to hike Brandon’s stone specifically was immense. I was (and am today) drawn to his ability to priortize what was truly important in his life. He loved and served his family, his god, his country, and his beautiful state. He was passionate about Army Aviation, especially Medical Evacuation, something I cannot even describe in words how much I relate to. Brandon loved hard and played hard. He faced trials and tribulations in his life, as we all do, and he used them as a learning experience; he seemed to never let those experiences crush his spirit.

    He was an incredible young man, through and through. There are SO many things about Brandon to admire, and I do. And so, I requested his stone to carry to the top of Cadillac Mtn.

    On Oct 4th, the weather was not perfect. There was fog and rain, and a chill in the air. I personally was not feeling my best, as I had pain in my bad knee from training for a Physical Fitness test. Honestly, I was worried that my knee would not hold for the duration of the hike. My backpack felt heavy. Our team was slated to climb the hardest of the four trails to the top of the moutain. I talked to the other hikers, who all seemed in great shape. I felt a little unnerved.

    As the hike began, I realized how aggressive our climb would be. It was steep, with much wet, exposed rock face. Traversing certain areas were someting of a puzzle-you had to figure out how to safely cross. Again, I felt uncharacterically nervous.

    I started to think about Brandon’s stone (which had made me incredibly happy to touch and carefully place in my pack), and what Brandon might think of our hike that day…how Brandon might handle the situation.

    I thought about strength and persistance…I knew I wanted to get to the top with his stone, come hell or high water. Slowly, I started to calm. I looked around and noticed how great the mist and fog felt, and how beautiful it looked. It was a day in the Maine woods afterall, right? I started to smile and laugh with the other hikers. I stopped worrying about getting to the top and realized that I simply WOULD. I put one foot in front of the other. I just did what I set out to do, and thoughts of Brandon and my mission that day carried me the entire rest of the way.

    At the top of the mountain, we held a short ceremony in which all the hikers gathered around and spoke about the hero stone they carried. I was on the other side of the circle, so I had a keen vantage point to listen to the stories from all the other hikers first. In all honesty, I was taken aback by the emotion some hikers showed while speaking about their particular stones. It was emotional, to be sure, and tears flowed down the faces of some while speaking. (I am emotional, but rarely cry).

    I quickly went through my mental checklist of things I wanted to tell the group about Brandon. I felt ready.

    As I started speaking about Brandon though, and his passions and loves, something unexpected happened to me…I started to choke up and tears started to flow on my face as well….. I thought, “Where did that come from?”

    It is hard to explain in words, but I felt like I made the “connection” with the power of Brandon’s sacrifice. I suddenly felt what was impacting the other hikers in the circle. I felt incredibly humbled and honored to hold his stone and tell his story. It was a truly overwhelming experience.

    I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to speak with me about your son, and I am SO THANKFUL for the experience of hiking his stone and telling his story. As I stated in my post to his Facebook page, he is everything heroes are made of, and he will not be forgotten.

    I hope to stay in touch, and please do not hesitate to call or write if you desire. The new Aviation Readiness center in Bangor is almost done, and I would love to give you a tour!

    Take care of yourself, and thanks again!

    Respectfully,

    Amy

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