Life Saving Actions
"A hero understands
the responsibility that comes with his or her freedom...
it is the freedom to choose how you will use your time
Gene's legacy of life saving actions lives on through the work of the Foundation "
Michael M.J. Minc
text republished from
GENE ARDEN VANCE Jr.
Gene Arden (“Buddy”) Vance Jr. (November 30, 1963 – May 18, 2002) was an American soldier, a member of a US Special Forces Airborne Reserve Unit who, despite being critically wounded, saved the lives of two fellow Americans and 18 Afghani soldiers during the War in Afghanistan (2001–14).
Birth name: Gene Arden Vance Jr.
Nickname(s): "Buddy"; "Bud"
Born: November 30, 1963, Frankfurt, Germany
Died: May 18, 2002 (aged 38) Afghanistan (KIA)
Buried: Morgantown, West Virginia
Vance’s actions, life story, heroism and death were widely publicized in the mainstream media and is featured in several books on the Global War on Terror as well as in the ABC reality series "Profiles from the Front Line"
Vance was the first member of the National Guard of the United States to be killed in direct action since a New Hampshire National Guard soldier was killed in Vietnam in 1969. He was also the first West Virginia National Guardsman to be killed in action (KIA) since World War II and the first U.S. Army graduate of Goodfellow Air Force Base's cryptography training to be KIA while taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom. Vance was the first alumni of The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Presidio of Monterey (DLIFLC) to be killed in combat since the terrorist attacks on the US of September 2001.
Both federal and state leaders in the United States government have inscribed Vance into US history as a national hero. Two US military intelligence staff buildings, a military camp in Bagram, Afghanistan, a US state bridge, a US based non-profit organization, an annual US citywide memorial day, biometric laboratory, hall of honor, city/ mountain bike path, trademarked coffee label and memorial drive have been named in his honor. He received 17 awards and decorations including the US Army Purple Heart, two Bronze Star Medals for Valor and the Legion of Merit that recognizes exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of sustained, superior achievement.
Early, family and personal life
Vance was born on Nov. 30, 1963, in Frankfurt, Germany. He was the first born son of the late Gene Arden Vance Sr., a retired US army officer and member of the Green Berets who was a magistrate and sheriff of Wyoming County, West Virginia and June Carol Steele from neighboring McDowell County, WV who is a retired registered nurse teaching nursing in the United States. The Vance’s also had two younger children, Gene Jr.’s siblings, David and Jamie.
Vance is a member of a multi-generational US military family spanning four generations of service. His great uncles William ‘Bittle’ Steele, US Army 4th Infantry Division Bravo Company and Clarence 'Buck' England served in the Battle of the Bulge. His father Gene Sr. served with the LRRP and U.S. Special Forces as a Captain in the Vietnam war and then with the Military Police in Thailand. Gene Sr. was described by the media as a lean, well-muscled lawman standing 6-foot-4, and 'ramrod straight'. His uncles William Edward Vance and James Ray Vance served in long term US military careers. Gene Vance Jr.'s younger brother David is a retired non-commissioned officer who served with the 101st Airborne performing two tours of duty in the Iraq War and whose son, Gene's nephew, serves in the US Navy. During his life Gene actively sought to continue his family's military legacy.
Gene A. Vance Jr. was described as a 6-foot-4 inches tall "mountaineer"- an avid outdoorsman and physical fitness, mountain biking, white water rafting, backpacking, kayaking, snowboarding and chess enthusiast. He kept much of his military life a secret from friends and family who believed he led what was described as two lives - a different life than people saw. He loved the Grateful Dead, John Prine and became well known to Dick Dale as one of his fans. He liked to wear Birkenstock sandals and Deadhead T-shirts in sharp contrast to his military life and secret government missions. The reason for Gene's secrecy was believed to be in part due to his modest nature and also to the secretive nature of his elite training as both a cryptologic linguist and a US Special Forces Reservist. Gene had specialty skills in translating intercepted foreign state communications and was honored by the US National Security Agency.
Vance was a student at West Virginia University and a 1981 graduate of Oceana High School (West Virginia) in Wyoming County, where he was voted "most quiet" in his high school senior class. From all accounts he was a strong, shy, selfless, pleasant, gentle and quiet man who loved a wide variety of rock and roll music, and dark roast coffee.
Vance had a daughter, Amber, from a previous marriage, and was married to Lisa Selmon Vance at the time of his death. Vance's personal communications with his wife during wartime service were featured in a book entitled ‘Behind The Lines’ by author Andrew Carroll.
At the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Vance was living in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was newly married and about to go on his honeymoon. He was also just beginning a new semester at West Virginia University and managed one of West Virginia's largest sporting goods stores in the city.
Among the U.S. Army responses to the September 11 terrorist attacks was the activation of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, (Airborne). Vance served with the West Virginia Army National Guard element of the battalion. Vance cancelled his honeymoon and put his studies on hold to go to war. Vance's Persian language, cryptologic and special forces skills, harnessed at the start of the war in Afghanistan, were rare and distinguished him from the majority of the US Army.
Vance's skills became vital to operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists.
Vance attended Basic and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Ga., for Communications Systems Circuit Controller in 1983. In 1988, he completed the Primary Leadership Development Course at Fort Ord, Ca. and then served in various active-duty assignments both in the United States and overseas from June 1983 until June 1990.
Vance's military education included:
The Communication System Circuit Course
The Primary Leadership Development Course
The Petroleum Supply Specialist Course
The Basic Airborne Course
The Special Forces Command Basic Non commissioned Officer Course
Advanced International Morse Code
The Persian-Farsi Language Course
Vance was awarded his first Bronze Star for Valor for his actions in the Persian Gulf War then joined the Army Reserves as a supply specialist in the 646th Quartermaster Company, Kingwood, W.Va., from January 1992 until October 1992. During this period, he completed the Petroleum Supply Specialist Course. He then joined Company C, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in October 1992. In 1994, he transferred to Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He was later awarded the military occupational skill of voice interceptor in 2001. After the events on September 11, 2001, Vance’s special forces unit was activated.
According to the US Military, Staff Sergeant Vance's patrol was ambushed on 18 May 2002 by Taliban fighters in the vicinity of Shkin, Paktika Afghanistan while taking part in Operation Mountain Lion. Although critically wounded in the initial attack, Staff Sergeant Vance continued to translate battlefield intelligence for Afghan forces in the area, directing them out of danger. For his actions Vance received multiple awards and decorations.
He had also played a critical role in developing his detachment's communications capabilities in the US led efforts to capture Osama Bin Laden.
On May 19, 2002, Vance died from a gunshot wound to the chest according to official military reports and was posthumously promoted to Staff Sergeant. Varied accounts and reports surrounding Vance’s death were widespread in the media immediately upon his death.
On Saturday, May 26, 2002, the day before US Memorial Day approximately 1,000 people including state, national military and government officials, attended Vance’s memorial service held in his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia University President David C. Hardesty, Jr., bestowed upon Vance an honorary bachelor of arts degree from the university which Vance had attended before his deployment to Afghanistan saying that Vance represented "a potent combination of the ordinary and extraordinary. Former US Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia was in office as the senate intelligence committee chairman at the time of Vance's death. He paid tribute to Vance's service saying that Americans who enjoy the freedoms and comforts their society provides must never forget that they do so because of men such as Sergeant Vance. US Senators, Joe Manchin III and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have paid tribute to Vance by honoring his actions to 'fight terror in the name of freedom'.
Memorials and Tributes
Awards and decorations
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star for Valor (2nd award)
Army Achievement Medal (for his role in San Francisco's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake)
Good Conduct Medal (2nd Award)
Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” Device
Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon
Army Service Ribbon
Overseas Service Ribbon
West Virginia Distinguished Service Medal
West Virginia State Service Ribbon
West Virginia Distinguished Unit Award
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