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NEWS | Oct. 19, 2021

Anniversary is a reminder of expeditionary civilian sacrifices

By Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner U.S. Army Financial Management Command

Five years ago today, America lost a son, brother, uncle, friend and patriot, but not one who ever wore a military uniform or fired a round downrange.

Michael G. Sauro, a former Defense Ammunition Center civilian employee and hazardous material instructor was killed by enemy fire at a military ammunition supply point near Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 19, 2016, a month after his deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and one day after his 40th birthday.

“Throughout Mike’s time on this earth, his infectious spirit for life touched so many, and the memories of those moments endure the testament of time,” said Theresa A. Smith, DAC executive director. “Mike lived a truly meaningful life. He made the most of every moment and every opportunity. He never met a stranger. He never missed an opportunity to crack a joke and make somebody smile.”

“My brother loved his job and the people he worked with. He loved to travel, to educate and to make friends around the globe,” agreed Sauro’s brother, Benjamin Sauro. “His career was not his first choice after college, but as the years went on, his passion grew and that was obvious and was shown, not only through his work ethic, but also in the excitement he showed talking about the work he was doing and the people he met along the way.”

Sauro’s career began with the DAC in 1999 as an ammunition management intern, following in the footsteps of his father, Michael E. Sauro, who retired as a Department of the Army civilian employee.

“After his internship, he trained to become a hazmat instructor in the training directorate, a job in which he embraced with enthusiasm and eagerness,” recalled Smith.

During his 10 years as a hazmat instructor, he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, Schofield barracks, Hawaii, and McAlester, Oklahoma.

“He traveled the world in support of training missions and embraced every opportunity and culture he experienced,” she added.  

Prior to his 2016 deployment, Sauro previously deployed in 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Mobilization and training were Mike’s forte. He learned his craft, he mastered it, and he continually pushed himself,” said Keith A. Brailsford, U.S. Army Technical Center Explosives Safety director and Sauro’s close friend. “Not only did he set the example, he set the tone.”

That tone was not just a beacon for those around him to follow, but an integral piece of how he treated others, according to several of his colleagues.

“Mike had a passion for people: to train, assist, encourage, support, mentor, coach and lead them,” Smith explained. “He was a true optimist in every form of the word. He was reliable, honorable, professional and trustworthy.”

Still nothing rose above his love of his family and nation.

“Mike was committed to his career, loyal to his friends, and most importantly, devoted to his nation and his family,” said Brailsford. “His devotion was evident by his actions. Late to work meant his was 15 minutes early, and being unprepared meant his to-do list wasn’t done the night before.”

According to those who knew him best, Sauro’s professional ambition was to one day rise to be the DAC executive director. 

“Mike understood his purpose, and he foresaw his future aspirations,” elaborated Brailsford. “What became clear is that Mike knew what he wanted, and he was willing to put in the work.

"Yet, he wouldn’t selfishly pursue that objective,” he added. “He thought so much about the wellbeing of others.”

Unfortunately, Sauro never got to see his ambitions realized.

“Michael lost his life that day along with Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairfield, Illinois,” said Lt. Gen. Gary M. Brito, U.S. Army deputy chief of staff, G1. “These men, Michael and Sergeant Riney, had volunteered for the NATO mission to create a better Afghanistan, and they paid the ultimate price.”

“Mike, Sergeant Riney and their families are forever bound by this tragedy,” said Smith. “In our own way, each of us, individually and collectively, have continued to honor the memory of Michael G. Sauro, and we continue on that path of remembrance.”

Along that path and earlier this summer, a mobilization and training facility at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, was named in Sauro’s honor. 

Ceremonies like this and others remind us, appropriately, that people are our greatest asset,” said Brito at the commencement. “You can have the best rifle in the world, the best tank in the world, the best communications radio in the world, but without those people, military and civilian, it’s all for naught.

The Army Civilian Expeditionary Workforce oversees the readiness, training and mobilization of expeditionary civilians from all services except the U.S. Air Force and from the Fourth Estate organizations, said Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, Indiana National Guard Adjutant General.

“And, all the training, mobilization, demobilization and reintegration happens here at Camp Atterbury, Indiana,” added Lyles. “This is why this location is best for us to honor our fallen civilians and to make sure their stories remain alive and shared with all of our deploying civilians.”

The day also served as a reaffirmation that the shared sacrifices of those lost and those in attendance were eternally binding.

“Michael’s loss has been deeply felt by his family and coworkers, and the tightknit community where he lived,” the general continued. “We grieve your loss with you and you will always be part of the Army family.”

“I know I speak for my entire family when I tell you how incredibly honored we are that Mikey – I’m his brother, so I can call him that – was chosen for this memorialization,” said Benjamin Sauro. “We are so blessed know that Mike’s legacy will live on in the Michael G. Sauro Mobilization and Training Facility.”

Accompanying Benjamin to the ceremony were his and Michael’s parents, Michael E. and Christine Sauro, along with their sister, Brienne Matthews; Michael’s nephew, William Matthews; and Benjamin’s wife, Sarah Sauro.

Also in attendance were Richard “Rick” Alford and Rodney Henderson, two other DAC civilian employees who were wounded in the attack that took Sauro’s life and provided comfort to him in his final moments.

Since 2001, contingencies brought about by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks necessitated augmenting U.S. armed forces with deploying volunteer civilians who could work and would work shoulder-to-shoulder with their military counterparts, doing jobs that required specialized skills, according to Brito.

“Over the past two decades, expeditionary civilians have played a crucial and growing role in ensuring the readiness, capability, capacity, and lethality of the total Army force, and they will continue to be an integral component of the United States Army and National Guard contingency environments,” the general explained. “Expeditionary civilians have volunteered to go wherever they are most needed.

“They work in dangerous, and sometimes lethal conditions, without many of the resources and comforts of the daily lives that you and I take for granted.”

“Expeditionary civilians have been instrumental in helping disburse disaster relief, building schools and hospitals, bringing electricity and water infrastructure into villages, providing expertise and specialized skills into construction sites, working in offices to accomplish the many financial and administrative tasks that support military operations, and so much more,” added Lyles. “This work attracts people who are willing to make sacrifices for a higher purpose, and some of these patriots have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Still, the willingness to serve and take on such risks for the greater good doesn’t take away the pain of those left behind.

“None of [our] experiences can prepare us for that phone call, for that knock on the door, for that moment of recognition when our loved ones won’t be coming home,” said Lyles. “We want to know why, and sometimes ‘the why’ just won’t make sense.

“To all the families, friends and coworkers of our honorees, I pledge to you that their service and their sacrifice will not be forgotten,” he said during the ceremony. 

“Mike paid the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, and I quote from Mike’s sister Brie, ‘Mike died doing the job he loved, for a country he loved even more,’” said Smith. “He is gone but never forgotten.”

“I want to end with a quote from one of Mikey’s biggest idols, the great Dick Vitale,” said Benjamin Sauro about his brother. “‘A loser is someone who makes excuses and alibis and blames everyone else for their losses and failures. A winner is someone who can look in the mirror at the end of the day and say in pursuit of my goal and dreams, ‘I gave my best.’’”

“And, I think we would also say that Mike gave his best, each and every day,” he concluded.