A bugler from Fort Jackson’s 282nd Army Band plays Taps during a memorial service for Pfc. Alyssa Cahoon at the Main Post Chapel on Sept. 16. Cahoon collapsed during a training exercise and passed five days later surrounded by her twin sister, brothers and parents. (Photo by Alexandra Shea)

Soldier remembered as natural born leader

by Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Trainees, Soldiers and leaders of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 165th Infantry Brigade, gathered at the Main Post Chapel to honor the life of Pfc. Alyssa Cahoon during a small, intimate memorial service Sept. 16.

A twin, Alyssa Cahoon and her sister Brianna Cahoon enlisted in the U.S. Army June 21 and attended Basic Combat Training together at Fort Jackson. Alyssa Cahoon collapsed during a training exercise from “a very rare and completely undetectable heart condition” according to a Facebook post from her mother Susan Cahoon. She passed Aug. 25, the day of her graduation, surrounded by her sister, brothers and parents.

During the memorial, three of her direct leadership spoke of her dedication to her squad, demonstration of empathy towards others, and leadership skills she demonstrated throughout her 10-week training cycle.

“I was excited to hear we were getting identical twin sisters coming here to train. It isn’t every day we get twins coming to the battalion,” said Lt. Col. Brennan Goltry, 1-34th Battalion commander. “I want to take a moment and celebrate today that in America, we still have young men and women like Pfc. Alyssa Cahoon and her sister Brianna. Who at 17-years old know who they are and what they want to be. To serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Though Goltry admitted to not knowing her well, he stated he wished he had after hearing of her accolades from her company commander.

“I stand here a better leader because of Pfc. (Alyssa) Cahoon,” said Capt. Laura Chepek, Company B commander. “Alyssa left us too soon. Pfc. Cahoon carried many titles; daughter, sister, Soldier and leader. To all of us here in mourning, look to your brothers and sisters, your friends and Family as we continue to grieve over her loss. Do not let your sadness overshadow the positive impact Cahoon has had on all our lives.”

The final speaker during the memorial included her drill instructor.

“She was leader of fourth squad, a position she held the entire cycle. Student leadership is one of the most challenging dynamics while training in Basic Combat Training,” said Staff Sgt. Armani Brown, Alyssa Cahoon’s drill sergeant. “I am proud to have trained her for those 10 weeks. She was able to accomplish what she set out to be, a United States Soldier. This is a tragic loss and Bravo Company sends their deepest condolences to the Cahoon Family.”

As the Last Roll Call was made, a 21-Gun Salute and the playing of Taps was performed in her honor. The salute keeps with tradition of rendering the highest of honors since as early as 1875.

As the last note of the bugler faded, regiment and battalion leadership approached the chapels dais where a lone inverted M4 rifle and kevlar helmet formed a Soldier Cross. Each rendered a salute and placed a small memento on the raised platform draped in white.

Surrounded by their parents and three brothers, Pvt. Brianna Cahoon approached the Soldier Cross and silently rendered her final salute to her sister. Each left personal mementos and handwritten notes.

As they walked away, they were met by Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson commanding general, and Post Command Sgt Maj. Philson Tavernier who expressed their condolences.

The ceremony concluded as the last of the memorial attendees paid their final respects and the momentos were gathered and presented to the Cahoon Family.

“We have gathered in this sacred place to honor the life of Pfc. Alyssa Cahoon,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Bartley Wilt. “Today we join together to honor, remember and most of all celebrate her life.”