Alma mater honors Bronze Star graduate who died from injuries suffered in Iraq
Mardie Jensen remembers the first time she saw her youngest son Drew compete as a wrestler.
'Watching someone trying to rip your child's arm or head off is really stressful,' she said with a slight chuckle.
She nonetheless made it through the match and recalled how the other mothers there applauded her keeping her composure by saying, 'Good job, Drew's mom!'
Memories like that came back to Mardie the morning of Friday, Jan. 11, as the son she raised was honored by his alma mater, Barlow High School, for giving his life to his country.
A 1998 graduate, Jensen was an Eagle Scout who went on to West Point, became a captain, and was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis.
During his second tour of duty in Iraq, on May 7, 2007, the rifle platoon leader suffered a gunshot wound to the neck during combat, after trying to help a fellow soldier pinned behind a vehicle. Jensen died Sept. 7 in Seattle of complications from the injuries inflicted in Iraq.
Among his survivors were two brothers, Adam and Shane, and his wife, Stacia. For his sacrifice and valor, Capt. Jensen was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Students filled the gymnasium where Drew had once wrestled, as a bagpiper played and members of an honor guard stood with flags. As part of the ceremony, a photographic slideshow of Drew's life played, set to music that included 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and 'My Way.'
Standing off to one side was Stephen Corkett, a history teacher at Barlow who taught Jensen at Damascus Middle School.
'He was just one of the few students who make an impression,' Corkett said, noting he's taught thousands of children. 'He was a born leader, with a great sense of humor.'
He added that Jensen ended his life the way he lived it - thinking of others.
'As a captain, he died doing what he did best - looking after his men.'
Mardie and Lance Jensen were presented a plaque commemorating their sons' life, and Barlow wrestling T-shirts with their son's name on one sleeve.
'We just treasure these things here the school has given us,' Mardie said.
Barlow history teacher Bruce Robnett, who coached Drew when he wrestled, said he was a fun-loving person as well as a serious student.
'You couldn't get him down,' Robnett said. 'The only thing that got him down was when he lost.'
Lance Jensen credited the coach for helping to organize the ceremony, and said he and his wife were overwhelmed by the turnout. He added that he thought Drew was drawn to wrestling because of the challenge it presented.
'He played soccer, too, but wrestling is more individual - you only have yourself to account for.'
At the same time, Drew was certainly known for being a team player, Lance noted, pointing out that most of the men under his command attended his funeral last September.
'His men always looked up to him.'
Mardie echoed that point.
'Actually, they called him Drew when it wasn't time to call him Captain,' she said.
She added that her son encouraged his men to personalize their bed areas with mementoes from home, and was a down-to-earth guy.
'Basically he respected them and their individuality,' she said. 'He always worked to bring out the best in a person.'
The Patriot Guard Riders, comprising motorcycle-riding area veterans who attend funerals and other ceremonies for area veterans, were on hand for the ceremony.
Among them was Todd Freeman, an Air Force veteran with a son in the Marine Corps. Freeman's motorcycle was emblazoned with a sticker honoring Drew, even though he never met him. But the Riders don't need to meet a veteran to honor him or her, he said.
'Our soldiers who came back from Vietnam didn't get the support they deserved,' he said. 'We're not going to let that happen again.'
Indeed, during the ceremony, Robnett told the crowd that whatever a person's views on the Iraq War, soldiers risking their lives in it deserve respect. After the ceremony, he added that it was important for the entire school to be present, both to properly honor the fallen soldier and to raise awareness among the students.
'We needed to open up some kids to what is happening in this world,' he said. 'This is a kid from our area, and it can happen to anybody.'
Mardie Jensen knows that all too well. But when she wasn't choking up and crying, she was smiling as she talked about the baby of her family.
'He was a good guy,' she said. 'You would've liked him.'