Unit, family, friends gather to remember fallen VNG Soldiers 14 years later

Two Virginia National Guard Soldiers killed Dec. 21, 2004, in a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, are remembered with a  wreath laying Dec. 21, 2018, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Sgt.  (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Two Virginia National Guard Soldiers killed Dec. 21, 2004, in a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, were remembered by fellow Soldiers, family and friends with a  wreath laying Dec. 21, 2018, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason and Sgt. David A. Ruhren, both assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, but were deployed with the 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, were killed in the attack in a mess tent on Forward Operating Base Marez, in Mosul, Iraq. A total of 22 people were killed, including 14 U.S. troops. Dozens of others suffered serious injuries, including others deployed with the 276th.

Fourteen years later, their former comrades and their family and friends met at Arlington National Cemetery on the anniversary of their death. The group tries to get together to remember Mason and Ruhren annually, but this is the first time they’ve done a memorial wreath laying.

“One day I just thought, what can we do different to remember these guys?” said Tim Curtin, who was deployed with Mason and Ruhren, and organized the event in Arlington. “It didn’t end up being that hard to pull together.”

The group, which included the mothers of both fallen Soldiers, gathered at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After the ceremonial changing of the guard, Sonja Ruhren and Christine Mason placed the wreath on a display in front of the tomb. That display included a picture of the two friends together.

After a solemn playing of Taps, the group gathered again outside of the Tomb area, where the two moms addressed their sons’ former unit.

Sonja Ruhren and Christine Mason, mothers of Sgt. David A. Ruhren and Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason, address their friends and family.  (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“When I first got the call, I was ticked. I said in three months, you’ll be on to something else. You won’t remember his name. You’ll sit there and you’ll talk so highly about him, but in three months, you won’t remember his name,” said Sonja, wearing her son’s desert camouflage jacket. “I am so, so glad that I was wrong. I was so wrong about that and I can’t thank you all enough. It’s completely different than what we thought was going to happen 14 years later.”

Sgt. Mason’s mom Christine agreed.

“It means the world to us that it matters as much to other people as it does to us, this many years later,” said Mason.  “Knowing that the last year of their lives was with this community of people, this caliber of people, it means everything.”

“My phone started blowing off the hook at 4 o’clock this morning from people from the unit that couldn’t make it, but they’re still sending balloons up today,” said Ruhren. “They’re still thinking about everybody. No matter whether they’re here or not, they’re still a part of it.”

After leaving Arlington National, the group continued on to Whipple Field on neighboring Fort Myer. There, family and friends filled dozens of red balloons with helium before sending them skyward in honor of the two fallen sergeants.

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“The connection this unit has maintained with each other Is incredible,” said Ruhren. “I’ve talked to so many other different veterans in different avenues – they have maybe kept in contact with one guy. The fact that they have kept watch over each other is amazing.”

Mason could’t speak highly enough of the bond her son had with his unit.

“They were friends, they were battle brothers,” said Mason. “They care about and love each other. These guys have included us as part of their family.

“Nick was exactly where he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do. He was happy.”

Curtin said the emotional gathering exemplifies the brotherhood existing within their unit.

“If it had been me, it means a lot to know these guys would not have let my memory fade,” said Curtin.

Sgt. Ruhren and Sgt. Mason were both 20 years old when a suicide bomber dressed as an Iraqi soldier walked into a mess tent on FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq and detonated his explosive-laden vest. At a ceremony in 2014, 10 years later, the readiness center in Fredericksburg, Va. was remanded the Mason-Ruhren Readiness Center in honor of their sacrifice.

(U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Mason, a native of King George, is survived by his father Vic Mason, mother Christine and sister Carly Mason. He was a 2002 honor graduate of King George High School where he was a star wrestler, cross-country runner and track athlete. He completed his freshman year at Virginia Tech and was preparing for his sophomore year before being called to active duty.

Ruhren, a native of Stafford, is survived by his mother Sonja. He graduated from Garfield Senior High School in 2002 where he was active in many extracurricular activities including wrestling and football. He was one of the first members of the Garfield Senior High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Program when it was established, and was promoted to the rank of cadet lieutenant by the first semester. While serving in the Guard, he took classes to become an EMT at the Rock Hill Fire Department in Stafford.

Read more about Mason and Ruhren and the readiness center named for them at https://go.usa.gov/xECKc.

The Masons have joined with the family of another fallen service member to form the Some Gave All Foundation, to benefit service members wounded, disabled or in need. They host an annual benefit ride, which was held this year in June.

Sonja Ruhren has organized a benefit ride to honor her son as well, titled “Davey’s Battle Brothers Ride.” This year’s ride was in August.

PHOTOS: Unit, family, friends gather to remember fallen VNG Soldiers 14 years later