Originally created 11/26/03

Residents mourn loss of soldier



THOMSON - As the Army continued to investigate the slaying of a Thomson soldier in the Iraqi city of Mosul, his hometown mourned his death.

"This is devastating for the entire community," said Thomson Mayor Bob Knox, who said he has known the family of Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson all his life.

"He was a nice, easygoing gentleman," Charles Cummings said of Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson, who was killed Sunday night along with a fellow soldier.

Mr. Cummings, of Augusta, graduated from Thomson High School and joined the Army in 1975, a year before Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson graduated and enlisted.

"The Army was a viable, economic option in Thomson in the mid-1970s. In the community and in church, you were treated like a celebrity with that uniform on," said Mr. Cummings, who joined Springfield Baptist Church, as did Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson.

The Rev. Frederick Favors became the pastor of the church after Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson had become a career soldier.

The minister had kind words about Daisy Wilson, the fallen officer's mother, and her solid method of rearing her two children. The soldier and his sister, Susan Milton, now a teacher at Norris Elementary School in Thomson, grew up in a tight-knit community called Taylor Town.

"This is truly a loving family, and they come from a mother of profound faith," the Rev. Favors said. "Her faith will take her through these trying times."

Linnette Bowman, the owner of a Thomson day-care center and a family friend, said Mrs. Wilson had spoken with her son on the phone Saturday and he talked about returning home in February.

"She told him to be careful," Ms. Bowman said.

Ms. Bowman said the Wilsons have experienced their share of sorrow recently. Mrs. Wilson's brother and sister also died this year, she said.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said his staff will show its support for Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson's sons, Deputy Mantrell Wilson, who has been on the force for three years, and Sidney Wilson, an electrical engineering major at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

"We'll be there for the family," the sheriff said.

According to Maj. Trey Cate, a public affairs officer for the 101st Airborne Division, Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson was en route from one company location to another in the city of Mosul.

"We are still ascertaining the exact nature of his travels. However, he was basically moving between units," Maj. Cate wrote via e-mail Tuesday from Mosul.

Two individuals involved in the attack that claimed the two soldiers' lives were taken into custody Monday night by the brigade, Maj. Cate said.

He said the investigation into the incident is ongoing and that Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson, the senior enlisted soldier in his brigade, might have been visiting his soldiers.

Initial news reports indicated that Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson and Spc. Rel A. Ravago, of Glendale, Calif., were brutally bludgeoned to death; other accounts said the soldiers' throats were cut.

However, an Army spokesman said Monday that there was no evidence that the men were beaten with rocks or that their bodies were mutilated.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., whose district includes Thomson, issued a statement of condolence to Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson's family.

"McDuffie County and all of Georgia is particularly proud of the service Sgt. Maj. Wilson willingly gave to his country," Mr. Norwood said in his statement. "America will remain eternally grateful and indebted to him for his supreme sacrifice to this nation in defense of freedom on the battlefield."

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR

A command sergeant major is the second-highest enlisted rank in the Army, below only the sergeant major of the Army.

Henry Holmes, a civilian public affairs officer at Fort Gordon, said a command sergeant major serves as the senior enlisted adviser for a unit and also holds responsibility for enlisted troops.

"That's as high as you can go in the enlisted ranks," Mr. Holmes said. "You're the best of the best."

The command sergeant major rank is graded at pay classification E-9, the highest enlisted grade in the U.S. military. Of the Army's 401,138 enlisted service members, only 3,165 - less than 1 percent - are at the E-9 pay grade.

Mr. Holmes said those holding the rank have at least 20 years of service and most have 24 to 25 years of service.

A communitywide tribute to Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Springfield Baptist Church, 523 Martin Luther King Jr. St. in Thomson. For more information, call the church at (706) 595-5829.

Sources: Defense Department Almanac; Public Affairs Office, Fort Gordon

Reach Timothy Cox or Jeremy Craig at (706) 724-0851.