Soldier killed in Afghanistan remembered by family

U.S. Army photos by Sgt. George Huley – Soldiers assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), conduct a dignified transfer on Dover Air Force Base, De., May 3, 2018. A dignified transfer is a process where soldiers render honors to a fallen comrade who died in a theater of war.

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

Bob and Donna Conde traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware last Thursday, May 3, to meet their son Gabe; he would be lying under a flag. The image of a flag-draped coffin being escorted down a ramp from a plane by military personnel is a moving one. When you see the scene you know there was a life cut short in the line of duty. It’s easy to feel a brief moment of sadness and then move on. This is a story to take a moment and reflect on a life, to introduce you to Specialist Gabriel David Conde, 22, a man whose life the people who knew him say embodied the best of what the flag that covered him that day as his body was returned to the U.S. represents.

Photo by Amber McIver-Traywick – Bob Conde, Gabe’s father, stands on the front porch of the family’s home alongside a photo of Gabe given to the family by the BHS track and field team.

On April 30, 2018, Gabe was killed by small-arms fire. He was serving as a security enabler assigned to a special operations unit that was conducting an operation alongside Afghan security forces against the Taliban in Tagab district, Kapisa province Afghanistan. The elevation of the area he was in that day is around 4300 feet, close to that of Berthoud’s. It is mountainous with green valleys used for agriculture and sheep herding. It’s a small province, home to around 70,000 people, but a hotbed of Taliban activity and strategic for the safety of the region, as it has been a staging ground for attacks on Kabul.

Gabe’s dad Bob sat down to tell me about his son a week to the day after his son was killed. In reality, how do you encapsulate 22 years of a life and, what I came to understand as a personality as big as Gabe’s, into a 30-minute conversation. Nevertheless Bob was extremely gracious and, with strength and reserve, did his best to honor and flesh-out his “fearless” son.

Bob was calm as he spoke, his voice quiet but steady, only occasionally catching as he answered questions about his son. Gabe was the second U.S. military person to be killed in Afghanistan this year, which has brought a significant amount of media attention.

The rims of his eyes were slightly red as we spoke, a sign of the tears that had been shed over the past week. Despite what has surrounded them, the Conde family said they have been overwhelmed with the love they have been shown from their neighbors and surrounding communities, including Berthoud, where Gabe attended high school.

On their return from Delaware neighbors lined the drive to their home with American flags to honor the fallen hero.

Gabe came into the world in a fairly incredible way. “He was born at home; no midwife, no doctor,” Bob said, a decision he and his wife Donna had made together. They decided this wasn’t the way to go for their two younger children, Olivia and Priscilla, but it was a fitting entrance for the adventurous and protective big-brother Gabe who thrived in the outdoors and in pushing himself to be the best he could be.

Bob told a story about when Gabe was around 8 years old. The family lived in Missouri at the time, prior to moving to Colorado in 2009, and their neighbor needed help with something. He couldn’t recall specifically what the need was, but Gabe wanted to go over and help his neighbor. “He had been there all day and she was just glowing about what a hard worker he was…she had money to give him and he [Gabe] said, ‘Ma’am I’m sorry, but I don’t have to get money for doing the right thing,’ Bob continued, “He turned out to be that man too, not just that boy – he touched a lot of lives.”

Gabe went on several mission trips during his high school years and, according to his dad, was always looking out for people who needed help. “He was a hard worker and he lived according to his principles – He loves his family, especially his sisters, he loves his country, he protects the people who are weaker than him, and he did that until his dying day but most of all, that all comes out of his love for God.”

Gabe joined the Army in March 2015.  He was about to finish his first year at the Colorado School of Mines but knew that wasn’t where he really desired to be. He was smart and excelled both athletically and academically. He also excelled at music, playing the trumpet, and enjoyed writing and drawing. He liked math and science and took AP classes. Many people encouraged him to become an engineer, including his parents who saw his potential in that field.

Spc. Gabriel D. Conde

After graduating from BHS in 2014 he was awarded scholarships to attend the prestigious school. He was about to complete his first year when he called his parents to ask if they would be upset with him if he joined the military. Bob said he told Gabe, “You have to go where God is leading you. I know your heart’s not in this.”

Following Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., he was an airborne infantryman assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division with U.S. Army Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. His first combat tour, in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel, began as he deployed to Afghanistan in September 2017 and was scheduled to return home this month.

Gabe received praise, not just from friends and family, but from his superiors in the military. “Gabriel is everything you want in a paratrooper; smart, physically fit, and willing to take the initiative to accomplish the mission,” Col. Jason Jones, commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team said in a statement. “Gabriel will always be a Spartan, and we vow that the sacrifice he made will never be forgotten.”

Gabe’s mom Donna’s Facebook profile picture is of her hugging her son goodbye, clad in a cowboy hat at the airport. She said in a post that when she types Gabe’s name into her phone it always auto-corrects to “Gave.” Family friend Paula Hoogland said, “That was Gabe, that’s what he’ll be remembered for.”

Gabe’s memorial will be held on Saturday, May 12th, at 1 p.m. at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO. The military burial will take place at Fort Logan National Cemetery on Monday.

Gabe will be arriving home from Dover Air force Base on Friday, May 11th, at approximately 10 a.m., at the Northern Colorado Regional airport in Loveland. Procession back to Longmont, to honor Gabe’s arrival home, will proceed down I-25 to Highway 56 through Berthoud and back to Longmont via 287 immediately after his arrival. Please come out to honor Gabe as the procession goes through Berthoud by lining the streets of Berthoud at approximately 10:30 AM.

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