Clear: Honoring Those Who Sacrificed Everything


The Story of Command Sgt. Major Donovan Watts Is Unforgettable

Many veterans choose not to speak about their military experiences.

To truly grasp it, you must have lived it yourself.

This Memorial Day will be followed by the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing on June 6, 1944. During that intense battle, over 4,400 soldiers lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy while serving their country.

Each of them gave what Lincoln referred to as “the last full measure of devotion.”

Often, the true cost of liberty can be best understood by focusing on one courageous individual whose life had a significant impact.

For me, that individual is Command Sgt. Major Donovan Watts.

Sgt. Major Watts dedicated over 28 years to the U.S. Army as a career soldier.

Most of his service was with the Elite 82nd Airborne Division.

He started as a young paratrooper, rising to the rank of squad leader, and eventually becoming the senior noncommissioned officer of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

I first crossed paths with him at Army posts in Fort Polk (now Fort Johnson) Louisiana, and later at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I always had confidence that Command Sgt. Major Watts would support me whenever needed.

He epitomized the ideal soldier and proudly referred to himself as married to the U.S. Army. He often joked, “If the Army wanted me to have a wife, they would have issued me one.”

Sgt. Fernando Arroyo detailed Sgt. Watts’ influence in his book, “The Shadow of Death: From My Battles in Fallujah to the Battle for My Soul.”

Arroyo enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and served in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2003 and 2004, earning his elite Ranger tab in 2005.

During a promotion evaluation before the Sergeant Promotion Board in 2005, Sgt. Major Watts, who presided over the board, left a lasting impression on Arroyo.

This encounter resonated with Arroyo, as Sgt. Major Watts took a genuine interest in him beyond just his military performance.

The dynamics of the evaluation changed drastically when the sergeants recognized Arroyo’s Ranger tab.

Sgt. Major Watts categorized individuals as different types of dogs, highlighting the tenacious nature of a yard dog who stands guard and eagerly anticipates action. The other sergeants and Arroyo laughed at his comparison, but Sgt. Major Watts’ tone quickly shifted, pinpointing the essence of Arroyo’s character.

Days later, Arroyo received news of his promotion to sergeant.

Just like Arroyo and many others, I experienced firsthand that Sgt. Major Watts’ commitment to his soldiers’ well-being exceeded everything. I recall his reputation for prioritizing his soldiers’ needs over his own.

For Sgt. Arroyo, Sgt. Major Watts’ loyalty to his soldiers ultimately led to his tragic death.

Instead of remaining in the safety of the camp, where his rank entitled him to stay, Sgt. Major Watts opted to join his troops during patrols, exposing himself to the dangers of enemy attacks, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

One day, following a mission, Arroyo heard an explosion, prompting everyone to prepare for action. The news eventually arrived to report to the hospital, signaling a tragic incident.

As a medevac helicopter landed and the news of Sgt. Major Watts’ passing was delivered, the solemnity of the moment was palpable.

Arroyo vividly remembers the final salute rendered to Sgt. Major Watts, underscoring the loss of a remarkable leader.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the profound sacrifice of selfless heroes like Command Sgt. Major Donovan Watts.

As we approach Memorial Day, let’s honor Command Sgt. Major Watts and the countless brave heroes like him who believed in the value of America, even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice.

Former Army Col. Samuel Clear (Ret.), the program manager for CityServe West Cook, served as a Deputy G-3 in Kuwait and Chief Plans ARCENT in Afghanistan.

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