Hours after nine soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division died in helicopter crashes in Kentucky, retired Sgt. Major John Greis tried to explain what it means to be a U.S. solider.
Sitting at a bar at V.F.W. Post 4895 in Clarksville, Greis discussed how military training seeks to be realistic, and how it's believed to be the best way to prepare for combat. But he also mentioned that the goal to make it as safe as possible.
At times, the two points clash.
"It's tragic,” said Greis, who served in Desert Storm from 1990-92 in Saudi Arabia.
“Nine people lost their lives. It's unfortunate. It's horrible. You grieve for the families," he said.
Greis retired from Fort Campbell in the 101st Airborne Division’s Second Brigade Combat Team after a 30-year, 10-day career. He spent about 20 years at the installation.
He said he certainly understood and felt the blow that losing nine soldiers meant to Fort Campbell, America’s military community, Clarksville and beyond.
"It's a tough profession,” he said. “It requires everyone to do their job."
On Wednesday night, one HH-60 Black Hawk was carrying five people; the other four, according to Brig. Gen. John Lubas.
"Today is a tough and tragic day for Kentucky, for Fort Campbell and for the 101st," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said. "The nine individuals we lost are children of God. They will be mourned and missed by their families, by their communities."
The nine people who died had not been identified Thursday, as investigators continued to notify next of kin.
Veteran-owned Clarksville businesses react
Veteran-owned realty company Keller Williams, which serves Clarksville and Fort Campbell, was mourning the loss of the nine soldiers.
"Please keep their families and friends in your thoughts and prayers," the business said in a statement. "They are receiving the toughest news any military family and unit can receive.
"Freedom never has been and never will come without a cost. These brave men and women signed a blank check for each of us that included sacrificing their lives for our Freedom. Never forget that.
"Rest in Honor my Brothers and Sisters. Your mission is complete."
Tristan Woodall, a veteran who owns Founding Frothers Coffee in downtown Clarksville, was stationed at Fort Campbell from 2019-2021.
“Let’s honor those brave warriors that were training to protect all of us Americans,” he said.
Woodall, who has lived in the area since 2019, says the relationship between Fort Campbell and Clarksville is “non-breakable.”
“We’ve all created a community of likeminded individuals,” Woodall said. “And when one of us is hurt, we all cry together.”
Woodall described the deaths of the nine soldiers as tragic for not only Clarksville and Fort Campbell but their home communities.
“This event has a drastic affect on all of us in this community, where the soldiers were based,” Woodall said. “But let us not forget the community where our brothers and sisters are from. That community lost a great son or daughter last night.”
U.S Rep. Green: 'Heartbroken'
Rep. Mark Green also weighed in on the situation. His district includes Clarksville.
“Camie and I are heartbroken by the loss of nine 101st Airborne soldiers during an overnight training accident," Green said.
"Fort Campbell is one of the closest-knit communities we’ve ever been a part of, and we know this loss is being felt heavily. Our prayers are with the families of those we lost. The loved ones left behind need all of our support. These moments serve as a stark reminder that freedom is never without sacrifice.
"America is grateful for their willingness to serve, and our hearts are broken that it came with such a high cost. We also want to thank all first responders from Trigg, Christian and Marshall Counties for their swift response. Our hearts ache for these families.”
'Suffer as a community'
State Rep. Jeff Burkhart of Clarksville, whose District 75 includes Fort Campbell, is a retired assistant fire chief for Clarksville.
"We're just devastated as a community," Burkhart said. "When things like this happen, we suffer as a community."
He's lived in Clarksville for 61 years, his entire life.
"We embrace the military. We're proud of that. ... It's a community loss and a personal loss for some of the families," he added.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Kentucky helicopter crash leaves Clarksville's army community grieving