By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 22, 2008
He was a soldier first, and that was clear when Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Rifles were fired. A bugler played taps. An Army chaplain said the decorated officer would be remembered as "one of the heroes of history."
Rogers, 40, was killed by a makeshift explosive device in Baghdad on Jan. 27 while in a Humvee. "As God would have it," his commanding officer wrote to his family in a letter, "he shielded two men who probably would have been killed if Alan had not been there."
Rogers was a military intelligence officer who had worked at the Pentagon, served in the Persian Gulf War and was on his second tour in Iraq. When he was killed, he was attached to the 4th Infantry Division as part of a team that was embedded with and trained Iraqi soldiers.
"What an exceptional, brilliant person -- just well-spoken and instantly could relate to anybody," Col. Thomas Fernandez, his commanding officer in Iraq, said in an interview. "He had a gift. He was unlike anybody I've met before."
The Army officer was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously and his second Bronze Star, then laid to rest March 14 at a morning service set against the bare trees of March and attended by more than 150 mourners. Friends and fellow soldiers came from as far away as Iraq and South Korea.
Rogers was described as an upbeat, intelligent and humble man who was attentive and accepting in a way that left many people feeling they must be his closest friend. He considered the Washington area, where he had lived in recent years, his adopted home.
"He found a way to connect with people for who they truly are," said Shay Hill, a close friend and one-time college roommate.
Rogers died a few weeks before a trip home, during which he had planned to serve as the best man in Hill's wedding. After his death, Rogers's team in Iraq pitched in to buy the fine Persian rug that Rogers had intended to give Hill and his wife as a wedding gift.
Former Pentagon colleagues said Rogers was a leader who came to work early, left late and was more interested in getting things done than claiming the spotlight.
"He was a man of conviction, and he was a man of faith, and he was an example for all of us to emulate," said Wally O'Connor, a colleague who was part of a biometrics team that Rogers helped lead from 2006 to 2007.
Mike Stango, another colleague from that time, said of Rogers: "It was a very politically charged environment, and he was the calming personality over everything."
Rogers had up-from-the-bootstraps beginnings, growing up mostly in Hampton, Fla., as an only child in "very meager" circumstances, cousin Cathy Long said. Long recalled him as "the type of son who was always so good to his parents" and went through a hard time when both died in a two-week period in 2000.
It was Long who accepted the folded flag at Rogers's grave site.
After high school, Rogers attended Santa Fe Community College, then enlisted in the Army as a chaplain's assistant. Four years later, he went to the University of Florida. He graduated with a theology degree in 1995 and accepted an Army commission.
He became an ordained minister through his Florida church, his family said.
In 2005, Rogers earned a master's degree in policy management at Georgetown University as part of a selective program meant to fast-track the next generation of Army leaders.
Mark Nadel, a visiting Georgetown professor who was his thesis adviser, recalled Rogers as an officer with leadership qualities that made him think, "This is a guy I'm going to hear from in 10 years, and he's going to be a general."
Tami Sadowski, a close friend in Washington, said Rogers had asked her to shop for a house he could buy after his Iraq tour ended in November. Instead, Sadowski organized events in his memory, including a gathering in the District the night after his burial. Friends came with their recollections.
It was the same place they had gathered for his send-off party before he left for war.
Staff writer Mark Berman contributed to this report.