Silver Star Ceremony Reveals Threads Connecting Military Life

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2011 — The threads con­nect­ing mil­i­tary ser­vices, orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als became appar­ent dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny at the Navy Memo­r­i­al here today, which�honored the brav­ery and sac­ri­fice of Navy Lt. j.g. Fran­cis L. Ton­er, who was killed March 27, 2009, in Afghanistan.

The 26-year-old naval offi­cer died defend­ing fel­low ser­vice mem­bers from an ene­my who attacked with a firearm while unarmed U.S. troops were con­duct­ing phys­i­cal training. 

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pre­sent­ed Toner’s posthu­mous­ly award­ed Sil­ver Star to his wid­ow. The admi­ral said today’s cer­e­mo­ny hon­or­ing the 26-year-old’s actions in March 2009 was, in a sense, a cel­e­bra­tion of Toner’s life, as his sur­viv­ing wife, Brooke Ton­er, had wished. 

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents the Sil­ver Star to Brooke Ton­er, wid­ow of Navy Lt.j.g. Fran­cis L. Ton­er IV, at the Navy Memo­r­i­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Sept. 23, 2011.
DOD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

The event also demon­strat­ed “the way the road winds … through lives that we have come to know,” Mullen said, not­ing that many of the con­nec­tions Ton­er had made in his mil­i­tary life were vis­i­ble dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny. Among these con­nec­tions were the Seabees, the Navy’s con­struc­tion bat­tal­ion com­mu­ni­ty, of which Ton­er was part, as a Civ­il Engi­neer Corps offi­cer. Dur­ing a decade of war, Mullen said, cer­tain ele­ments of the mil­i­tary have “changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly,” and not­ed that “there has been no one that has changed more or done bet­ter than the Seabees.” 

The chair­man asked all Seabees attend­ing today’s cer­e­mo­ny to stand, and sev­er­al dozen did. 

“I have seen you in the fight … and I have so admired the warfight­ing skills, the com­pli­ments you get from sol­diers and sailors and air­men, every sin­gle trip [I make] to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mullen said. “Peo­ple say you live up to the John Wayne movies of the past [‘The Fight­ing Seabees’], but you’re way beyond that as far as I’m concerned.” 

The chair­man then spoke of anoth­er cer­e­mo­ny attendee, Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Formi­ca, who now com­mands U.S. Army Space and Mis­sile Defense Com­mand, Army Forces Strate­gic Com­mand and Joint Func­tion­al Com­po­nent Command. 

Ton­er died while deployed to Afghanistan sup­port­ing an embed­ded train­ing team. At the time, Formi­ca com­mand­ed the Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand, Afghanistan, where Mullen met him. 

“[Formi­ca] was run­ning the train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan,” Mullen said, acknowl­edg­ing that it was a “daunt­ing, daunt­ing task.” 

“[Formi­ca] is some­body I liked instant­ly, from the lead­er­ship point of view,” the chair­man said. “It does not sur­prise me one bit that Dick Formi­ca led the charge, if you will, to ensure that Frankie [Ton­er] was prop­er­ly rec­og­nized for his tru­ly hero­ic … per­for­mance on that day.” 

The chair­man said he and his wife, Deb­o­rah Mullen, have got­ten to know Brooke Ton­er since her husband’s death. 

“Deb­o­rah and I come from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and I have dear friends … who live in West­lake, which is where Frankie went to high school,” he said. “It’s real­ly … through all those con­nec­tions that we had the … gift of meet­ing Brooke, and get­ting very close to her in this enor­mous tragedy.” 

Mullen not­ed that Brooke is active in the Amer­i­can Wid­ow Project, a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion found­ed by Army wid­ow Taryn Davis to help oth­er mil­i­tary widows. 

“We’ve talked enough to Brooke to know how impor­tant the Amer­i­can Wid­ow Project is,” he said. “I know, quite frankly, what an injec­tion of spir­it and enthu­si­asm that con­nec­tion has been for Brooke, and we’re grateful.” 

Mullen noted�that Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Green­ert, the new chief of naval oper­a­tions, who assumed his posi­tion ear­li­er in the day, paid�tribute to his wife at today’s CNO change of com­mand cer­e­mo­ny and his joke that good naval offi­cers “mar­ry up.“��

“And we all have, and Frankie did too,” the chair­man said. “And any­body that knows Brooke knows that.” 

The chair­man said he and his wife have inter­act­ed with the young wid­ow at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. The Mul­lens often vis­it Arlington’s Sec­tion 60, where the nation’s most recent war dead are buried, the admi­ral said. 

“There’s not a time that we’re over there that, if we have a moment, [we don’t] go to that sec­tion of Sec­tion 60 … where Frankie Ton­er and a young gal named Jes­si­ca Ellis, and oth­ers that we know” are buried, he said. 

“[They] have sac­ri­ficed so much, and made such a dif­fer­ence for our coun­try, and done so with­out ques­tion­ing,” the chair­man said. 

TAPS, the Tragedy Assis­tance Pro­gram for Sur­vivors, is a nation­al non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents “anoth­er thread or two” of the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty fab­ric under­pin­ning today’s cer­e­mo­ny, he said. 

“If you don’t know about [TAPS], you ought to know about it,” the chair­man said. “They are focused on fam­i­lies of the fall­en. They have an annu­al con­fer­ence meet­ing over Memo­r­i­al Day � 2,000 fam­i­ly mem­bers here this last Memo­r­i­al day, and when it start­ed in the 90s I think there were 10.” 

Mullen said at the last TAPS annu­al meet­ing, he and his wife met the hus­band of Navy Lt. Flo­rence B. Choe, who was killed in the same attack that took Toner’s life. 

The super­in­ten­dent and sev­er­al stu­dents of the U.S. Mer­chant Marine Acad­e­my, from which Ton­er grad­u­at­ed from in 2006, were among those attend­ing the cer­e­mo­ny today. 

“Wel­come,” the chair­man said to the mid­ship­men. “You’re our future, and this all hap­pens faster than any of us know. And we appre­ci­ate that you would raise your hand and serve your coun­try at this extra­or­di­nary time.” 

Mullen said part of the speech he deliv­ered at the Mer­chant Marine Acad­e­my two grad­u­a­tions ago focused on “that thread of Frankie Ton­er, who had grad­u­at­ed from there, who so many looked to for inspiration.” 

The admi­ral intro­duced anoth­er offi­cer who was along on Toner’s last run, pre­sent­ing him to the audi­ence only as “Car­los.”

“Frank Ton­er was a great friend, a great sailor and an offi­cer,” Car­los said. 

He in turn asked oth­er friends from Afghanistan to stand, and said, “The mil­i­tary has made us one family.” 

Mullen will retire as chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff next week. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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