Honoring DS Fallen: Thomas Walter Jaichner
By Barbara Gleason, DS Public Affairs
The following is the fifth in a series of profiles about Bureau of Diplomatic Security employees, contractors, military personnel, and host nation security personnel who lost their lives providing a secure environment for the conduct of American diplomacy.
Currently, 137 individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty throughout the Bureau’s 100-year history. They are honored on the Diplomatic Security Memorial at DS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, visit www.dsmemorial.state.gov
Thomas Jaichner, in uniform, visiting family during the Christmas holidays, December 1990. (Jaichner family photo)
“Bama Gone but Not Forgotten” read the inscription on a large red, white, and blue floral wreath near the Diplomatic Security (DS) Memorial Wall at its dedication September 18, 2015. The wreath honored the life of Thomas Walter Jaichner, a DS private security contractor killed by sniper fire while on protective duty in Ramadi, Iraq, on May 10, 2005.
Tom Jaichner’s life was as rich and varied as the flowers displayed in the wreath, and he touched the lives of many during the three decades of his life. “Any person who ever had the privilege of being his friend is honestly blessed,” one of those friends recalled after his death. “He was one of those people who would cheer you up even when you didn’t want to be cheered up. He had a special way of making whoever he was talking to feel special.”
Born in Trenton and raised in nearby Bordentown, New Jersey, Tom enlisted in the Army after high school and served with the Rangers and Special Forces, being stationed in Germany in the early 1990s. His sister, Jennifer Lynch, recalled that the Army satisfied many of the affinities he had growing up—his love of all sports and being fit, plus his interest in the military and love of country.
“But there was also an intellectual side to Tom,” said his sister, who noted that when he left the Army, he attended college, graduating with a degree in political science from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Sports were still on his mind, added Jennifer in explaining his college choice: “He loved the Alabama football team.”
While at the University of Alabama, Tom enlisted in the Alabama National Guard. Several months after September 11, 2001, he deployed to Afghanistan, serving with the 20th Special Forces Group in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thomas Jaichner prior to leaving for Afghanistan in 2002 (Jaichner family photo)
“When 9/11 happened, Tommy said, ‘that’s it—I’m going,’” recalled Jennifer. “My brother was doing exactly what he wanted to do,” she said. “It was very personal to him—he wanted to be a part of it as many patriots did.” She said that he was in Afghanistan for 18 months in the Special Forces Group. In 2003, he became a private security contractor, volunteered to go to the Middle East, and was completing his third three-month tour in Iraq when he was killed in 2005.
“The power of family is what got us through what happened to Tommy…so much love and support…family and love,” said Jennifer. “Besides being a sibling, my brother, hands down, was a really good friend to me—someone I could really count on.” In addition to his sister, Tom was survived by wife, Blair; father, William; mother, Merle Barrett; and sister, Kimberly Barrett.
Known to his military and contractor friends as “Bama” or “Jake,” many of his brothers in arms have special memories of Tom: “the consummate quiet professional”; “a kind, humble warrior”; “one whose enthusiasm and dedication carried others through many long, tedious, and dangerous days.”
Shortly after his death, an online memorial was established in his memory. Over the past decade, hundreds of condolence messages have been posted by more than 75 of his friends and family. And the list keeps growing. He is remembered as a “great guy…who turned into a real man, a hero…warm…crazy…funny…proud to be from New Jersey…” One post noted, “I still keep the [Philadelphia] Eagles honest for you.”
His sister, Jennifer, observed that Tom’s devotion to his friends, and vice-versa, underpinned all aspects of his life. More than simply an obituary in a newspaper or words on a gravestone, the friendship between Tom and his friends was visually displayed on a makeshift memorial on the side of a railroad bridge near his hometown of Bordentown. While Tom was in the Army, one of his best friends, 19-year old Bryant Nemeth, known to his friends as “Sauce,” was killed in an automobile accident near his hometown. Shortly after the accident—after Tom had left the Army and returned to Bordentown—mysteriously, the name “Sauce” appeared on the side of the bridge near where the accident had occurred. Shortly after Tom’s death, “Tommy J.” appeared on the side of the bridge near the name “Sauce.” It even became a town mystery as to who this “Tommy J. Sauce” was and why his name was painted on the side of the bridge. The local online newspaper, U.S. 1—PrincetonInfo.com, got involved—raising the issue to its readers. A reader provided the answer—explaining the connection between the name “Tommy J. Sauce” and the memorial to the two friends. “Some people from town asked about your bridge and Sauce’s. I was proud to explain who you and he were…and how much [we] love and remember you both…,” read a posting on Tommy’s memorial blog. The mystery of “Thomas J. Sauce” was solved.
The one theme that rings loud and clear through the online recollections of his many friends, colleagues, and family: Tom Jaichner was loved and respected by many whose lives he touched. And they will never forget him:
“It behooves us all to carry on day to day with the same courage, commitment, compassion for others, and true-to-self conviction that he so boldly displayed. In this way, we can truly honor his legacy and bestow integrity to his efforts, never allowing the strength of his spirit to dwindle.”
“One of many things that Jake taught me personally was to try every day to be a better team mate and a better friend.”
“I had the privilege to work with Bama in a hard, foreign place….He was one of the most compassionate, caring professionals that I knew. Working with Bama one knew he cared for you and the mission. I am a little better man for my association with Thomas Jaichner.”
“Tommy J, Jake, Tom, TJ…whatever name we knew him by, we all knew the same adventurous, loyal, intelligent, and fascinatingly unique spirit that was Thomas Walter Jaichner. …As with all things we cherish, Tom’s stay with us seemed painfully brief. Yet, he has made so many lives better in the short time he was here….”
Tom’s father, William Jaichner, perhaps best summed up the memory of his son in his own online tribute: “Every father wants his son to do better than he has. Tom did so. Tom’s true memorial and legacy will be in the hearts, and memories, of all who knew him. Rest in peace, my brave, good son.”
Thomas Jaichner on holiday in Swizterland in 2004. (Jaichner family photo)