Congressional leaders from Arizona want to name the Veteran Affairs clinic in Gilbert after a Chandler soldier killed last year in Somalia.
Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad died on June 8, 2018 during a mission focused on targeting militant groups in Somalia. The 26-year-old was the first serviceman from Arizona to die in combat since 2016.
U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, whose district includes a large portion of the East Valley, introduced the legislation, calling it a small token of appreciation for Conrad and his family.
“Staff Sergeant Conrad was one of America’s finest, and we all mourn his passing,” Biggs wrote in a statement. “His life of service and sacrifice reminds us that there are men and women fighting every day to keep our country free and prosperous.”
Christie Palcisko, Conrad’s sister, said naming the facility after her brother would be a nice tribute, but her family’s more focused on the clinic’s level of service.
“We want to make sure that if (they’re) putting Alex’s name on something, it’s gonna be run smoothly and provide the resources and treatment veterans need,” she said.
The Phoenix VA was plagued by scandal several years ago after whistleblowers revealed veterans were being subjected to long wait times and administrators covered it up by falsifying records.
It escalated to the national level as VA hospitals across the country began reporting similar problems of staff shortages and delayed care.
Lawmakers have since passed or introduced legislation to fix the VA, but Palcisko wants to make sure any clinic sharing her brother’s name will measure up to the level of care that veterans deserve.
Conrad was born in Mesa and graduated from Hamilton High School in 2010. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed twice to Afghanistan between 2012 and 2014.
His family described Conrad as smart, outgoing, and kind-hearted. His interests varied from playing football to reading “Harry Potter” books.
Palcisko said her brother worked in the Army Special Forces as an intelligence officer – a job he particularly enjoyed because it let him interact with the locals.
“He loved going out and meeting the local populations and then going back with a plan to help keep them safe,” Conrad’s sister said.
At the time of his death, Conrad was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was sent to Somalia last year to take part in Operation Octave Shield, a mission focused on curtailing terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab.
The group of Islamic extremists is perhaps best known for orchestrating an attack at a Kenyan shopping mall in 2013 that left 62 civilians dead.
President Trump authorized the Department of Defense to go after al-Shabaab in March 2017, resulting in dozens of deadly air strikes.
Conrad was part of a counterinsurgency tactic that involved establishing outposts across Somalia for local soldiers to fight against al-Shabaab.
On June 8, 2018, Shabaab militants organized a rapid firefight at one of these outposts that ended with mortar detonations. Shrapnel from the explosions struck Conrad’s face and neck, according to reports obtained by the New York Times.
During the attack, Conrad reportedly ran out to rescue a civilian and help them take cover.
Conrad was still breathing by the time the blasts ended, but his airway was quickly blocked by bleeding from his facial injuries. An army medic tried supplying oxygen to Conrad’s lungs by cutting a hole in his neck as they waited for an emergency helicopter.
The New York Times reported Conrad died about 15 minutes after he was flown to an American military base.
“Everyone did everything they could do,” Palcisko said about her brother’s medical treatment. “It’s just part of being in a dangerous spot and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
One of the Shabaab militants suspected of participating in the June 8 ambush was killed in an air strike earlier this year, according to the Military Times.
Conrad was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with Valor, and Meritorious Service Medal.
All nine of Arizona’s congressional representatives, Republican and Democrat, have already endorsed Biggs’s legislation to name the clinic after Conrad.
“Designating our local veterans’ health clinic in his name is the least we can do to honor his life and legacy of service,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, has introduced legislation to coincide with Biggs’s bill, as both chambers of Congress have to authorize naming the clinic after Conrad.
“Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country,” McSally stated. “Renaming the Gilbert VA clinic after him will be a tribute to his life of service and devotion, and a way for our community to remember this American hero.”