Sergeant Atkins is the first female soldier to become a Battalion casualty since it was formed in 1942.
SGT Julia V. Atkins, age 22, of Bossier City, Louisiana, was killed in action when an improvised explosive device detonated near her HMMWV during patrol operations in the Adhamiyah district of north Baghdad.
SGT Atkins was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service and Purple Heart Medal.
"They notified my dad and told him that she was leaving out of the compound in Baghdad, she was the lead vehicle. And they said she ran over a mine," I’m kind of hurt but I’m also proud of my sister because she was serving her country, and my family feels the same way."
Larry Thomas, Julias brother
Julia Atkins was the youngest of four children whose mother died when she was 12 years old.
She joined the Army shortly after getting her GED, in part because of a family history of military service. Julia was on her second tour of duty in the war and was scheduled to leave Iraq in February, she was planning to leave the Army and go to college.
"I was in the (1/156th Armor Battalion) and when I came from basic training, she said she was joining the military. But she went active duty instead. My brother-in-law just left Iraq and my step-father is prior military," Larry Thomas, Julias brother
|SGT Atkins and her squad from the 64th MP Company in Iraq 2005. Courtesy of the 720th MP Battalion.
2005 SGT Atkins posted this message in the Battalion News Letter from Iraq...
PFC Atkins To Shiri, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you! Take care – you are my strength. Hope you enjoy your new job!”
23 December 2005 The first female soldier from the Ark-La-Tex killed in Iraq has been laid to rest. Funeral services for Army Sergeant Julia Atkins were held Friday morning at First Baptist Church of Bossier. Sergeant Atkins was she was the 50th female soldier to die in the war in Iraq.
"Local soldier buried with honors"
Bossier City and Shreveport residents clad in everything from military uniforms and furs to motorcycle leathers bade farewell Friday to a young daughter, sister and soldier killed in the line of duty.
Sgt. Julia Velinda Atkins, a military policewoman, was killed 10 December 2005 when a terrorist bomb planted in a roadway detonated under her Humvee in Iraq.
"I didn't known Sgt. Atkins, but I heard her commander and many soldiers talk highly of her," said the Army's top police officer, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, provost marshal general and commander of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. "I heard that she had a personality and a bearing that would light up a room and that she was dedicated and professional."
Like all others in the U.S. military, and like her brother and father before her, she volunteered to serve and protect her country, a decision that ended her life at age 22. Atkins, who was on her second tour in Iraq, is the first local female soldier to die in combat.
|Shiri Thomas Selby (left), sister of Sgt. Julia Atkins, holds her son JaVea during her sister’s funeral at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Haughton on Friday. (Greg Pearson/The Times)
"She left a legacy in her life her fellow soldiers will remember and take to their graves when they are 70," Ryder said.
At the burial in Haughton's Hill Crest Memorial Park Cemetery, after a trio of volleys that rent the air and elicited sobs from Atkins' father, siblings and many other relatives under a green canopy, Ryder handed the flag that draped her casket to her grieving father.
Billy Atkins is a sergeant with headquarters company, 1/156th Armor Battalion, and a popular cook with the Shreveport-based unit. He recently returned to Louisiana with other members of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, or Tiger Brigade, after an almost yearlong combat tour in Iraq.
"They put her away with pride," he said of the services for his daughter. "She will always be remembered by the great people in America. Her life did not end in vain."
Shiri Thomas Selby, one of Atkins' sisters, read a letter-poem that Atkins wrote two days before her death. It and a card another sister received in the mail the day Atkins died likely are the last messages she ever penned to her family.
"I thought it would be fitting to read it," Selby said.
Scores of Army personnel in green uniforms and a handful in desert-pattern camouflage were among the 200 or more who filled pews in First Baptist Church of Bossier City.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Thomas Plunkett was at the funeral and burial, as were Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuckey, Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Giles and Sgt. 1st Class Roderick Spurlock.
Atkins' fiance, Spc. Keith Mack of Gary, Ind., was there. Like Atkins, he is a member of the 64th Military Police Co., 720th M.P. Battalion, 89th M.P. Brigade, in Task Force Baghdad.
"Now I'm happy for her," he said before her service, the first official military funeral he has attended. "She's in a far better place, far better than here."
He plans to stay in the military to complete the task for which she died.
Lt. Col. Bob Taradash, Atkins' battalion commander, was at the funeral, too, and as more than just her boss. "She's part of my family. She's a family member. It's more than just a job. Most people wouldn't understand."
Well more than 50 of those on hand were members of the Patriot Guard Riders and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
"We're veterans honoring veterans," said Mike "Eagle" Long, chapter commander of the Combat Veterans group.
By John Andrew Prime, ShreveportTimes.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Articles edited from: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), The Associated Press, The Shreveport Times, and UPN 21 Television News.