Fellow firefighter helps combat veteran honor his military brothers in his unique way


A combat veteran-turned first responder has an interesting and elaborate way to honor his fallen comrades, involving shots of alcohol and a specific ritual he performs on the anniversary of their deaths.

First responder Justin Austad posted the details behind his long-thought-out ritual, which honors two of his fallen comrades, members of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade who were killed in during the same I.E.D blast in Afghanistan back in 2011.

“My friend and I went to a local eatery after baseball practice tonight,” he wrote earlier this month, noting that they are both baseball coaches in their community. “Today is one of the two days a year where I do memorial for my fallen brothers, which I do every year. I miss and love these guys.”

Despite the fact that his friend is not prior service, he agreed and was more than willing to participate in the ritual.

“My friend was awesome to go with tonight. He didn’t say much because I don’t think he quite knew what to say. He wasn’t military, and he hadn’t really experienced the same kind of thing. He didn’t have to say anything though. Being there was all that really mattered. He is a brother fireman…we’re on the same shift, at the same house. Family is family. Whether it be in combat, [firefighting], EMS, or a LEO, I consider you a member.”

Austad’s ritual consists of writing the names of the fallen on a napkin, then ordering drinks on their behalf. The shots are to remain untouched until last call.

After the drinks arrived, Austad made a toast.

“To not dying today, and remembering those that did,” he said.

After a while, Austad’s partner began asking about the two soldiers who were killed.

“I told him a few stories about each and times we had,” Austad said. “I think he was just glad to be there with me, share the moment, and to support my craziness. I’m glad he came too. Company sometimes helps.”

Austad admits that he misses his friends, and wonders what life would be like had they not been taken from this mortal coil.

“I always want to sit with them as long as I can,” he added. “[To] Look at their names and wonder where they would be today. I want to remember all the times. The good, the bad, and everything in between. They deserve it.”

Austad’s traditions are not unlike others, though not quite the same. Verily, each person who has seen combat has their own way of coping with loss, and no two methods are exactly alike.

For something as global and universal as warfare, there sure is a personal sting in its aftermath.

Army Spc. Shawn A. Muhr (left) and Army Spc. Joshua R. Campbell (right), assigned to the 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Jan. 29, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.

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