The final salute to a fallen soldier

Anna Staver

At 11 a.m. on a chilly October morning, about a quarter mile surrounding St. Joseph’s Church on Waterloo Road in Randolph Township was closed. An American flag hung from a fire truck ladder that spanned the street blocking traffic.

Silently a hearse door opened, and six military members carefully carried the casket of Kent State alumna 1st Lt. Ashley White-Stumpf inside.

She died Oct. 22 along with two other men in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan when enemy forces attacked her unit with an improvised explosive device. Ashley was 24 years old.

“America the Beautiful” could be heard as mourners made their way into the church. St. Joseph’s overflowed with people, and a few wishing to pay their respects walked around to the back of the church where speakers had been set up to broadcast the service. Volunteers handed out coffee, punch, cookies and doughnuts to help keep those listening outside warm.

Inside the church, the Rev. Thomas Dyer led the service. He had a special message for the young people in the audience, particularly the young military members.

“Be understanding if we are a little more concerned about your safety,“ Dyer said. “Be understanding if we want to hug you a little more often.”

Ashley graduated from Kent State in May 2009 with a degree in athletic training. She joined the Ohio National Guard her freshman year, and the North Carolina National Guard in December 2009.

It was there she met Capt. Jason Stumpf of Raeford, N.C. They were married this May.

When Stumpf spoke, he called her the ideal wife. He said even though he never asked, she always made him breakfast in the morning and sent him off to work with lunch. Stumpf said at the end of the day she always met him at the door with a smile, and she never let him help with dinner.

Stumpf said that Ashley volunteered to join a Cultural Support Team, an all-female group of soldiers formed in 2010 that travel attached to special operations units.

Cpl. Mark O’Donnell, Deputy Regimental Commander for the 75th Rangers Regiment, was Ashley’s commanding officer in Afghanistan. He came with about 25 members of the regiment to pay their respects.

O’Donnell said Ashley’s job was to approach women and children in Afghanistan and provide them with assistance that could be considered inappropriate coming from a male.

It’s a humanitarian role, and one that O’Donnell said could be difficult in situations where tensions run high. He said she was often the only female on an objective, and he asked the church to imagine the courage that must have taken. O’Donnell compared her to the narrative of “The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly,” O’Donnell said. “ … If he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

He said he was “humbled to serve alongside someone like this.”

She was the first member of the approximately 150-member Army CST to be killed in action. It was her first deployment.

The officer in command of the CST division shared personal stories of the friendship she had with Ashley. Tom Bryant, director of public affairs for the U.S. Special Operations Command, asked that the major’s name be withheld for security reasons because she plans to return to Afghanistan soon.

The major said Ashley was quiet and reserved. Her strength showed through her actions.

“She had the quiet confidence only found in elite warriors,” the Major said.

She said Ashley was physically strong as well.

“Ashley would climb up the rope like a spider monkey, and we could watch the rangers eyes’ bug out,” she said.

She added that Ashley often stayed on the pull-up bar longer than the men. She said what she will remember most about Ashley was her smile.

“It has a light that just emanates from true happiness and confidence,” the Major said. “It draws you in and puts you at ease.”

When her brother spoke, his voiced cracked slightly as he said that his sister would have wanted everyone to be thankful for the daily blessing in their lives.

He said he loved her and wondered why such a beautiful person had been taken out of his life.


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“As amazing and incomprehensible (a) place as heaven is, it is now better with Ashley in its midst,” he said.

Ashley is also survived by her twin sister Brittany White and by her parents Robert and Deborah White of Alliance.

Before the casket was carried outside, the pall-bearers carefully opened an American flag and draped it over her white casket.

Outside, a horse-drawn hearse carriage pulled by two tan Haflingers waited to carry Ashley to her final resting place in the cemetery behind the church. The carriage was driven by Jim Best.

“It’s real special to do a military funeral,” Best said. “I spent three months in Iraq myself.”

Brian McElhinney, an Akron-based bagpipe musician, led the funeral procession while playing “Going Home.” Following him were members of the 75th Ranger Regiment with Ashley’s casket and her family.

Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. John Mullholland escorted Ashley’s mother and held her hand as they walked behind the hearse.

They were followed by what seemed like an endless line of mourners dressed in black. The Combat Vets Association walked last carrying about a dozen American Flags. As the procession made its way up the hill into the cemetery, McElhinney began to play “Amazing Grace.”

Contact Anna Staver at [email protected].