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Gene Arden Vance Jr.
Find a Grave photo courtesy Gaye Thomas

West Virginia Military Casualities non-Veterans Memorial


Gene Arden Vance Jr.

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

G.K. Chesterton

Gene Arden Vance Jr. was born on November 30, 1963, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Gene Arden Vance Sr. and June Carol Steele. Gene was the oldest of three children, followed by David and Jamie Vance. Gene's family carried a long tradition of military service. His great uncles, William "Bittle" Steele and Clarence "Buck" England, served in World War II in the Army's 4th Infantry Division, Bravo Company. Gene's father, Gene Arden Vance Sr., was a captain in the U.S. Special Forces as part of the LRRP (Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol) and became a major in the Army before retiring in the late 1970s. Gene Jr. also had two uncles, William Edward Vance and James Ray Vance, who spent their careers in the military, as did his brother David, a non-commissioned officer with the 101st Airborne, who served two tours of duty in Iraq. Gene was heavily shaped and inspired by his family's military history and wanted to continue the legacy with his own life.

Gene grew up in Wyoming County, West Virginia, where he attended Oceana High School. His early childhood saw him experience the Vietnam War and its aftermath, with his father serving active duty overseas before becoming a magistrate and sheriff of the county. As a child in a military family, Gene frequently traveled and learned much about the world from a young age. He was described as a very intelligent and reserved teen and was voted "most quiet" in his school's senior superlatives when he graduated from Oceana in 1981. ("Gene Arden Vance Jr.," The Gene Vance Foundation for the Catastrophically Injured, accessed 16 March 2021,

In 1983, Gene attended Basic and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to become a Communications Systems Circuit Controller. For seven years, he served on active duty for the Army at a variety of posts, both in the U.S. and abroad. SGT Vance would complete a variety of additional courses during his time in the military, including the Primary Leadership Development Course, the Petroleum Supply Specialist Course, the Basic Airborne Course, the Special Forces Command Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, Advanced International Morse Code, and the Persian-Farsi Language Course. His active-duty assignment ended in 1990 about the time the First Gulf War was ramping up.

SGT Vance joined the Army Reserve in 1992, working from January to October as a Supply Specialist in the 646th Quartermaster Company stationed in Kingwood, West Virginia. He had his eyes set on joining the Special Forces, and in October he entered Company C, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which was comprised of forces from several different states' National Guards. Two years later, in 1994, SGT Vance moved to Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group in Kenova, West Virginia. In 2001, he was awarded the military occupational skill 98G (Cryptologic Linguist), decoding classified intercepted transmissions, and was a member of the Special Operations Team-Alpha (SOT-A) that conducted signal intelligence and electronic warfare.

Alongside his time in the West Virginia National Guard, SGT Vance worked to earn a college degree at West Virginia University in Morgantown and co-managed the Whitetail Bicycle and Fitness shop nearby. Friends recalled Gene as quiet and unassuming, a tall and imposing man with a passion for outdoor fitness and rock bands like the Grateful Dead. He liked wearing Birkenstock sandals and Deadhead t-shirts, and loved to bike Morgantown trails with friends. Gene generally kept quiet about the nature of his work with the National Guard. After a previous marriage left him with one daughter, Amber Vance, he met Lisa Selmon Vance, a local software engineer, when she designed a new website for the Whitetail shop. The two would later marry in 2001. ("Fallen U.S. Soldier a Newly Wed," Associated Press News Service, 20 May 2002, accessed 16 March 2021,; "Slain Commando Led 2 Lives, Friends Learn," Chicago Tribune, 22 May 2002, accessed 16 March 2021,

In September 2001, Gene was beginning his final year of instruction at WVU when the terrorist attacks on September 11 occurred. He was forced to cancel his honeymoon in December when the 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, was put on alert and sent to Afghanistan as reinforcements and replacements for the Active Duty Special Operations Forces. SGT Vance's expertise with the Farsi language and skills as a cryptologist became vital to the military operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He played a lead role in improving his detachment's communications, and communicated with his wife via telephone and email nearly every day. ("Biographical Sketch: Staff Sergeant Gene A. Vance Jr.," U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Public Affairs Office, accessed 16 March 2021,; "They Served in Silence: The Sacrifice of a Cryptologic Hero: SSG Gene Arden Vance, Jr., ARNGUS," National Security Agency, accessed 16 March 2021, )

On May 19, 2002, the 19th Special Forces Group's SOT-A team was taking part of Operation Mountain Lion in eastern Afghanistan near Shkin, a town in the Paktika Province, with the objective of locating and eliminating Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. The three-man SOT-A team along with 18 Afghanistan Military Force (AMF) were ambushed and placed under heavy automatic fire. SGT Vance was shot in the chest by an AK-47 automatic rifle, which bypassed his body armor hitting him in the side of the chest. Despite his injury, SGT Vance continued to translate and communicate battlefield intelligence to the AMF in the area to guide them out of danger. The team members called in a medevac for Gene, but unfortunately he died on the military helicopter as life-saving measures were unsuccessful. SGT Vance was the first National Guardsman to be killed in direct combat since 1969.

His body was received by an honor guard at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on May 21. On May 26, one day before Memorial Day, Vance's memorial service was held in Morgantown, West Virginia, with around 1,000 people in attendance as he was laid to rest at East Oak Grove Cemetery with full military honors. He was posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia University and promoted to staff sergeant. U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia was in office as the senate intelligence committee chairman at the time of Vance's death. He paid tribute to Vance's service saying that Americans who enjoy the freedoms and comforts their society provides must never forget that they do so because of men such as SSG Vance. U.S. Senators Joe Manchin III and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have paid tribute to Vance by honoring his actions to "fight terror in the name of freedom."

SSG Vance's awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Medal (2nd Award), the Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with "M" Device, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Parachutist Badge, the West Virginia Distinguished Service Medal, the West Virginia State Service Ribbon, and the West Virginia Distinguished Unit Award.

Memorial located in Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park, Morgantown, WV. <i>Find A Grave</i> photo courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Memorial located in Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park, Morgantown, WV. Find A Grave photo courtesy Cynthia Mullens

SSG Vance has been honored and will forever be remembered for his service and sacrifices. Several institutions have been named in his honor: the Vance Barracks at the Defense Language Institute in the U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey, California; Camp Vance in Bagram, Afghanistan, which headquarters the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force; the Vance-Nolan Building of the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; the Vance Mile, a portion of the Decker's Creek Trail in Morgantown; the SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Bridge at the intersection of State Route 85 and State Route 10 near Oceana; the Gene Arden Vance Jr. Memorial Drive in Morgantown; the SSG Gene Arden Vance Jr. and SGT Deforest Lee Talbert Hall of Honor in Camp Dawson, located in Kingwood; the Gene Vance Biometrics Experimentation Center, also in Camp Dawson; Gene Vance Jr. Day, celebrated annually on May 18 in Morgantown; the Gene Vance Jr. Foundation for the Catastrophically Injured, a humanitarian non-profit serving disabled veterans in Rutherfordton, North Carolina; and the SGT Gene A. Vance Jr. Fitness Center in Afghanistan. His name is engraved on the NSA/CSS Cryptologic Memorial Wall in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Memorial for SSG Gene Vance at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CISOTF) Dagger located at Karshi-Khadabad (K2), Uzbekistan, where 2nd BN 19th Special Forces (Airborne) was stationed for combat operations into Afghanistan. Courtesy Tony Boykin

Memorial for SSG Gene Vance at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CISOTF) Dagger located at Karshi-Khadabad (K2), Uzbekistan, where 2nd BN 19th Special Forces (Airborne) was stationed for combat operations into Afghanistan. Courtesy Tony Boykin

Article prepared by John Ward, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2021


West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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