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July 18, 2013


23-Year Old North Caldwell Native was Injured in Afghanistan and Passed on March 18th
(Newark, NJ) – In an emotional ceremony at the Hall of Records on Wednesday, July 17th, the memory and military service of the late U. S. Army Sergeant Derek T. McConnell was honored by the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.  District 4 Freeholder Leonard Luciano sponsored and presented the Board’s In Memoriam Commendation to Sgt. McConnell’s mother, Siobhan, of North Caldwell.

Siobhan McConnell of North Caldwell (center), the mother of the late U. S. Army Sergeant Derek T. McConnell, received an In Memoriam Commendation from the Freeholder Board at its Wednesday, July 17th, meeting.  She is pictured above with (from left to right) Freeholder President Blonnie Watson and Freeholders Gerald Owens, Leonard Luciano and Rolando Bobadilla.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

“Tonight we will honor the memory of U. S. Army Sergeant Derek T. McConnell”, said Freeholder Luciano, “a young man who served his country in Afghanistan, suffered grievous wounds while he was there, and then succumbed to them almost two years later on March 18th, 2013, at the age of 23.”

Sergeant McConnell grew up in North Caldwell where he attended grammar school and graduated from West Essex H.S. in 2008.  He entered the U. S. Army in January 2010, and after Basic and Airborne training was assigned to B Company, 2-87th Infantry Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Drum, New York.  On March 18th, 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan.  Four months later, on July 23rd, he was serving with the 3rd Platoon Wolverines, which was conducting Operation Cobra Quake II to destroy an insurgent Taliban cell operating in the Zahri District, Kandahar.  After a fellow U. S. soldier stepped on a pressure-plate improvised explosive device, a PPIED, and sustained serious injuries along with an Afghan Army soldier, Sergeant McConnell moved fearlessly, and without regard for his personal safety, to secure the area and ensure the safe landing of the MEDEVAC helicopter, which removed the two injured soldiers from the scene.  While continuing to clear and secure the area, Sergeant McConnell stepped on a PPIED himself, and was grievously injured.  He lost both of his legs, and also suffered a fractured skull, a fractured right arm and other severe blast wounds. 

As a result of his selfless actions, McConnell was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device “for his valorous actions, selfless service, and complete disregard for his personal safety (which are) in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect distinct credit upon himself, the 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, the 2-87th Infantry Regiment, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the United States Army”.

For the almost two years since the incident, Sergeant McConnell was recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he also trained with a service dog and was learning to walk with prosthetic legs.  In October of 2011, he became engaged to his high school sweetheart, Krystina Dressler of Fairfield, and two months later they were voted the winners of an $80,000 dream wedding in an online contest, “Operation Tie The Knot: Engagement Ring and Dream Wedding Giveaway”, and were planning their wedding for January 2014.  But suddenly and unexpectedly, Sergeant McConnell succumbed to his injuries on March 18th of this year.

“More than anyone else, you know just how inadequate words are to express the sorrow and condolences of those of us who are not living your reality”, said Luciano, speaking to Siobhan McConnell, Derek’s mother.  “Nevertheless, we want you to know that we are truly heartbroken by your loss.  We didn’t know Derek, but we will miss him.  We will never be able to express the depth of our gratitude for his service, or find the right words to ease your pain, but we wish we could.  What we can do is present you with this In Memoriam Commendation for Derek on behalf of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the residents of Essex County, and the entire nation.”

Siobhan McConnell, thanked the Board and explained, “Tomorrow it will be four months that he’s gone, and next week would have been his 2-year ‘Alive Day’.  This is a tough period for us now, because we thought he was coming home to us.”  She went on to say, “The solider that Derek went in to save that day was given Derek’s service dog in this past June, and I sort of feel Derek had his hand in that”, adding, “because that’s what Derek always wanted… to pay it forward and to help others.”


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695