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City supports naming NMMI bridge after fallen soldier

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The New Mexico Military Institute overpass connects two sides of the NMMI Campus on North Main Street between College Boulevard and 19th Street. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Roswell City Council passed a resolution of support last week to name the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) pedestrian overpass in honor of a fallen veteran.

Darrell Johnson stands at the lectern at the full Roswell City Council meeting on Thursday night. Johnson requested support from the city council in naming the overpass at New Mexico Military Institute after a former student and fallen veteran, Sgt. Christopher Sanders. (Alison Penn Photo)

Councilor Judy Stubbs made the motion to honor Sgt. Christopher Sanders by naming the footbridge after him, and it was seconded by Councilor Barry Foster. Stubbs said in Legal Committee the vote was 3 to 1. During Thursday’s five-hour meeting, Mayor Dennis Kintigh called for a voice vote and it passed unanimously.

Darrell Johnson, a New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) representative and Sanders’ father-in-law, said it was important to the family to have this memorial. Johnson said Sanders was a Roswell native with a passion to be a cadet in his youth.

There was ambiguity about the true ownership of the bridge during the Legal Committee meeting on June 28, but Johnson explained the bridge is a state-owned overpass, with landings at NMMI, and a city structure, which is why it requires a resolution.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman said NMDOT approached the city seeking support as part of the Bridges for the Fallen initiative. The resolution stated that NMDOT will organize the dedication of the pedestrian bridge in memory of Sanders’ service.

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According to the meeting’s agenda, Sanders was born on April 30, 1985, and graduated from NMMI in 2004. The agenda also stated that though Sanders wanted to attend college and become an officer, the 9/11 terrorist attacks persuaded him to join the Army in February 2004. Sanders, five other soldiers, and an interpreter were killed in action on Jan. 9, 2008 in Sinsil, Iraq and were given the name the ‘Sinsil 7.’

Other background in the agenda said Sanders served two tours and received the distinctions of Bronze Star with Valor, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal 1st Award, Army Commendation Medal 2nd Award, Expert Infantry Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, Army Good Contact Medal, National Defense Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and the Overseas Service Medal.

Stubbs amended the language to say the city of Roswell, “extends its condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of fallen service men and women,” and that it supports NMDOT’s dedication. The amended language was approved by the council.

Johnson said Major General Jerry Grizzle and NMMI support the resolution. Johnson said the final decision may be solidified in September at the NMDOT commissioners’ meeting. Johnson said Sanders was a “great kid and a good father.” Johnson said after 9/11 he saw Sanders holding signs around town to recruit people for the military.

Councilor Juan Oropesa said he was in total support of the resolution, but asked why Sanders was chosen out of the Sinsil 7. Oropesa said he wished the city had a bridge for each one of them — but recognized this was the not reality. Oropesa shared his condolences and appreciation of the family’s efforts and sacrifice of the Sinsil 7.

In response to Oropesa’s question, Johnson said NMMI has set precedence for facilities named after important alumni and the bridge fit with the Bridges of the Fallen.

“There’s many bridges,” Johnson said. “There’s many opportunities for a lot of personnel throughout — God bless everybody that’s put down their lives for the United States of America — but the application for this one specifically was because it was adjacent to the institute (NMMI) and just really hit home.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.