Stephen Castner

Cpl. Stephen W. Castner of Cedarburg, Wisconsin began his military career shortly after graduating from Cedarburg High School in 1997. He was trained in electronics and communications in the Air Force and left after his enlistment was over and went to college, first at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and then at University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. He is survived by his parents, Kay and Steve Castner. Stephen died of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMMV during combat operations in Tallil, Iraq at age 27.

National Guard
121st Field Artillery Regiment
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Hundreds of relatives, friends and well-wishers at a memorial Saturday recalled the life of a Cedarburg soldier who died in Iraq.

A dozen speakers told the crowd of 600 about Spc. 4 Stephen W. Castner, who they recalled as courageous, sometimes zany and often intense but smiling.

Castner, 27, who served in the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery in Milwaukee, died July 24 when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb in Tallil, Iraq. In the weeks since his death, his father has made public his son’s concerns about having adequate training and equipment.

At the service at the Concordia University field house in Mequon, Castner’s cousin, Julie Falda, recalled how he wanted a few minutes with everyone at a family gathering before he left for Iraq.

“We all told him to be safe, thinking those were the magic words,” she said. “Unfortunately, those words did not protect him.”

Maj. Doug Hedman, a Guard chaplain and Lutheran pastor, read a statement written earlier that day by Castner’s mother, Kay. She explained how she received a message from her son that morning, after she had checked on the family’s cattle.

“On the way back in, as I was walking along one of our hedgerows, I happened to look up. There, about 10 feet above me, was a magnificent rose-breasted grosbeak. You see them occasionally, but not often. He sat there for several seconds and then flew upward and away.

“A very dear, dear friend of mine calls these occurrences God wings.’ I truly believe this God wing was God telling me everything is fine. It was Stephen telling me, I’m OK, mom.’ ”

Castner had served four years in the Air Force before joining the Guard last year. Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, presented posthumous awards that included the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Castner’s father, Stephen L. Castner, has now said relatives of other soldiers in the Milwaukee-based battalion have expressed similar concerns about training and equipment. The military has said it will send a team to talk to the troops.

27, of Cedarburg, Wis.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery, Wisconsin Army National Guard, Milwaukee, Wis.; died July 24 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations in Tallil, Iraq.

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Age: 27
Incident Location: Tallil, Iraq
Branch: Army
Rank: Spc.
Unit: 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery
Units Base: Milwaukee, Wisconsin