WATERLOO | A Waterloo soldier who was one of Iowa's early casualties of the Iraq war will be memorialized where he competed on the gridiron.

A memorial marker for Eric Steffeney, a U.S. Army soldier and 1994 West High School graduate killed in Iraq in 2005, will be dedicated at Waterloo Memorial Stadium in a 2 p.m. ceremony Nov. 9.

Steffeney played football for the Wahawks, and also competed at the stadium as a student at nearby Central Middle School.

It's the result of several months of work.

"We couldn't be happier we've moved this far with it," said Diana Hawker, a retired Waterloo school district employee and friend of Eric Steffeney's mother, Annette Crowe. Hawker was one of the leading proponents of the memorial.

"I'm so grateful to Diana," Crowe said. "I'm so pleased and grateful. I think it's important we recognize people who sacrificed their lives for freedom."

An Army staff sergeant, Steffeney, 28, died on Feb. 23, 2005, when he stepped on a undetected bomb while defusing another.

At the time of his death, Steffeney, a married father of three children living in North Carolina, was close to finishing his second tour in Iraq with an explosive ordinance disposal unit.

The marker for Steffeney is being manufactured and provided by Flags for Freedom Outreach, a Lake Ozark, Mo., organization dedicated to supporting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families and honoring the fallen.

The organization made similar markers for Cedar Falls High School graduate and Army Spc. Travis Vaughn, killed in Afghanistan in 2007, and Iowa Army National Guard Spc. Donny Nichols, a graduate of Waverly-Shell Rock High School killed in Afghanistan in 2011. Vaughn's marker was dedicated at CFHS in June. Nichols' marker will be dedicated at W-SR Nov. 11.

Waterloo Schools spokesperson Tara Thomas said it's anticipated the Nov. 9 dedication of Steffeney's memorial will include participation by the Patriot Guard Riders, AMVETS Riders, the West High Junior ROTC and music by West. Iowa Army National Guard Maj. Garrett Gingrich will speak. Gingrich is a Waterloo firefighter and graduate of Union High School in La Porte City who served with Nichols and also spoke at the Vaughn memorial dedication.

Organizers originally considered locating the memorialĀ for Steffeney at West High. "The concern was there really wasn't an appropriate area in front of the school that allowed for future vision" for other memorials, Thomas said.

Waterloo school board member Lyle Schmitt suggested the Memorial Stadium site, Thomas said, in keeping with the venue's name and Steffeney's own history as an athlete there.

She noted the stadium is a multi-purpose facility used by multiple schools as the home to many West and East high athletic activities. Steffeney's memorial will be highly visible.

That's the point of the Steffeney memorial, Hawker said, as well as those for Vaughn, Nichols and others -- to have them near school facilities so students can be aware of those individuals' sacrifice. Thomas said Steffeney also will be recognized at a Veterans Day school assembly at West High.

Thomas said the district intends to construct a sign and entrance structure to the stadium. The memorial, and any future memorials, will be just inside that entrance.

Waterloo Schools Superintendent Gary Norris said the district supports the memorial for Steffeney and will meet with veterans and other groups to determine a policy for any proposed future memorials in that area.

News Editor at the Courier

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