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Fort Drum renames fitness facility for Distinguished Service Cross recipient

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FORT DRUM — The heroism and sacrifice of Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins was recounted as the post renamed its functional fitness facility in his honor.

Sgt. Atkins saved the lives of three soldiers while deployed to Iraq in 2007 when he tackled and pinned an insurgent who approached his unit wearing a suicide vest, using his body to shield the blast. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the military’s second highest honor, below the Medal of Honor.

Many people at the ceremony said using Sgt. Atkins’s name on the facility was appropriate, since he was an avid snowmobile rider and hunter.

“Travis was a complete, multifunctional individual,” said Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Guadarama, who spoke during the ceremony.

His father, Jack Atkins, a Vietnam veteran, told the audience how his son in 1994 had taken out his new snowmobile without asking, only to return an hour later with mixed news.

“I rolled the sled, Dad,” Mr. Atkins said. “But the good news is the windshield just pops off like nothing happened.”

He said his son must not have known where the brakes were, since he rarely used them.

Sgt. Atkins’s heroics took place as he was conducting routine security on June 1, 2007, in Abu Sarnak, Iraq, when he and his team had stopped a group of four suspected insurgents. As he attempted to search them, one of the men engaged Sgt. Atkins in hand-to-hand combat, at which point he discovered the insurgent was wearing a suicide vest under his clothes.

Though the insurgent was able to reach his vest, Sgt. Atkins was able to tackle and pin the man to shield his fellow soldiers from the explosion.

“He saved three good guys by doing what he did,” said Staff Sgt. Joel W. Irby, who was a part of the convoy with Sgt. Atkins on the day he died. “I don’t think he would change any decision of what he did.”

Sgt. Atkins is the only 10th Mountain Division soldier to receive the Distinguished Service Cross since 2001.

Sgt. Aaron Hall, Sgt. Atkins’s battle buddy while deployed, called him a man who had a profound impact on him professionally and personally.

“He was a man who could make things happen,” he said.

Sgt. Hall finished his remarks by telling the audience about his son’s fascination with superheroes, particularly Captain America, and how, when he was asked who his favorite superhero was, “my reply always has been and always will be ‘Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins.’”

He said that Sgt. Atkins had helped him purchase his first sporting rifle, and that when he retires at the end of this week, he plans to open his own hunting supply store.

Sgt. Atkins, 31, of Bozeman, Mont., enlisted in the Army in 2000, and deployed to Iraq in March 2003 with the 101st Airborne Division, before being honorably discharged later that year.

He was assigned to Fort Drum after re-enlisting in December 2005, and deployed to Iraq in August 2006, serving there until his death. He is survived by his parents, Jack and Elaine Atkins, a son, Trevor, and a sister, Jennifer L. Schultz.

Mr. and Mrs. Atkins declined to talk with media following the ceremony, but in the past have told the Times about the pride they have in their son and the connections they have made since his death with other soldiers from the company.

When he died, Sgt. Atkins served in the Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. Several soldiers from the company filled the facility in formation for the ceremony.

Capt. Owen Durham, the company’s commander, said Sgt. Atkins’s courage would serve as an inspiration as it prepares to deploy to Afghanistan.

“He made us all proud,” he said. “I think that’s really, as we go off to Afghanistan, that’s really all we can hope for, is to make everyone proud.”

The approximately $2 million Atkins Functional Fitness Facility, opened in November, is the highlight of the post’s expanded focus on the exercise, which emphasizes muscle movements over building individual muscles.

In the past year, the post has spent about $10 million to create and renovate its fitness offerings.

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