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Service celebrates life of female soldier
The sadness and tears were joined by energetic singing, vigorous clapping, stomping and praise.
Less a somber service and more a joyous celebration of a short but vibrant life, hundreds of people filled the sanctuary of New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore to say goodbye to Army Spc. Toccara Renee Green.
The 23-year-old Rosedale woman was killed Aug. 14 when explosives detonated near her convoy in Al Asad. She was the first female soldier from Maryland to die in the Iraq war, according to the Pentagon.
Yesterday, Green, who was often called "Tee" or "Baby Green" by those who knew her, was remembered as a dedicated soldier, a determined and strong-willed woman, and a trusted and caring friend.
"To me, Green was more of a sister," said Army Spc. Nicole Coleman, a member of Green's unit, the Army's 57th Transportation Company, 584th Corps Support Battalion. Through sniffles and tears, Coleman, who was there when Green died, recalled how her friend liked eating Doritos and tuna in their tent in Iraq, and that CSI was her favorite show.
"I remember when we first met at basic, how much fun we had driving our drill instructors crazy," Coleman said.
Before the service, friends, former co-workers, members of her church, local politicians, military officials and strangers formed a line that snaked through the church's spacious lobby, then through the sanctuary. There, Green, dressed in her Army uniform, lay in her casket, flanked by members of the Army Honor Guard.
After the guests had paid their respects, the Green family - father Garry M. Green Sr. dressed in his Baltimore City police uniform, brother Staff Sgt. Garry Jr. in his Marine uniform and mother Yvonne, wearing white - took their turns. Afterward, her brother and father gently closed the lid and Garry Jr. smoothed the flag over his sister's coffin.
The military was a central part of the Baltimore native's life. A 2000 graduate of Forest Park Senior High School, Green spent four years in ROTC there. Her former ROTC instructor, retired Army Col. Franklin W. Collins, described Green as exuberant and eager, an A student and a competitor.
It was during her time there that she decided she wanted join the military, but her family convinced her to get her education first. Her parents were especially reluctant because her older brother had already joined the Marines. But after a year at Norfolk State University, she enlisted in the Army. From November 2003 to March 2004 they were both stationed in Iraq.
Lt. Col. John Sullivan, the commander of her battalion in Fort Drum, N.Y., said yesterday that Green earned a reputation for being an outstanding soldier and loyal teammate.
"Regardless of the task assigned, she always brought a contagious enthusiasm and instantly energized her fellow soldiers," he said.
Green had four months left in her second tour in Iraq, and had been home on leave the week before her death.
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings praised Green yesterday for serving two tours and also for following her dream.
"Many might disagree about the war, but there is no disagreement that Toccara Green was a courageous and bold dreamer," he said.
Mayor Martin O'Malley called her the "pride of our city and pride of our country."
"There is nothing purer than service," O'Malley said. He also told the Green family that he hopes they are comforted by the prayers of others.
Green's pastor, Tony Smith, delivered a lively eulogy and members of Victory Ministries International, the church attended by the Green family, provided exuberant music throughout the service.
Lenora Howze, a family friend and associate pastor, told the gathering that the service was "truly a homecoming celebration," adding that Green had lived a lot of life and touched many, in just 23 years.
Green will be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.