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Army Spc. Jonathan A. Pilgeram

Died February 17, 2011 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom


22, of Great Falls, Mont.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Feb. 17 in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using small-arms fire.

‘He was the all-out country boy,’ school principal says

By Ryan Hall

Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune

A Great Falls soldier has died in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

Spc. Jonathan A. Pilgeram, 22, died Feb. 17 in Kunar province from wounds he suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Pilgeram, a 2007 Centerville High School graduate, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.

A woman who answered the phone at his parents’ home Feb. 18 said the family did not want to comment.

“He was a hard-working kid,” said Matt McCale, Centerville High principal. “He worked real hard for his grades.”

McCale said that whether Pilgeram was on the family ranch, in school or in the military, his work ethic was apparent and served him well.

“Jon was a farmer/rancher. I can remember him coming to school when he was in third, fourth grade. He had spent the morning working with the cows, and sometimes he had a little cow manure on his boot,” McCale said, chuckling.

Doug Mills, who graduated from Centerville two years after Pilgeram, said he also remembers Pilgeram as a hard-working rancher.

“That’s exactly how I know him,” Mills said. “He was the all-out country boy.”

McCale said teachers, bus drivers and cooks all knew and remembered Pilgeram, and could trace in their minds from when he used to show up to school “covered in mud,” until he achieved his dream of being accepted into the military.

“We used to have to grab him at the door and help him get cleaned up,” McCale said. “He was just a worker. ... He always had a big cowboy hat on and a big smile.”

McCale said Pilgeram tried to join the Miners football team as a freshman, but stopped playing so he could work the family ranch.

“Most of his time was spent at home, working the cows and working the family ranch,” McCale said. “He did it at an awful young age — I remember talking to him and he was driving the truck around there at 9 or 10 years old, picking up bales.”

McCale said another quality that stood out in Pilgeram was his loyalty to his friends, his school and the military.

“When he committed himself, it was always full out,” McCale said.

According Mills, Pilgeram was fully committed to the military.

“He was really excited, really gung-ho to get into the military,” Mills said.

“He always was searching for that group that he’d fit in with,” McCale said, adding that the Army was the perfect fit. “He was totally committed.”

McCale, who wrote letters of recommendation for Pilgeram to join the military, said he spoke with Pilgeram last summer while the soldier was home on leave from Afghanistan. The pair talked for hours, mostly about Pilgeram’s experiences in the Army.

“He was extremely proud of the United States and his job of protecting it,” McCale said. “He just told story after story after story of what he was going through, what he did. He was so excited to be there.”

McCale said that after he listened to the stories, including those of combat situations Pilgeram was involved in, he asked his former student if he ever got scared.

“He told me ‘No, Mr. McCale ... We have a job to do, and this is what we’re paid to do and this is what we’re supposed to do,’ ” McCale said. “It was just life at that time.

“The way Jon talked, I can see him probably be first in line,” McCale added. “He wasn’t afraid, I can guarantee that. He wasn’t afraid — he was going to stand up and do his job.”

McCale said another quality he admired in Pilgeram was that the young man always was willing to help out.

“I remember asking kids to do things and Jon’s hand was always up there,” McCale said. “That was his work ethic.”

McCale said that small communities hear of the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but don’t believe it will happen to one of their own.

That idea was shattered when he got a call while at the 8C District basketball tournament in Great Falls telling him of Pilgeram’s death.

“I was shocked, just absolutely shocked,” McCale said.

He said school officials haven’t had a chance to discuss it yet, but he knows the school will do something to honor Pilgeram.

“We’re very proud of Jon and everything he’s done, not only for Centerville High School, but for himself — and his country,” McCale said, noting that Pilgeram is the first Centerville alum killed in combat in Afghanistan. “We surely will have something planned to honor one of our great students for the ultimate sacrifice.”

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