Colton Levi Derr
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - U.S. Army Sergeant, Colton Levi Derr, 24, cherished son of Jerry and Theresa Derr, eldest (revered) brother of Haley, Josephine, Wyatt, Chelbe (deceased) and Audra, brother to his Army family, died on April 28, 2012, while serving at Fort Drum, NY.
On Thursday, a clear fall day on October 1, 1987, God entrusted Colton to his parents, until He called him home for another mission. Colton grew up on his family's place near Farmingdale, SD, wrangling horses, competing in 4-H activities/High School rodeos (bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding), wrestling, FFA, baseball, football, cross-country and track. Colton attended the rural Farmingdale school with his siblings and cousins, later graduating from New Underwood High School in 2006.
Post high school, Colton joined the Army Reserves, attending boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. His freshman year of college found him at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN. He also attended the University of South Dakota, majoring in criminal justice. Completing his freshman year, Colton informed his family he felt a strong call to serve his country and head to the fight in the Middle East. This commitment led him to the Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca, AZ. Graduating with high honors and a top secret clearance, Colton headed to Ft. Hood, Texas, where he was assigned to the Troopers and the Families of 6th Squadron 9th U.S. Cavalry 3HBCT, as part of America's First Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "We Can, We Will, Sabers Never Quit!"
SGT Derr served as an intelligence SGT in the S2 section of an armed reconnaissance squadron, forward deployed to the Ninewa Province of Iraq. SGT Derr prepared all-source intelligence in support of his commander. His personality based targeting efforts resulted in the neutralization of several suicide vest cells. SGT Derr coached and trained the 11th Brigade Iraqi Army (IA) intelligence section on personality based targeting methods, resulting in the (IA) Iraqi Brigade's first high value target list. Additionally, he trained combat patrols on the functions and capability of the HIIDE system. He developed and led a challenging physical fitness training program for the S2 section. SGT Derr was selected by the squadron's Command Sergeant Major to represent the squadron in the Multi-National Division "Best Warrior Competition", where Colton won the GreyWolf best warrior competition. SGT Derr also served as the troop commander's personal security detachment dismount on over 200 combat missions in the Ninewa Province of Iraq.
Upon return from his service in Iraq, SGT Derr wanted to complete his Middle East service with a tour in Afghanistan. To accomplish this, he had to switch his service unit from Ft. Hood to Ft. Drum, New York, so he could deploy to Afghanistan. At Ft. Drum, he was assigned to A TRP, 3-71 CAV, 3IBCT, 10th MTN Division. Prior to deployment to Afghanistan, SGT Derr was urgently selected and assigned by the First Sergeant over four other sergeants to the platoons' arms room for 100% weapons accountability in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. SGT Derr overhauled the arms room program by implementing a new SOP. He was also selected as the headquarter platoon sergeant for JRTC over his other peers.
Once deployed to Afghanistan, SGT Derr used his "communication skills" to be reassigned to go on mission with his brothers in arms. SGT Derr reveled his new assignment as a scout team leader in a mounted cavalry platoon in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Once again, he implemented a battle focused physical fitness routine that prepared his soldiers for their military operations. SGT Derr successfully led his team on over 300 mounted and dismounted combat missions in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. He returned from his Afghanistan deployment in March of 2012.
Colton's strong family values, his belief in God, and personal will to excel at every goal he set in his life, led him to become a man who was respected and loved by all who knew him. As the first born child, Colton welcomed each of his brothers and sisters as his captive playmates. Always the cowboy, he would paint his brothers and sister up as the Indians. Together they treasured many grand adventures on the ranch. As they grew under his watchful protection, they formed a bond that neither life nor circumstance will ever break.
Colton followed his father to the hayfields and worked in his footsteps. Cherished memories were developed working the Central States Fair. One particular year, Colton's father, who was a sergeant at the Pennington County Sheriff's Office, was completing an inspection of the carnival games, when he spotted something that made him take a second look. His 11 year old son was dressed as a carnival employee blowing up balloons by mouth at a carnival booth. Never afraid of work, no matter what the task, Colton looked at every adventure as a challenge to conquer.
One of Colton's greatest loves in life was competing in wrestling. With only one season of wrestling experience, Colton won a State AAU Championship and national AAU championship at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. This was followed by many successful wrestling seasons under coaches Sean Gholson and Fenix Martin. Colton, a state A Region 4A champion at 171 pounds, went to state finals his junior and senior year losing only two matches and finishing third place both years. This wrestling foundation led to his desire to train in mixed martial arts. He won many mixed martial arts competitions and was awarded his blue belt in Brazilian Jui Jitsu. His conduct at many sporting events earned him praise and honor by teammates, spectators, friends, and family.
Not only did Colton excel at wrestling, but every other sporting endeavor he sought to conquer. He ran in state track, state cross country, and even went out for football his senior year of high school. He loved to rodeo and participate in outdoor activities. He was in 4-H for over 10 years and was a camp counselor at Camp Bob Marshall in the Black Hills for younger 4-H members. All of these show how dedicated he was to pushing himself and becoming the leader and hero he is today.
Colton, an old-time cowboy at heart and projection, loved the simple things in life. He valued love, family, friendship, and camaraderie more than self gratification and material things. He understood priorities and traditional values from his upbringing. His penchants for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, John Wayne, and his Celtic heritage tell you a little bit about his cultural tastes.
Colton's one unfulfilled desire was to share his love with a family of his own. Instead, Colton is sharing his love with our God and family in Heaven.
Colton is survived by his parents, Jerry W. and Theresa L. Derr, siblings, Haley, Josephine, Wyatt, and Audra Derr of Caputa, maternal grandmother, JoAnn Schmitz of Rapid City. He is also survived by numerous aunts and uncles including: Gary and Irene Wenzel of Pagosa Springs, CO, Linda and Pat Zeimet of Pringle, Shirley and Don Kudrna of Scenic, Kurt Deisinger of Rapid City, Karen and Bob Henman of Firestone, CO, Mike Burke of New Mexico, Scotti Burke of Thornton, CO, Kevin and Tammy Burke of Spearfish, Shawn and Jody Burke of Caputa, Shannon and Chad Nielsen of Brighton, CO, Martin and Pam Schmitz of Corrine, UT, Karen and Rob Amiotte of Black Hawk, Kim and Robert Trupe of Rapid City, and Russ Schmitz of Rapid City. He will also be greatly missed by numerous cousins and countless friends and army brothers.
He was preceded in death by his sister, Chelbe, and his grandparents, Myrtle Josephine Potter, Joseph Patrick Burke and Elmer Schmitz.
Colton suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following his combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In support of America's War on Terror during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, SGT Derr, US Army 1st Division, completed over 500 combat missions.
The family has established a "SGT Colton Levi Derr Memorial Fund" at First Interstate Bank - PO Box 98, New Underwood, SD 57761. The family will also establish a non-profit foundation in Colton's name as we honor his memory and service to our country. The memorial fund and foundation will fight to educate/diagnose/treat the effects of PTSD on our returning soldiers.
Visitation will be at Behrens-Wilson Funeral Home in Rapid City on Sunday, May 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. Funeral services will be Monday, May 7, at the New Underwood High School Gymnasium at 12 p.m. noon. Burial will be at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis at 3 p.m. A reception will follow the burial at the New Underwood Community Center.
Condolences may be conveyed to the family at www.behrenswilson.com.
Published in Rapid City Journal on May 5, 2012