By: J.M. Haas, Bureau of Law Enforcement
Tyler Kreinz was number 14.
Forever 21, the fallen Beloit soldier’s legacy walked with the 13 recruits across the long graduation stage on July 6 and into the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Service in front of families and friends.
Seated near the back of the audience in the Wisconsin State Patrol Academy room at Fort McCoy were David and Mary Kreinz.
The man who got the word on Father’s Day 2011 that his gentleman son had become a casualty of war sat quietly and tall in his chair next to his wife, as they witnessed a ceremony rich with tradition and inspirational speeches they hoped their son would experience.
The boy born with a passion for the outdoors that had been surpassed by a passion to serve his country had plans to become a conservation warden after his tour of duty with Operation Enduring Freedom.
But that dream ended on June 18, 2011. Tyler, who at 12 was so moved by the September 11 terrorist attacks that he joined the country’s military at 18, was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. David Kreinz told the Associated Press shortly after his son’s death that Tyler excelled in school and sports, and “he was a perfect gentleman.” David Kreinz respected his son’s unwavering determination to serve in the military before pursuing a warden career -- and he supported his son's decision.
Tyler’s 2011 obituary detailed his impressive service that earned him a rank of Specialist and to be part of the U.S. Army Armored Division as a Tanker – and an Army Scout. Tyler and his team would provide forward support for units moving into unsecured areas to make sure it was safe for the units to follow.
“Tyler became an expert in American and German weapons and was an expert marksman,” his parents said in a statement included in the July 6 graduation program of the Warden Recruit Academy Class of 2012.
And it was Tyler’s extraordinary marksmanship that fueled his parents’ long-term commitments to keep their son’s dream alive for others. David and Mary Kreinz last year met with Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark and John Daniel, a retired warden now with the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Association, to put into motion their two ideas.
The first was the creation of the Tyler Kreinz Memorial Scholarship, created from donations after their son’s death and with the help of Chief Stark, John Daniel and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The first scholarship was presented on March 30 to UW-Stevens Point student Courtney Adair, who plans to become a park ranger with the U.S. Park Service.
The second became a reality on July 6 at Fort McCoy.
In a speech interrupted by emotion, Chief Stark fought tears and told the audience about his admiration for the Kreinz couple who battled through their grief to also create the Tactical Proficiency Award in Tyler’s name.
One member of each warden recruit graduating class would receive the award based upon demonstrated tactical proficiency, he said.
“The Kreinz family will be involved in every presentation at the class graduation ceremony,” Chief Stark said. “It will allow people to meet Tyler in a vicarious way and his legacy would live on. Tyler will be part of the Warden Service through this tradition.”
“The purpose of life is to have a purpose in life,” Chief Stark told the 13 recruits seated at his side. “You are what Tyler never got the chance to be. Make the most of this opportunity. Follow Tyler's, Dave's and Mary’s lead, and make a difference in people’s lives.”
And with that, the audience watched a moving video created by Deputy Chief Karl Brooks that interlaced photos of Tyler with friends and family and on duty for the United States, followed by photos of current and past recruits in training and in action. When the lights came up, the tissues came out.
Tactical Officer Roy Kubisiak then came to the podium and presented the award to a surprised newly graduated warden -- Kyle E. Lynch.
After the ceremony, Mary Kreinz said she was glad to be part of the ceremony. “We’re really happy and very proud of all of them,” she said of the class. “We’re very pleased to be part of the DNR (warden service).”
Mary and David Kreinz both credited assistant Training Director Jeff King for making the ceremony a reality. “We are truly honored to be here,” she said.
But it was the other way around. The honor was felt by the wardens – newly graduated and those already in service who filled a few rows to show their support of their new colleagues.
The last walk across the ceremony stage for the 13 recruits on July 6 was to accept their warden challenge coin from Chief Stark, and then sign their names on a large wall-size poster detailing the warden’s code of ethics.
The last one to get the pen was David Kreinz who signed in as Tyler Kreinz.
“Thank you,” David said, photo at left, as he turned toward the wardens who were clapping from the rows behind him as Mary stood by smiling.
It was official.
Tyler Kreinz, the boy born to serve, on July 6, 2012, became graduating conservation warden number 14 -- forever.