- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

RUSSELLVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Terri Bellamy-Coleman’s eyes light up when she talks about her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Jatarius Osborne.

“He was my first born. When I had him at a young age, we were here for the first two or three years of his life. This is a very special home,” the Russellville woman said Friday as she looked around the East Sixth Street home of her mother, Anita Bellamy.

Osborne and his brother, Frazier, were athletes, Bellamy-Coleman said.

“He played soccer at age 5. He was good. He was a goalie,” she said. “He played football and baseball.”

When Bellamy-Coleman showed the American flag that had been draped over her 24-year-old son’s casket at his April 2005 funeral, the three shell casings tucked inside to honor her deceased son fell out. Tears flowed down her grief-stricken face.

“I used to wear his Army fatigues. I wanted to die with him,” she said as she cradled the flag as if it were her baby. “Then I said, ‘No, I’m going to live for him and tell his story.’”

Osborne died from an undetected arrhythmia while taking the physical fitness test for the Warrior Leader Course in Fort Benning, Ga. There was an investigation in 2006, and his death was deemed wrongful. At three court martials, a sergeant first class was acquitted and another charged with dereliction of duty. The third took a plea, Bellamy-Coleman said. She hadn’t been told she could appeal the judge’s decision, and now the statute of limitations is up.

“They had to pay $500 out of their checks for two months. That was their punishment. Nobody was discharged,” she said. “There’s no way I can punish them. Only God knows what needs to be done. I forgave them in their face. One of them said, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ The forgiveness is for me.”

Bellamy quietly gave facial tissues to her daughter.

“She’s been strong through this,” she said.

Bellamy-Coleman has channeled her grief to help make sure no other family has to suffer her fate. She helped encourage the red medical alert dog tag system as well as having medical records follow soldiers within 48 hours of arrival at a base. She also helped implement a policy for soldiers to get heart exams when they enlist and she wants to make sure that all Army bases have medical equipment, including automated external defibrillators, on physical fitness test sites. She found out that her efforts saved one Fort Campbell soldier.

“We’re trying to save lives. Our story will be told at medical leadership trainings,” she said. “I didn’t think I had any fight in me, but I have to fight for my baby.”

Bellamy-Coleman has done a conference call with the Pentagon as well as taken her message to many bases and noncommissioned officer academies.

“I talk to the leaders before the soldiers arrive. I want to add a medal of compassion, no soldier left behind,” she said. “My son was left behind senselessly.”

Osborne had been attending Cumberland University in Tennessee when he decided to join the Army in 2001. He was stationed in Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. In four years, he became a sergeant. He wanted to take the Warrior Leader Course in Fort Benning. In order to take the course, he had to pass a physical fitness test at Fort Gordon.

“You have to do a P.T. two-mile run at your base. If you don’t pass, you don’t get to go,” Bellamy-Coleman said.

When Osborne did his first test at Fort Gordon, he had shortness of breath and was lightheaded. He was sent to a hospital, but didn’t get an EKG, Bellamy-Coleman said.

“They gave him Motrin and told him to stay off PT for seven days. His blood pressure was 80/22,” she said. “They found body tissue in his urine. They put on his card that he passed because he ‘wanted to go to the academy.’ “

He had a similar experience when he took the test in Fort Benning. After taking a third test, things took a turn for the worse.

“He collapsed across the finish line. He tried to walk, but he couldn’t,” Bellamy-Coleman said. “The sergeants said, ‘Drag him off the track. We still have runners.’”

With no medical equipment on site, Osborne was driven to the barracks, where he fell off the truck. It was 45 minutes before ambulance was called, Bellamy-Coleman said, but by then it was too late. Osborne was pronounced dead on arrival.

“Some of the soldiers said, ‘I was afraid I was going to lose my rank because I helped,’ ” she said.

Outside - near her mother’s home - stands a blue sign that reads Sgt. Jatarius D. Osborne Way. That portion of East Sixth Street was renamed last summer. Bellamy-Coleman showed a picture she took with her two sons during a family reunion one year before Osborne died. The trio wore red shirts.

“We had been playing volleyball with the family and they were talking about how sweaty they were,” she said, smiling. “I’m glad I have this.”

She plans to pour her experiences into a book called “Silent Tears.”

“We’ve got to find a way to still live,” she said. “I’m telling our story for (God’s) glory.”

Bellamy-Coleman is involved with other military groups, including the Gold Star Mothers, who are the mothers of fallen soldiers, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. She is an honorary NCO leader and cardiologist at Fort Campbell 101st Airborne Division. Her family, friends, faith and her work with the organizations have sustained her.

“Just little old me in Russellville could not do this by myself,” she said. “God is in it.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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