At 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 19, a Marine, noticeably taller than his fellows, quietly began issuing orders. The Marines slowly walked to the back of a hearse parked behind Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park. They slowly raised their hands in salute as bagpipes played in the background. They carefully moved the flag-wrapped casket containing Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote to a waiting caisson. The pallbearers took positions on either side of the caisson and the procession began moving, the gathered crowd of a few hundred Marines, law enforcement and members of the community fell in behind the family, all led by a CHP cruiser.
The 12-minute-long procession wound its way behind at the church, taking Merrychase Drive back to Country Club, past Blue Oak Elementary School, with fences along the way adorned with flags and messages thanking Mote for his sacrifice. The streets were lined with supporters, many bearing flags.
As the caisson entered the front parking lot of the church, a four-plane flyover painted the sky with grey smoke. The planes circled around and made another pass a few minutes later, with only one trailing smoke, breaking off in a missing man flyby formation.
The caisson stopped on the side of the church, where the honor guard escorted the casket past saluting Marines and members of Patriot Guard Riders holding flags, entering the front of the church.
Pastor Gene Jewell and the Rev. Kent McNair led the services, which featured prayers, psalms and readings from the Bible.
Sky’s stepbrother, Tyson Tate, then spoke.
“I met Sky 20 years ago in second grade,” he began. He was assigned to show the new kid in class around and they became fast friends, playing cards at school. They were soon going over to each others’ houses.
“In third grade, my best friend became my brother,” he said. Tate’s mother, Marcia, married Mote’s father, Russ. The two, joined by brother Erick, would ride dirt bikes and go camping, Tate said. “He grew up, moved out, but never really changed,” he said of his brother, who he described as having “a bowl haircut and a big smile.” Tate said that Mote was “still my friend, still my brother, still my idol.”
Army Staff Sgt. Tim Stanley, Sky’s older brother, then took to the podium. After thanking the local community and law enforcement, he noted that, in the church, he didn’t see a community. “I see one big family,” he said, and that they were all “trying to make a bad situation into a good one.” He ended with, “From a soldier to a Marine, I salute you. From a brother to a brother, I miss you.”
Master Gunnery Sgt. Gavin Lathrop of the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, Explosive Ordinance Disposal chief, next spoke of how Capt. Jose Soto had recruited Mote into the Marines. Lathrop served with Mote in Iraq, where Mote was able to see the Special Operations Command team “in an extremely hazardous environment.”
When Mote later joined the SOC under Lathrop’s direct command, he said Mote was a “fire and forget Marine,” in that Mote would “do what needed to be done, every time, regardless of who was watching.”
He noted that Mote had once cleared explosive ordinance from around a wounded soldier and then administered first-aid. “He took the proverbial bar and raised it higher and higher,” Lathrop said.
He noted that the first thing he noticed about Mote was his “never-ending grin. To be completely frank, it made me nervous,” he said, always wary that he was being pranked. Instead, he found it to just be Mote’s personality showing.
“Sky, you are and always will be our brother,” the Marine said. “Knowing you…has made us better men and better Marines.”
After more speaking by McNair, a slideshow was shown of Mote, accompanied by the sounds of Coldplay. Photos showed Mote surfing, hunting, running cross country and almost always smiling, even in full combat gear.
Bagpipes then played Amazing Grace, followed by the entire audience singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee. After the priest blessed the audience, the pallbearers escorted the casket to the church’s lawn.
After the traditional gun salute, flags were folded and presented to Marcia Mote, Sky’s stepmother, and Carson Mote, Sky’s younger brother. Russ Mote was presented with Sky’s Purple Heart medal.
After a final salute, the pallbearers carried the casket to the hearse, surrounded by Patriot Guard Riders bearing flags.
As the hearse began to leave, one member of the audience shouted “Oorah, Sky,” before the motorcycles of the Patriot Guards drowned out sound. Following the hearse and motorcycles, the flag bearers marched around the side of the church as people began lining up to shake hands and hug the family.
Mote, a 2003 graduate of Union Mine High School, died at approximately 2 a.m. local time on Aug. 10 in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He was part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He, along with Capt. Matthew P. Manoukian, 29, of Los Altos Hills, Calif., and Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, 31, of Herndon, Va., were killed by an Afghan policeman after the three were invited for a pre-dawn meal to discuss security.