graduated with a degree in communications in 2002. This letter appears
in the winter edition of the Magazine of Elon in a collection of
missives from Elon graduates who have served in Iraq.)
I have served
in Iraq twice, first from Feb. 13 to May 8, 2003, and again from
Sept. 2, 2003, to Feb. 6, 2004. During both deployments, I served
with the 82nd Airborne Division.
In my first
tour, I served in direct support of my task force, 1st Battalion-325th
Airborne Infantry Regiment, in combat operations. Our task force
ground-assaulted from Kuwait to the town of Samawah, Iraq. It was
our task to secure three key bridges in order to allow safe passage
of coalition forces going north.
the task force continued to ground-assault north through several
towns, including Diwaniah, Ramadi and Fallujah, and eventually into
Baghdad. As we continued north, the purpose was to find and destroy
enemy weapons caches. My specific role in the operation was to provide
supply and logistical support to the task force. The line companies
would report to me daily so that I could get them the proper supplies
of food, water, ammunition and fuel.
My role in
the second deployment was much different. Ironically, official combat
operations had ceased, but from September 2003 to February 2004,
I would see far more devastation than I saw during the first three
months of actual combat operations.
At first, I
was going back overseas in support of the battalion that I currently
serve in, 3rd Battalion (Airborne) 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
Our mission was to secure Taquaddum airfield, west of Fallujah.
My battalion was able to quickly secure this airfield, and the battery
I served in (Bravo BTRY/3-4ADAR) was called to support 2nd Brigade
(the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment) in Baghdad.
This was when
my life would change forever.
of my battery while in Baghdad was highway security. I was the platoon
leader in charge of four to six vehicles with 13-20 personnel over
a three-mile stretch of highway. Every day or night prior to our
departure, I would give all my men a safety briefing before we hit
the road and make final inspections and radio checks, and then we
would lock and load as we exited the gate.
We were doing
the best we could with what we had, which at the time included no
armored vehicles, inadequate lighting on the highway to see more
than five meters to the front and no formal training on how to detect
these Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) before they detected us.
my men and I would go out on Highway 5 for up to 12 hours to secure
the highway, make sure it was free of all IEDs and allow for the
safe passage of coalition troops at all times. While my men and
I were on the highway, there was not a single coalition death on
During my entire
rotation, we were hit with 12 IEDs, and six men in my platoon were
wounded and later awarded Purple Hearts. I was the first to be hit
with an IED. The shrapnel from the blast hit my face, but left no
permanent damage. I have a photograph of the aftermath, and I still
lose my breath every time I look at that picture.
On the evening
of Nov. 25, 2003, one of my paratroopers, SSG (Staff Sgt.) Maurice
Craft, lost his left leg. I was on the road that night. I had four
vehicles, which I split into two separate patrols. I was in the
lead vehicle, which had no doors. I had an M249 SAW gunner in the
back and my driver. Behind me was SSG Craft. At 19:45 hours (7:45
p.m.), I heard the loudest explosion of my life, and I initially
reacted just as we are supposed to in such a situation: move away
from the kill zone, identify the enemy, return fire and treat casualties.
step 1, got about two seconds into step 2 and quickly found myself
very focused on step 3. I heard SSG Craft screaming from inside
his vehicle. His driver ran to his side and pulled him from the
vehicle. I found myself in an almost out-of-body experience, just
reacting to the situation, trying to save the life of a close friend,
neighbor and soldier. I immediately called to have a Medevac flown
in and then did everything I could to treat SSG Craft.
The blast had
sent shrapnel through his right thigh and it had lodged just below
his left knee. I applied a tourniquet to his right thigh while his
driver applied the tourniquet to his left leg. He had lost enough
blood so that it went above the sole of my boot as I knelt next
to him. There was a pool of blood inside the vehicle. and all of
our uniforms were covered in it. I had to cut off both of his boots
and pant legs so that we could apply first aid.
As soon as
the tourniquets were in place, I got back on the radio with the
Medevac to find out about their status. They could not tell me where
the aircraft were, so I made the decision to put SSG Craft on the
back of one of our trucks and evacuate him to the hospital ourselves.
I was back
on Highway 5 with what was left of my men. It was after 23:00 hours
(11 p.m.) once all had settled. We went back to our patrol, but
none of us would ever be the same. Our platoon motto quickly became
"rolling the dice" because that was the way it felt every
time we left our secure operating base.
The next morning,
I came off shift at 07:00 hours and by 09:00 hours I washed my face,
grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the hospital to see SSG Craft.
When I first arrived, he was conscious, but had all sorts of breathing
apparatus in his nose and mouth. He made eye contact with my platoon
sergeant and me and made a deliberate gesture with his hand, simulating
rolling the dice. I stayed with him all day until he was sent to
Germany the evening of Nov. 26.
The 27th was
Thanksgiving, and I was promoted, though I was suffering in many
ways, physically and emotionally - perhaps more so than ever before
in my life - I still found it to be the Thanksgiving that I was
most thankful for: for the life I have, with two feet below me and
many wonderful people who watch over me.