Saturday, December 31, 2011

This is a piece I did with the hopes of getting published but I was told that it was not a piece that was "original" I guess with so many other stories coming out about Navy Seals and Green Berets the Infantry Soldier who walks the streets every day and does not wait for "high" priced targets is not that interesting. Well I leave it up to you my friends to tell me what you think. 
My name is Eugene Hicks and I am a platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team of Fort Lewis, Washington. My battalion has been deployed in Mosul, Iraq, since October 2004. 

My story contains some of the trying times that my platoon has experienced while here in Iraq. To be a soldier is to have one of the most demanding and strenuous jobs in the world because everyday you step outside you are unsure of what will happen but with the knowledge that what may happen could change everything that you ever knew or maybe even be the end of it.
As the level of violence in Iraq escalated, I began to think about the reasons why we soldiers trudge on day to day into the uncertainty of war. Recently, I also completed my sixteenth year of military service and the answer became more apparent. Even though there is so much uncertainty in what will happen to a soldier in his day, there is one thing that he can be certain in. Any soldier can trust that his fellow soldiers will be at his side every step of the way, ready for anything.
I have been in this job for so long and have made it through so many challenges because I have found soldiers that I can trust my life with, and these same soldiers can trust their life with me.

Thank you for the providing an opportunity to give a soldier the chance to tell his story.


Eugene J. Hicks

I am a platoon sergeant in A Company 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, part of the Army’s newest battlefield concept the Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT). Each Stryker platoon consists of four Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) and 45 soldiers. The platoon subsequently breaks down into three line squads and one weapons squad. Each Stryker has a driver and a vehicle commander, who controls the Remote Weapon System and manages the maintenance of the vehicle.

The Stryker has taken much criticism over the last few months. When responding to the criticism, our battalion commander LTC Eric Kurilla, stated in a press release that between October 2004 and January 2005 his unit's Strykers sustained 16 direct hits from roadside bombs and 36 direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades. "I've not lost a soldier’s life, limb or eyesight from any of those attacks,” Kurilla said. "We have a lot of soldiers alive today because of these vehicles." I agree with LTC Kurilla and can honestly say that it has saved my soldiers lives countless times. In the last six months my platoon alone has been hit by eight Improvised Explosive Devices, one Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, a direct hit by Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), and a lot of small arms fire. Having had all this happen how has it affected the soldiers in my platoon and myself and what helps us continue on? Well, I hope to tell you in one soldier’s story.

People say they join the Army for patriotism: the love of their country driving them to fight for freedom and democracy. I do not disagree with this reason, but it is much like the token “beauty pageant answer.” It is the one that sounds great and the one a civilian accepts and understands. Yet I venture to say that we fight for simpler reasons; the soldiers to the left and right. I know that this proverb has been used repeatedly by reporters in news broadcasts and in newspapers the world over, but I feel it goes to show that it is a strong driving force for soldiers.

This being the case, one may ask, “Does hardship and loss bring people closer together?” The answer to this question may vary as one’s reasons for joining the Army but, because we are soldiers, we know that the person we are talking to now may not be there tomorrow; we are left with two options: grow close (which in the long run makes the loss even harder) or keep a distance. How do you choose? I believe the chaotic scenes that many of us have had to endure, have taught us that life is fleeting so stay close, watch each other’s back, and leave no one behind. 

On November 11, 2004 my company and platoon would participate in our first Operation in Mosul. The platoon would be the main effort for the company, essentially this means we will be the first ones on the objective to establish a foothold for the rest of the company to maneuver from and bring the fight to the enemy. As we moved down a main street we immediately came under small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire. As soon as the ramp dropped the rounds could be seen impacting around and on the vehicle. The platoon dismounted the Strykers and moved to breach points. Small arms fire continued to impact around us, as we cut through locks and opened rolling aluminum doors to get inside both to search and to get cover. We attempted to get into several rooms but they were bolted and locked from the inside; to get in we used the ‘Wally Bomb” aptly named by one of my squad leaders SSG Nova Johnson for a large water impulse charge after one of my soldiers SGT Wallace. This breach charge will open any door or gate. As we began to clear the individual rooms, we would receive fire through the windows. A round impacted the wall a foot away from my body in one of the rooms I entered. Nevertheless, SSG Harmer, SGT Wallace, and I ended up clearing several rooms as a team. 

The intensity of the firefight had yet to climax. I attempted to move from the building my first squad occupied, to another building right next door occupied by my third squad. PFC Ayres and I exited the doorway as a RPG slammed into the side of the building about ten feet away, throwing us to the ground. I looked at PFC Ayres making sure he was all right and then brushed it off with “Shit! That was a close one.”

We bounded to the next building and then got orders to link up with the platoon leader (PL) and reinforce another platoon that was in contact with the enemy. When I got this call I was sitting down behind a wall looking at SSG Lenny Diaz and SSG Nova Johnson as aerial burst RPGs exploded over our heads and bullets cracked hitting the walls around us. I called the PL back and let him know we would be down shortly as we were receiving heavy small arms fire. After about ten minutes, we were able to move and head toward the PL’s position. Once we got there, the fighting began to slow down, it all seemed to go so fast, but in reality it had been four and a half hours since we had first dismounted. We got the order to mount up and head back to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). We arrived with no casualties and no dead. It was a glorious day. We had been baptized by fire, fostering the bond between all the soldiers. From here on, the respect and confidence in the leaders would grow. Our platoon would grow. Indeed it had been a glorious day.

On December 21, 2004 at 12:04pm the realities of this unconventional war would become apparent. I had just sat down to eat lunch with officers from my company when I looked up and saw the explosion. When I saw it, it moved in slow motion.

 The image I have fixed in my mind is a lucid moment from the madness, one of condiment packages. The little ones, the ones you get from fast food restaurants filled with ketchup, for your fries. I saw them flying as if they were confetti, no longer condiments packages, but mere pieces of plastic caught up in a hurricane. That is when the force of the blast hit me.

  I followed everyone else out of the dining facility and out to the bunkers that were provided in case the dining facility was mortared (which it had happened already before). Once I was out there I could hear people crying for help, I told my friend Lieutenant Kyle Dewald that we had to go back in and help, so back into the dining facility we ran.

What I saw was what only evil men can do; it was a chaotic and utterly ghastly scene. Immediately seeing one of my soldiers grabbed my attention and shifted my focus; my soldiers where in here, and I had to find them to make sure they were unharmed. PFC Ayres was the first one I saw and he immediately assured me that everyone he was with was all right. I sent him to collect the first aid boxes that were placed around the dining facility (these were ammo cans painted white with a red cross, containing first responder items.) Next I saw Sergeant Pense, a member of my company sniper team, had blood lacerationceration on his scalp. I helped bandag him up and happened to look to my right where I saw Sergeant Pena and Sergeant Montoya doing CPR on our Company Commander. They had it under control, and I knew that I would not be able to help them I knew I would probably only get in the way. I began to move around the blast area to see where else I could be of help.

 I came across a woman who had suffered terrible burns and had blood on her face and in her hair. She was crying. I stopped to help and reassure her, while she attempted to grab her friend who lay next to her, she was dead. She was quickly evacuated on a table that had been turned into a make shift litter. I began to walk around again to see what else I could do. I felt useless, like there was something more that I needed to do and yet could not. 

I saw a kid laying face first in his plate of food with a hole in the back of his head about the size of a silver dollar. There were bodies and body parts strewn everywhere. The blood on the floor mixed with the condiments and made a sticky mess, which all those heroes that day would trudge through as they saved numerous lives. This day, one of which I will never forget, my company commander died and a close friend SPC Clint Gertson, who would later die in a sniper attack, was also wounded. The reality of fleeting time became apparent.

Here in Mosul, while the platoons are out on patrol, explosions are commonplace. One can hear these audible reminders and then hear the reports start coming over the radio about locations, followed by a Battle Damage Assessments (BDA) if the explosion was near coalition forces. These explosions are heard at night on the Forward Operating Base when you are trying to sleep, or when you are sitting on your Strykers getting ready to roll out on patrol. The echoing sounds and damages of these explosions are a constant reminder to us soldiers that we are surrounded by war.

My platoon was out on patrol conducting cordon and searches and Tactical Control Points, when we heard a huge explosion loud enough to be heard eight kilometers away. We found out over the radio that a vehicle bomb had hit Combat Outpost Tampa. We were directed to come and assist in the casualty evacuation and the defense of the COP. When we arrived, the platoon was immediately met with mortars and small arms fire. My platoon leader directed the weapon squad and I to dismount and assist in casualty evacuation. My Stryker pulled up close to the outer barricades and we dropped the ramp. As we exited the vehicle we were met by two burning Strykers. Everything on top of them was smoking; the driver’s hatch and the rear troop door were open. As I looked in I saw the vehicle commander still inside, debris and dust swirling everywhere. He was still manning the Remote Weapon System firing on insurgents that were moving on the west side of the COP. As I looked at the carnage, small arms fire continued to impacted around us. 

We then ran to where we thought was the entrance only to find a dead end room. We ran out and found stairs leading to the second floor. As we got to the second floor we took defensive positions on the east side of the building. I set up two M240B Machinegun positions, as rounds impacted the walls outside the building and inside the rooms we now occupied. The two gun positions started to return fire on the enemy, who were attempting to swarm the COP. CPL Mikael Medina and PFC Robert Ayres were firing down a street at insurgents moving between buildings as SPC Roehrig and SPC Slaughter fired at a window that was being used as a hide for insurgents to fire from. The PL called for a situation report. “We are receiving heavy small arms fire and are returning fire.” I then got directions to displace back to my vehicle for new orders. At this point I responded that we had good cover and “we are good here, for now.” There was a lull in incoming fire so we displaced and headed for the stairs to get back into our Stryker. As we loaded up, all of our hatches were closed to prevent mortars from falling inside and to prevent the boys from taking shrapnel, if we happened to get hit on the top. I got in the Stryker and got on the radio and let the PL know where we had loaded up and had no casualties. The next order would take a few minutes to register and made me stop to take a breath. “I need you to go back in and get a generator that is either inside or on the roof,” was the order that came over the radio. I took my Combat Communications helmet off and put my helmet back on, took a breath and looked at my boys in the vehicle. “Grab more ammunition, we are going back in.” I received a few puzzled looks but everyone was ready to go. “Okay, on three the ramp is going to drop and we are going.” The ramp dropped and again we made our way through the carnage and back into the building. As we got up there 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company was collecting their gear, getting ready to exit the COP and we would help re-enforce their withdrawal. We helped them pack up their gear, but we could not find the generator.

Again we were given the order to load up and ran down the exposed stairwell (the face of the building had been badly damaged by the Suicide Vehicle Bomb) and loaded into our Stryker. With the smoke still lingering in the air and the F-18’s flying low over our heads, the explosions, as always, could be heard while we regrouped and headed back to our Forward Operating Base. I was later awarded an Army Commendation Medal with “Valor” Device for this.

So why do we as soldiers do this every day? I am sure people are left asking this question after reading about the life of a soldier at war. I answer the question by saying “We have too much invested in this not too.” The lives of our fellow soldier’s, our lives, and the job we have been sent to do. How do we handle this day-to-day reality? Well the only answer I can give is the American soldier is a lot more resilient than I think people give us credit for. We trudge through this every day, but we are able to get up every morning, not knowing what fate may have in store for us this day and we still go out into the city of Mosul, again to do our job. The best analogy I can give is one used by our Battalion Chaplain one of a marathon. Ask a novice marathon runner how he is doing at mile one and he may say, “This is great, not as bad as I thought.” Ask the same question at mile 13 and you may get a different perspective of it. “This is really bad” or “What on earth possessed me to do this?” But too much has been invested to quit, so he continues on until it is completed. This is why we do it, for each other. We are that novice runner combined as a platoon. We all have to help each other out to make it to the finish line.

 I do this for 45 extraordinary soldiers who have forever changed my life and taught me the meaning of brotherhood, camaraderie, and are a true band of brothers, soldiers who stand together through adversity and complete the mission no matter how hard it may be. These are only a few events in a yearlong tour, but again it is only one soldier’s story. 
Enough Said!!!!

LT Raub Nash my PL and SGT Paul Farmer
SGT Wallace doing what he did best tearing stuff up!

Me, SPC Ayers (he would be killed in Iraq in 2007) and SPC Heit

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