By: David. T Borowicz
Christmas and the holiday season has always been a time for my family to come together from the reaches of the Midwest to enjoy each others’ company and catch up on the latest happenings. That was on my mind as I trudged over to Motorpool #9 at 0630 on Christmas morning. I treasure those family gatherings and wondered how the annual gathering at Aunt Sue and Uncle Dave’s house would be. Without a doubt, I was going to miss the camaraderie and stories, as well as the smorgasbord of desserts and holiday snacks.
I got over to A Co/2BSTB’s area, got my equipment inspected by 1SG Jerod Palmer, and sat down for the operations order. I was headed out on a route clearance mission south of Yusifiyah along Route Peggy, and 1LT Greg Cartier was briefing the final details of the operation. I was assigned a seat on “Andre”, a battle tested Buffalo that had survived multiple IED strikes, grabbed my gear, and climbed the ladder onto the back deck of the giant vehicle. Someone on the ground yelled, “Merry Christmas, sir!” I returned the pleasantries but thought, “What a way to spend Christmas Day.”
I settled in to my seat directly behind the truck commander, SSG Jeffery Ward and buckled in for the ride. The Buffalo driver, SGT Lucas Glover, conducted his final maintenance checks while SPC Jonathan Cadavero, the platoon medic, and SPC James Wilson, the RTO, gave their equipment a final inspection. Wilson conducted a radio check, and the patrol was ready to move. SGT Glover dropped the Buffalo into gear, and we started our journey towards Route Peggy. Along the way, there was some small talk (probably just trying to feel out the “hitchhiking Major”), but everyone seemed rather focused on the task at hand. We arrived at the start point for the mission, the western end of RTE Peggy, and the radio crackled with mission orders. Wilson and Cadavero grabbed their gear and headed for the door at the rear of the vehicle. Since this was a deliberate clearance, portions of the patrol would dismount to aid in the clearance of the route. Cadavero and Wilson were part of this dismounted effort, so they threw open the door, scrambled down the ladder, and rallied with the dismounted patrol leader, SFC Panpradith. As I watched them disperse and disappear into the reed lines, I reflected silently, “What a way to spend Christmas Day.”
As clearance of Route Peggy progressed, the detection vehicle (Husky) and interrogation vehicle (our Buffalo) worked hand-in-hand to find any IEDs hidden along the route. SSG Ward manned the robotic arm of the Buffalo and interrogated a suspicious area on the shoulder of the road. As he worked, SGT Glover monitored the radio and listened to a call from the dismounted element. The dismounted soldiers had reached their objective, so 1LT Cartier made the call for the column to advance further east. SSG Ward stowed “Andre’s” robotic arm, and we prepared to move forward. At that instant, we watched and listened as 1LT Cartier’s vehicle was engulfed in a billow of black and gray smoke. The tremendous “boom” let us know that the lead vehicle struck an IED. SSG Ward tried to establish radio communication with “A36,” but the radio remained silent. SFC Panpradith instructed SSG Ward to move forward and assess the situation, and SGT Glover needed no additional instructions. He maneuvered the Buffalo toward the site of the wreckage, and I jumped into the seat behind the driver to man the RTO position. Suddenly, another fierce explosion rang out. A secondary IED detonated on “Andre” and ground us to a halt. SSG Ward evaluated everyone in the vehicle, and SGT Glover assessed the damage to his faithful companion “Andre:” three flat tires, shattered ballistic glass, and a destroyed RPG cage. No catastrophic damage, but “Andre” was definitely out of the fight for the remainder of the day. SSG Ward radioed our status to SFC Panpradith, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we heard 1LT Cartier come up on the net and report that while his RG-31 was out of the fight, all the Soldiers in the vehicle were fine. I slumped back into my seat, took a long, deep breath, and said aloud, “What a way to spend Christmas Day.”
The patrol now began the slow and painful process of self-recovery. The Buffalo would be able to limp back to FOB Lutifiyah, so the efforts focused on lead RG-31. We wouldn’t be moving anytime soon, so SSG Ward busted out some homemade cookies his mother had sent him for the holidays. And slowly but surely, the three of us began to open up a bit. We talked about family, hometowns, and athletic events. I learned that it was going to be a tough Christmas back home for the Ward family. SSG Ward’s father had passed just a few months ago, and the family was still feeling the pain of their loss. I learned that SGT Glover and I are “homies”; we both grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended rival high schools. I made sure to let him know that my school owned his “back in the day,” and he assured me that changed when he was roving the gridiron for Rufus King High School in the late 1990s. I also learned that SGT Glover can eat more than any person I have ever known. He put a dent in SSG Ward’s cookie stash and demolished his own cache of chips and various other snacks. Not sure if it was the calm after the chaos of the previous activity, but the time I spent talking to those two Soldiers really left an impression on me. And even though we discovered and destroyed an IED as we started our movement back to Lutifiyah, the most fulfilling discovery I made that day was the new bond I had with two very professional NCOs.
As we rolled into Lutifiyah, I anticipated a lengthy delay in getting recovery assets on site to pick us up and deliver us back to FOB Striker. We limped into the ECP, made a hard right hand turn towards the center of the FOB, and prepared for a long stay. To our delight, the Gladiator recovery team was already in place and waiting on our arrival. My two battle buddies, MAJ Doug Mayzel and CW2 Joe Crenshaw, stood in front of the battalion’s HETT and surveyed the damage vehicles. As I climbed down the ladder of the Buffalo, MAJ Mayzel came over and said, “Need a lift?” while Chief Crenshaw stated, “We just couldn’t leave you out here with it being Christmas and all.” I didn’t say much back, but I was very impressed that they personally led a patrol to come out and retrieve us. Both could have stayed at FOB Striker and sent other Soldiers, but they sacrificed their holiday so that other Gladiators could enjoy theirs. I stood to the side and watched the recovery team load the damaged Buffalo onto the trailer and hook the broken RG-31 to the wrecker. Once the recovery crew was finished, I gathered my equipment, listened to our patrol’s movement order, and climbed into the back of the HETT tractor.
As I sat in the HETT while the recovery crew did one last inspection on their secondary loads, I took time to reflect on the day’s activities. I thought about the courageous dismounts out scouring the reed lines for triggermen, and the calm, business-like manner SSG Ward and SGT Glover handled the chaos of contact. I also thought about my family sitting around and opening presents and enjoying each others’ company. I could see my children tearing into presents and my wife snapping digital pictures of the whirlwind that is wrapping paper, ribbon, and boxes. And while I missed my clan dearly, I would remember this Christmas Day as one that rivaled any other. The events of the day: bonding with SGT Glover and SSG Ward, admiring the personal courage of the Soldiers on patrol, the selflessness of my battle buddies reminded me that the Army is my family away from home. Just like my loved ones at home, these Soldiers are the people I rely on when times are tough, and the ones I look to in times of need. I felt proud to be part of this extended family and to be associated with individuals who put the needs of their family ahead of their own. My journey this day had reinforced what I had known all along: that I am lucky to have this second family composed of Soldiers who share common goals, attitudes, and ideals. I leaned back, closed my eyes, smiled, and quietly exclaimed “What a way to spend Christmas Day!”
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
By: David. T Borowicz