Monday, September 17, 2007

Soldiers honor POW/MIAs; search for missing comrades continues

By Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) Public Affairs

YUSUFIYAH — World War II left nearly 100,000 Soldiers missing in action, leaving families back home no evidence as to their fate.
It doesn’t happen so often anymore; less than 2,000 Soldiers were listed as missing in action after Vietnam, and only one, Capt. Scott Speicher, after the Persian Gulf War.
But four years into the war in Iraq, there are four Soldiers missing. They cannot be listed as “missing in action” until a year after the war is concluded, but their absence hangs heavily over their unit and all Soldiers in Iraq.
Until that time, they are listed as “missing/captured.”
Two of the Soldiers still listed as missing/captured are Spc. Ahmed al-Taie, 41, an Army Reserve Soldier who was kidnapped outside Baghdad’s Green Zone Oct. 23, 2006 and Staff. Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin who was part of a fuel convoy that was ambushed near Abu Ghraib April 9, 2004.
The two most recent Soldiers to go missing, Spc. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Pvt. Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., were both infantrymen assigned to Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
They, along with five other U.S. Soldiers and an Iraqi soldier of the 4th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, were attacked just before dawn May 12, near Qarghuli Village. They were guarding a section of Route Malibu, preventing terrorists from planting improvised explosive devices.
The terrorists – several of whom were captured in the following weeks – planted IEDs further down the road from the Soldiers’ position. Then, the terrorists ambushed the Soldiers with grenades and small arms fire. Soldiers at the base less than 800 meters away became worried at the lack of radio communication, and tried to respond, but were slowed by the IEDs that lay between them and their comrades.
Sgt. 1st Class James Connell, Sgt. Anthony Schober, and Pfc. Daniel Courneya, as well as the Iraqi soldier, died in the attack. Spc. Christopher Murphy got out, but his body was found not far away; the terrorists had shot him. Jimenez, Fouty and Pvt. Joseph Anzack Jr. simply disappeared.
The search began immediately; thousands of Soldiers encircled the area.
Route Malibu and Co. D’s area of operations lie in the rural southern part of Baghdad province; date palm groves, apple orchards, and even banana trees line the roads. Canals crisscross the territory, making the roads wind around them, and the reeds that grow near the water can grow twice a man’s height, reducing visibility.
Helicopters from the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division swarmed over the land, trying to see from the air what could not be seen from the ground.
“I don’t care about eating or sleeping,” said Capt. Chris Sanchez, an infantry officer with the 4-31 plans staff, in the days after the attack. “We just need to find these guys.”
Eleven days later, Anzack’s body was found in the Euphrates River south of the attack, near Musayyib. But despite the best work of intelligence analysts, search parties, interrogators and translators, Jimenez and Fouty remain missing.
Constant patrols continued for weeks; two Soldiers were killed in the efforts. Although after a few weeks, as it had to, the focus returned to combat operations, the Soldiers continue to look for their brothers-in-arms, goaded by occasional breakthroughs.
A month after the Soldiers disappeared, their personal effects, including identification cards and wallets, were found by Soldiers of another unit operating near Samarra when they searched an ad-hoc video production studio. The objects were shown in an al-Qaeda propaganda video.
Such finds bring hope.
“You don’t want to leave a buddy just out there,” says Pfc. Clayton Peterson, of Aiken, S.C., who has been in the same company as Fouty since basic training. “You feel like you left them behind.”
Every patrol searching for caches, every meeting with local sheikhs, every mission to distribute supplies to schoolchildren could be the one that puts Soldiers at the right place at the right time to find the missing men.
“The families back home need to know that we are not going to stop searching for the Soldiers until they are found,” said 2nd BCT commander Col. Michael Kershaw. “They (the families) need to know the Soldiers in this brigade are doing everything they can to find these Soldiers.”
Part of that effort is the constant search for further information about the men.
“After three months, the missing Soldiers remain our first priority,” said 2nd BCT intelligence noncommissioned officer in charge Master Sgt. Paul David Adkins, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The desire for their recovery drives our operations across our area of responsibility.”
They may not officially be MIAs or POWs, but they are honored just the same.

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