October 15, 2007
Achievements of the Human Heart
On April 30, 2007, I published the conclusion of a two-part dispatch, Desires of the Human Heart, about the efforts of the 1-4 CAV to transform an abandoned seminary into COP Amanche, an outpost in a Baghdad neighborhood that had been all but deserted after more than a year of sectarian violence. One of the last photographs, shown below, depicted the 1-4 Commander, LTC James Crider, looking out over the compound which his soldiers had managed to make operational over the course of a single weekend. I captioned the photograph with this modestly optimistic thought:
And so we find it here, in the Garden of Eden, in God’s hands through the 1-4 Cavalry from Kansas: the last hope against genocide in the land between two rivers. If the first three days are any indicator, there is reason for the hope and relief that it rests on shoulders like these.
From “Desires of the Human Heart, Part II“
A little more than 5 months later, I received the following update from LTC Crider, which I am reprinting here with his permission. The full impact of the progress he describes is best appreciated within the context of where he and his men first started. Read Desires of the Human Heart Part One and Part Two.
1-4 CAV Update #7
Family and Friends of 1-4 CAV,
War is a very personal endeavor. We find ourselves here involved in close friendships with one another as well as with the many Iraqis we interact with every day on the streets. We are also very close to our interpreters who share every danger with us. We are all intertwined and nothing happens to one group without it affecting the other.
Recently, I found myself in the 28th Combat Support Hospital emergency room where one of our most loyal interpreters was being treated after being injured in an attack. While his prognosis was excellent, he was very shaken. As he lay on a gurney with his head wrapped and an oxygen mask on his face, he saw me approach and immediately grabbed my arm and began to ask me about each soldier in the truck. He referred to them all as his “brothers” and he meant it. Not knowing his own condition he told me he loved Americans and America. He made me promise that I would take his heart to America if he died. He was going to be fine (he left the hospital the next day) but I could not convince him, so I promised.
Around the corner, the CSM and I walked up to one of our Valorous Award winners who suffered a severe hip injury in that same attack. The first thing he asked me was if I thought he would be able to recover and get back to his platoon before we redeployed. A few days earlier, two other Cavalry Troopers were in the emergency room being treated. CSM Jones and I walked in together and as we approached our first soldier he yelled out,”Prepared and Loyal, Sir”. His face, arms and legs were speckled with shrapnel but all he could think about was the unit. As the nurse wheeled himout for further examination, he unashamedly told his fellow injured platoonmate that he loved him and he got the same response back. I have seen the toughest men I know cry for one another and encourage each other through some difficult times. Whoever you know in this unit, know that they are heroes. This is a very personal endeavor, indeed.
While conditions in our area of responsibility are vastly improved from about four months ago, it remains a dangerous place. Since my last update, we have lost three of our best. Specialist Braden J. Long from Sherman,Texas was performing his duties as a gunner for 3rd Platoon, A Troop on August 4th when his vehicle was attacked. Braden survived to the hospital but his injuries were too severe and he passed away.
Braden enlisted in the Army when he was seventeen years old, married his high school love, Teresa, and fought on some of the most dangerous ground in Baghdad all before the age of twenty. He was a brave young man and committed to the mission here.
Specialist Rodney Johnson from Houston, Texas was performing his duties on September 4th pulling dismounted security for 1st Platoon, A Troop when his life was taken by an explosion in a small courtyard in Eastern Doura. Rodney is survived by his wife, Ashley, who is expecting their second child at the end of September. Rodney displayed an uncommon courage every day and never faltered from anything he was asked to do.
SSG Courtney Hollinsworth from Yonkers, New York was performing his duties on September 9th as a section sergeant leading a mounted patrol when his vehicle was attacked and he lost his life. Only recently promoted to SSG, he flawlessly served as the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon over a three-week period whenever he was called upon. A true patriot and leader in this organization, he will be sorely missed. SSG Hollinsworth is survived by his wife, Stephanie.
Please remember these men and their families in your thoughts and prayers. We will never forget them or their sacrifice. Also, please remember all of our wounded soldiers who are at Fort Riley, Brook Army Medical center in San Antonio, and Walter Reed in Washington DC. These Troopers are still a part of our unit and deserve our support as they recover. If you are in a position to do so, please pay them a visit.
We are not fighting a faceless enemy here, however. We have detained at least 120 criminals and insurgents in just the past few months to include those directly linked to the attacks on our soldiers. While most detainees end up in a holding facility run by the Army in Baghdad, a very small percentage are prosecuted in the Iraqi Criminal Court System. To date, we have had one prosecuted in this manner and two more selected for such prosecution. This is a big deal because someone found guilty in the Iraqi System can go to prison for 10-30 years as opposed to 1-5 years under our detention.
The personal relationships built by the Troopers of 1-4 CAV with individuals on the streets here is the key. Like any good relationship, we care for the people in our area without condition. We are there every hour of every day and do our best to change the conditions on the ground that allow an insurgency to flourish. We will never detain or kill them all so we work to create an environment where they cannot survive.
One other example, recently we had seven IEDs discovered or detonated in a single seven day span. On every one, we got a phone call from a local national telling us exactly where it was or we were called immediately after and told who emplaced it. For the record, not one IED was effective.
C Troop even caught one emplacer who videotaped his buddies setting in the IED and then blowing it (no one was injured!). Thinking quickly, the 1st Platoon maneuvered through some side streets and the perpetrator literally ran right into them with the video on a thumb drive in his pocket! Perhaps one of the tightest cases ever!
While the situation is always fragile, we have the initiative and the enemy here spends much more time reacting to us than we do to him. He can hide from us but he cannot hide from his neighbor.
Once abandoned streets are now filled with families and budding entrepreneurs who continue to open new small businesses every week. We have made available grants for small businesses in our area and they have become immensely popular as you can imagine. I cannot walk the streets without children asking me for a soccer ball and “chocolate” (meaning any kind of candy) and adults asking for a micro grant application or for the status of the one they already filled out. They use these grants to open new businesses or improve their existing one and it is working well.
Our area now has a men’s fashion store, fish markets, pharmacies, bakeries, and even two new gyms. We recently helped refurbish a once neglected clinic into a first class location for health care. They have a small lab, dentists, a sonogram machine, x-ray machine, and other new equipment. Our medical platoon recently spent several hours with local doctors and nurses treating patients for every day aches and pains with donated medical supplies from a humanitarian organization. I even watched our physician’s assistant pull a watermelon seed out of a young girl’s ear (sound familiar to any one?).
We also recently completed work on a soccer field that is used nightly by the young people here. Much to our surprise, on the opening night, each team had “1-4 CAV” printed on the back of their soccer jerseys. It is not uncommon for us to see guys with these jerseys on walking down the street. A second soccer field will open shortly.
Next we are working to repair transformer and powerline issues, open a private doctor’s office, and recruit locals to serve in the Iraqi Police. There is always plenty to do.
Other good news; It is over! 1-4 CAV has the highest reenlistment rate of any battalion level unit in all of Baghdad; and A Troop has the highest reenlistment rate of any company level organization in all of Baghdad for this fiscal year. I don’t know how many companies are in Baghdad right now but there are a lot!
Each year, units are given a reenlistment mission inorder to retain good soldiers in the Army. For example, the Squadron had a mission to reenlist two soldiers who are still on their initial enlistment during this fiscal year. Well, we reenlisted forty-two.
While each soldier reenlists for their own personal reasons, I think it is safe to say that these soldiers believe in what they are doing, they see a difference because of their efforts, and they have tremendous NCO leadership. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Due to recent events in Washington DC, rumors are rampant here about when we might redeploy to Fort Riley. The absolute truth is that no one official or unofficial has told us anything different than fifteen months. As the situation becomes clearer over the coming months, we will put out all that we know. Even if you hear that I said it, remember that the only people who speak for me at Fort Riley are my wife, and our Rear D Commander.
Please continue to support our rear detachment and your FRG. Remember, the FRG family members are volunteers who help us pass information to families; they are not designed to solve tough family problems. Our rear detachment either has the answer or can find someone who can get you the answer on Fort Riley.
I am proud to serve with the soldiers in this unit. Their professionalism,courage, and tenacity are unmatched. Thank you for your continued support as we still have a way to go. Fall is here, however, with football on TV and the temperature hovering at a “cool” 105 degrees here. May God bless each one of you!
PREPARED AND LOYAL!
LTC Jim Crider