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A letter from the front in Baghdad
By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007
I first met Jim Crider during his first tour in Iraq, in March 2003, as part of the initial invasion that month. He was a major then, serving as a battalion supply officer with the 101st Airborne Division, and I was embedded with his infantry unit.
Now Crider is back, this time as a lieutenant colonel and the commander of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, based in Fort Riley, Kan. He is responsible for about 500 soldiers.
The 1-4 Cav has been deployed to the Rashid district of southwest Baghdad since February and is scheduled to stay through May 2008 - a total of 15 months. It marks the unit's second tour in Iraq.
While the ink-pen patriots in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, use the war as a tool to strike their enemies, Crider's troops in Iraq are fighting to win hearts and minds while killing the enemy and trying to survive. It is hard work.
The 1-4 Cav's primary enemy is al-Qaida in Iraq. Nine soldiers have died.
Crider, 41, tries to keep the friends and families of his soldiers up to date with regular dispatches. Here is his latest. It has been edited slightly for length and style.
1-4 CAV Update #7, September 2007
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.A few days earlier, two other cavalry troopers were in the emergency room being treated. 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 him out for further examination, he unashamedly told his fellow injured platoon mate 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.
Since my last update, we have lost three of our best.
Spec. Braden J. Long from Sherman, Texas, was performing his duties as a gunner for 3rd Platoon, A Troop on Aug. 4 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 17 years old, married his high school love, Teresa, and fought on some of the most dangerous ground in Baghdad all before the age of 20. He was a brave young man and committed to the mission here.
Spec. Rodney Johnson from Houston was performing his duties on Sept. 4, pulling dismounted security for First 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.
Staff Sgt. Courtney Hollinsworth from Yonkers, N.Y., was performing his duties on Sept. 9 as a section sergeant leading a mounted patrol when his vehicle was attacked and he lost his life. Only recently promoted, he flawlessly served as the platoon sergeant for First Platoon over a three-week period when he was called upon. A true patriot and leader in this organization, he will be sorely missed. (He) 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, D.C. 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. ...The personal relationships built by the troopers of 1-4 CAV with individuals on the streets here are 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 ... 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 (against U.S. troops). C Troop even caught one emplacer, who videotaped his buddies setting in the IED and then blowing it (no one was injured). Thinking quickly, their 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. (The enemy) 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. ...Our medical platoon recently spent several hours with local doctors and nurses treating patients for everyday 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 anyone?).
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. ...
Other good news: ... 1-4 CAV has the highest re-enlistment rate of any battalion-level unit in all of Baghdad and A Troop has the highest re-enlistment rate of any company-level organization in all of Baghdad for this fiscal year.
Due to recent events in Washington, D.C., 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 15 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 detachment commander.
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! DUTY FIRST!