Tate Shaneyfelt

Dora Alumnus and veteran Tate Shaneyfelt, Class of 1993, dies in an automobile accident
Tate Eugene Shaneyfelt, 39, of Sylvan Springs, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The family will receive friends Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, from 10 until 11 a.m. at New Horizon Memorial Funeral Home in Dora.

Funeral services will be Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at 11 a.m., in the New Horizon Memorial Chapel. The Rev. Larry Gilbert will officiate. Burial will follow in Wells Celestial Gardens in Sumiton.

Shaneyfelt was preceded in death by his father, Gene Shaneyfelt. He is survived by his wife, Lorrie Shaneyfelt; stepsons, Daniel Haynes and David Haynes; stepdaughter, Lacie Sullivan; mother, Janie Shaneyfelt; sisters, Candy Burton and Darlene Sexton; brother, Larry Shaneyfelt; nieces, Mary Garner and Molly Kate Jones; several aunts and uncles; and his U.S. Army brothers and sisters.

Tate Shaneyfelt
Tate Shaneyfelt

NOTE: Tate was kind enough to send us letters about his experience in Iraq while he was deployed there. Tragically, he died in an automobile accident in 2014. Below are his letters.

Letters From Iraq
by Tate Shaneyflet
NOTE: Tate Shaneyfelt is a graduate of the Dora High School Class of 93 and is currently serving in Iraq. I got an email from him this week registering for the site and I took the opportunity to ask if he would consider writing a “Letters From Iraq” piece for the website and the folks at home. What follows is his first installment. I think this first “letter” is remarkable.

I’ve received so many emails with so many questions that I scarcely know where to begin. I returned to combat three weeks ago after a two week mid-tour leave to Sweet Home Alabama. During that two weeks there were three questions that were presented to me by friends, family, and even strangers. Since these questions occurred so often, perhaps that’s where I should start. Please keep in mind that my answer is just that, my answer. My point of view. One soldier.

“Is it really that bad over there?” To this question I can only say that war is an experience like no other. There is no way to describe the hurricane of emotions I face. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Sometimes very bitter lows, and equally jubilant highs. Its a roller coaster. As far as the fighting, well, our enemy is cunning and extremely vigilant. Yet he is a coward. We rarely see him in the act. Only his smiling face on the street, waving. They plant bombs called IED’s (improvised explosive device) in the roads. Jeopardizing not only Army Joe, but the very people we are here to help. However, we are winning. Make no mistake about that. Our equipment is immaculate. Our methods are such that the enemy is frustrated and trying desperate, even stupid tactics. So our morale is high. Support from home adds to this as well. Not since WW2 has the nation backed its troops in such an amazing and caring way. Its almost as if the realization has set in that its not Joe’s fault that hes here. His country called and he went. Just as he always has, and by the Grace of God, he always will. We love our blessed country, and will fight to the end to protect it. God Bless America.

“Are we making a difference?” There is a lot of politics in this question, and I’m a soldier. So I’ll give you a soldier’s answer. Both of my Grandfathers fought in WW2. I’m sure at some point they wondered or were asked the same thing. At the time I’m also pretty sure that they didn’t know. It was only after the fight that the world saw the importance of their struggle. I pray that is the case here, now. That one day soon we can all come home, and Iraq is free. Freedom is addictive. Once its embrace is felt nothing else will do. Businesses are growing. Construction is everywhere. There is hope, always.

“Have you killed anyone?” What a stupid question to ask a soldier. Every time I heard it I was furious. If you have not been here, in combat, there is no way that it can be understood. I used to read book after book describing combat, yet I was clueless until I came here and faced it. It all comes down to this. In that moment, when your enemy falls, he isn’t killed for freedom, or the mission, or even America. He dies because he has threatened the lives of my brothers. My family. Men I know as well as I know myself. Men I can recognize in the dark at a hundred meters away just by the way they walk. Its a strange intimacy. Threaten that, and my enemy finds out that I am “my brothers keeper”, and I will fight to my last breath defending him.

If anyone has anything specific to ask ,email me or Rick, and I’ll do my best to answer. God Bless You All and God Bless Our Great Nation.

Streets of Iraq


by Tate Shaneyfelt
I took this picture as we approached the town of Tarmia. A welcome sight. The road leading to Tarmia is only a few miles long, but it is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. I say its a welcome sight not only because the worst part of the trip was over, but also because the town was busy. That’s always a good sign. When the streets are empty we know somethings up.
I was asked recently how we live here. Unlike previous wars where the grunts lived in foxholes, here its quite different. This is a counter-insurgency war. One of the hardest fights to fight. The bad guys are everywhere, and nowhere. Not unlike the viet-cong my brothers fought in Vietnam. (these guys aren’t as smart in my opinion). In a conventional war the enemy wears a different uniform. There he is, kill him. Our enemy is amongst us. The only relatively safe place is the FOB (forward operations base).
On the base we have excellent food that’s served four times a day. Enough to make you fat! That’s not as much an issue now as it was my first few months here though because now its so hot no one wants to walk that far! I wont bore you with the main menu, but its great. A huge salad bar, ice cream bar, and dessert bar (they have peach cobbler ya’ll!!!) Also we have a Subway, Popeye’s Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. Sounds nice, right? These are Iraqi restaurants guys. Not like what you have there. Trust me its not what its cracked up to be, but they try.
Our common areas (bathrooms) are really good too. Trailers that are cleaned twice a day with ten shower stalls and six toilet stalls are placed all over our living areas. That is the best of all. Going without a shower for weeks at a time isn’t any fun. Take my word for it. We still do sometimes depending on our missions, but at least we have a hot shower to look forward to.
We live in air conditioned trailers. Four troops to a trailer. Two in one side, and two in the other. So I have a roomate. However, we work opposite 12 to 14 hour shifts. When I’m at home he’s at work, and vice versa. So we do get privacy. Internet access, refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, etc…are available. Personally, my room is kind of bland. I see no reason in buying all that stuff here. It’s not like I can bring it back! Im not planning on staying here either!

Sounds like we have it made, huh? That’s the crazy part. 200 meters from where we sleep are the walls covered in razorwire. Countless soldiers will spend their whole deployment (a year) having never seen the outside. The biggest threat to these people are the mortars. Lucky for these “F.O.B.BITs” the bad guys can’t take time to aim, or they’ll die.They just fire and run.

“Outside the wire” is a whole different world. It reminds me of the Bible verse that says the devil “is a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour”. The Bible also says we are “not given a spirit of fear”. I see this everyday. These men and women who risk their lives day in and day out in the kill zone are amazing. One minute we are perfectly safe surrounded by hundreds of our brothers… the very next, 11 of us are on a combat patrol on hostile ground. I’ve witnessed this transition dozens of times, and each time it amazes me. Like a “game face” in football I guess. Yet this is more serious than any Superbowl. Our lives are at stake. The unknown, but fear isn’t evident. All we concern ourselves with is doing the job, and bringing everyone back. Believe it or not we laugh a lot while in harm’s way. The humor on these missions is kind of wild too. We joke a lot out there. It cuts the stress. However, there is always the ever present scanning. Every eye back and forth. Up and down. Searching…waiting…daring him to show his face so we can send him to his virgins.

The base creates an illusion of safety. Those of us who venture outside know this. Out there is the beast. Yet we fear no evil. God Almighty is out there too, with His rod and staff. He is my Strength, my Shield, and He in whom I trust. Praise be. God Bless America.

Temperature in Iraq


Hot As A Firecracker On The 4th of July
Letters from Iraq by Tate Shaneyfelt
How hot is it? Well, here you have it. Actually the day I took this picture really wasn’t that bad. It gets worse.
When I first arrived in Kuwait on December 1st, 2005 Southwest Asia was nice. During the days temperatures were around 70 to 80 degrees during the day and 50 to 60 degrees at night. I left Kuwait January 1st, 2006 and entered Iraq. We had to drive our up-armored gun trucks ($200,000 hum-vee’s) all the way to Camp Taji. I honestly can’t tell you the actual distance, but it took almost three days.
My issued weapon is a M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon). Therefore I’m always a gunner on board the truck wherever we go. As the gunner I ride in the turret on top. The eyes and ears you might say. Its a cool job because I get a birds eye view. Down side is I’m the only guy exposed outside the thick skinned hum-v. During that long journey north to Baghdad I almost froze. The guys on the inside are comfortable because the trucks have heat and air conditioning. I remember hearing through my headset my Captain telling my buddy Jeff (the driver) to “turn down the heat man, its gettin’ hot in here.” Shivering outside in the wind I replied sarcastically “thanks a lot Sir. My feet are a gettin’ a little hot.” He said “really? Turn on the AC, Shaneyfelt’s feet are hot.” “Thanks Sir.”
January through April it rained. The mud was everywhere. Miserable mud. I remember hearing guys complain about it, and I would tell them they were gonna wish for mud soon enough. Well, now its July and it hasn’t rained at all. Mud would be nice compared to this heat! Now, I’ve lived in Alabama almost my whole life, and I know its hot there right now, but I have no sympathy for you guys at all! Imagine standing in front of a giant hair-dryer. That’s what it feels like. However, its so dry that the only time we really sweat is in our IBAS (interceptive body armor system). This armor is a mystery to the Iraqis’. They can’t seem to understand how we can wear all this gear and survive the heat. They think we have a built in air-conditioning unit in our vest! The truth is your soldiers are tough, and extremely well trained. We can fight anywhere, against anyone, and win.
I’m not sure how long the summer here lasts, but I hope it ends soon. It averages 120 to 125 degrees everyday. Some days 130 degrees. I haven’t seen a cloud here in months. Why someone would want to live here is beyond my understanding. But then, its amazing what you can get used to.

155mm shell next to a Pepsi can


Letters from Iraq ~ The Greatest Threat
by Tate Shaneyfelt
The greatest threat we face here are IEDs’ or VBIEDs’. An IED is an improvised explosive device, and a VBIED is the same thing just in a vehicle. The bad guys can’t fight us toe to toe, so they plant bombs targeting our patrols. Under the road, the road shoulder, between traffic barriers, guardrails (which we have removed), medians, trash beside the road, trash in the road, power poles, on the back of street signs, overpasses, etc… Then there is the vehicle born IED. A car or truck is loaded with explosives and then parked or driven near our patrols and detonated.
In the picture is a 155mm artillery shell casing. This is a choice ordinance of our enemy due to the massive amount of explosive it contains. Just one of these 155s’ can create a crater waist deep. Five shells can toss a 70 ton tank like a child’s toy. The blast radius of an IED of this size is enormous.
In rural areas IEDs’ of this type often cause more civilian casualties than military. Especially the VBIEDs’. Civilian traffic is advised by signs in Arabic on our hum-vs’ to stay back 100 meters, but in the cities and villages a close proximity can’t be helped. Its on these streets we have to be most wary of VBIEDs’. Not just for our sake, but for the innocents. A pick-up truck with six 155s’ detonated in a rural area can inflict dozens, even hundreds of civilian casualties. People going
about their daily routines suddenly and viciously killed by an enemy we both share.
These IEDs’ are detonated with dozens of methods. Cell phones, portable phones, handheld
radios, command wire (copper wire similar to guitar string that is extremely hard to see from a vehicle), key fobs, and remote control toys are just a few. Detonation methods vary just as much
as the charges they control.
I can’t elaborate on our tactics of dealing with this threat except to say that the equipment we use
is nothing short of amazing when you consider the vast number of these bombs that are dealt with
on a daily basis. Technology and training are taking their toll. Our armor is second to none just like the men and women who use it.
These 155mm rounds are just one type of explosive the enemy uses. There are quite literally hundreds of different explosives and explosive agents used against us.

Tate Shaneyfelt


The American soldier’s combat uniform is one that constantly changes. In no two conflicts is this combat dress the same. As technology progresses so does the uniform. The current battle dress is unlike anything the world has ever seen.A new helmet was issued a few weeks before my unit deployed. The new “k-pot” is made from similar composites of the former. Its differences lie in its toughness, comfort, and weight. This helmet can withstand a 9mm round fired at point blank range. Unlike its predecessors it requires no helmet liner. This liner has been replaced by velcro pads that attach to the inner shell. No liner means less weight. Yet the best modification (in my opinion) is the design of the kevlar shell itself. The previous k-pot had a small brim above the eyes. When lying in the prone firing position (on your stomach and elbows) the flak-vest rides forward against the rear base of the helmet pushing this visor forward. Directly in a soldiers line of sight. Thankfully, this brim has been removed making for a much better target picture.
Ballistic eyewear is also issued to each soldier. Just like our weapon, we are required to wear these glasses at all times. Interchangeable lenses are provided. Dark, sunglass type for the day, and clear for night use. The pair issued to me are Oakley’s. At home during my mid-tour leave my brother-in-law noticed me wearing them and asked “my taxes bought Oakley’s?” To which I replied with the question “how much do you think my eyes are worth?” The IED’s we face send thousands of tiny projectiles in every direction. These glasses are designed to stop them.
The IBAS (interceptive body armor system) or flak vest is a vital part of the modern American combat soldier. Made from flexible kevlar it is said the armor cannot be punctured with a knife or 9mm bullets. Placed inside are plates capable of stopping armor-piercing rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle. The outside cover of this vest has dozens of loops that allow equipment such as ammo, knives, flashlights, and medical kits to be worn. Recently kevlar shoulder flaps, inner side flaps, and a groin flap (“d–k flap” in army terms) were added.

My vest is relatively empty compared to most soldiers. I wear a knife and one M16 magazine. I mentioned in a previous letter that I am a M249 Saw gunner. The weapon fires belted ammunition as well as magazine ammo. Due to the size of my ammo drums I am not required to wear them on patrol in the trucks. There simply is not enough room in the gun-turret for them to be worn on my IBAS. Instead I keep my 1600 rounds in the turret with me. The M16 magazine is a back-up for a secondary personal weapon that is also in the turret with me. You see, my machine gun cannot be locked and loaded until a hostile act is witnessed. Personal weapons are locked, loaded, and “safed” as soon as we leave the base. Therefore I keep one close. Just in case I don’t have time to load my 249.

These are only a few of our combat components. Vest decorum varies just like the soldiers they protect, but they are all heavy and uncomfortable. Some weigh more than 90 lbs. Yet this discomfort slips away as soon as we leave the gates. Once outside we get so focused on the external that everything internal is ignored. Temperature, pain, even time just do not exist. Heightened awareness I guess. “The jazz”.

In gear


Letters From Iraq ~ Uneasy Rider
Imagine riding in a vehicle with a blindfolded driver. You can only guide him by voice. Not only is the driver blind, but its dark. The road you are on is one you’ve never traveled. Completely unfamiliar to you. Now add the possibility of bad guys with guns and rocket propelled grenades. Oh, and don’t forget the roadside bombs, and the enormous blast craters in the road. The vehicle your in has virtually no armor. You have ten miles to travel..
The trip required me to TC a track vehicle to one of our patrol bases. TC means truck/track commander. Make no mistake, I am no commander. There were just two of us in the vehicle, myself and the driver. As TC my job is to maintain radio contact with the rest of the convoy, guide the driver, and scan for threats.
The driver’s seat is on the front left. If it were an automobile he would be directly behind the left front headlight. His vision is limited because of his location in the track. To his right is the enormous engine compartment. Therefore he can only see whats on his left and straight ahead. The right side is a huge blindspot. The driver must be made aware of any obstacles or dangers that he just cannot see. Hence, a TC is required
The trip was to begin in the early hours of morning. Our instructions were to travel the first couple of miles in white light. Using civilian terms: headlights on. Upon reaching our first turn the orders were to go blackout and implement NOD’s (night optic devices). The trip, or “march” would stay under blackout conditions until the destination was reached. A march roughly ten or twelve miles.
“Too easy”, I thought. Then I heard the next instructions. “All driver’s hatches will remain closed after blackout status”. The driver, Chase, looked at me with an expression on his face that I can only describe as “oh crap”.

Now, I do not drive tracks. I never even ride in them. Every single mission I have ever been on has been in my Hum-v as the gunner. So I had no clue what was on Chase’s mind. I just gave him a nod of assurance, and gestured with a shrug as if to say “don’t worry about it, Bro”. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve been worried too. Ignorance truly is bliss.

The problem with driving a track with the hatch shut is visibility. There are only three small rectangular windows to peer through, and they are parascopic. Even in broad daylight operating this type of vehicle with the hatch down is a challenge. At night with headlights on its even harder. Using night vision goggles to look through a three inch by nine inch rectangle? Well, that’s no fun at all. Especially in combat.

The logic behind the decision to close the hatches is legitimate. IED’s are the threat. If an explosion occurs on the right it will most likely be absorbed by the engine block. However, one on the left will not. Now if the hatch is open, there is absolutely nothing between the projectiles and the driver. The result is unthinkable. Hatches shut.

As TC, I ride standing with my upper-body outside the track. Directly behind me the hatch lid stands open and locked. In front of me are panes of bullet-proof glass. Honestly, I prefer my turret in my Hum-v. In my truck I ride down in the turret seat, and I can rotate 360 degrees with my weapon mounted. Not to mention the new up-armor hummers are much tougher. Nevertheless, a mission is a mission. We do what we have to.

The march went as scheduled until that first turn, and we went black. To my horror Chase had neither adjusted, nor even attempted to mount his NOD’s before we rolled out, despite his visual concerns. I was furious, but then I’ve been outside many times and know what to expect. Chase had been outside the wire prior to that night only once. At the time I did not know that, so I blasted him with some serious threats that I cannot repeat here. I mean, my Mom reads these, you know?

My little rampage on the intercom only lasted a few seconds. There simply was no time to waste. My driver was blind, and we were on the move. I immediately began guiding him by voice. “Left, left, left. Ok, straight. Good. Right. Right. Straight, straight. OK, left…and so on. I was pulling triple duty up there. Guide the driver, scan for possible IEDs’, and watch for shooters. Now, I tried, but I just could not scan around. I took my eyes off the road twice, and both times when I looked back we were on the shoulder. That is not a good place to be to say the least. I guided him back on course quickly, and decided to completely devote myself to “sun-roof driving”. After all, we had a better chance with the bullets than the bombs.

Back on the road, we approached some blast points. These craters are created by the IEDs’, and also make good hiding spots for new ones. Our forces just cannot fill in the holes fast enough. An IED in one of these craters is extremely deadly because there is nothing covering it. Buried ones have to blast through some earth before they reach their target. The ones in the craters do not. Just a clean and lethal explosion. Its common sense to drive around them, and give them a wide birth. Yet, Chase could not see them! I remember one short conversation on the intercom very well.

“Chase, go right buddy. Crater. Big crater. Little more right, man. Right Chase. Right…right!Right! Oh crap, crap, crap, crap,crap!” Our left track passed directly over the hole. Chase was oblivious. “Tate, you ok?” I told him we had just driven over a hole he could park his pick-up in. Blissfully ignorant of the danger he said, “that big, huh?” I continued, “yeah Bud it was. Left, left. Ok, straight…

The full measure of our predicament was realized toward the end of the march. God love him, Chase got his left and right confused. Now keep in mind, I’ve been shouting left and right in his ears for the past half hour. Its amazing to me that he did so well for so long. Yet, it was just a matter of time before “Murphy” showed up. I told Chase to go left four times, and each time he was going right. Finally I shouted, “left!!!” He yelled back “I am going left!”. I screamed, “your other left!” In that exact moment our track was headed due east. The convoy was going due north. We were completely off the road, and driving straight toward a small river that paralleled the route. I ordered Chase to stop, and radioed ahead. “Three alpha, this is two three. Slow your rate of march we have fallen behind.” I didn’t bother telling them we had stopped. Let alone that we were off the road! Patiently, and without yelling I guided Chase back to the road. Once we were back on I said, “OK, Bro, haul ass!”

There were vehicles behind us too. To my surprise when we stopped they were not even in sight. Apparently they were having similar issues as well. So Chase and I lucked out. No one was hurt, and nobody saw us. We simply rejoined the group as if nothing had happened.

Once we finally reached our destination, Chase and I got out and shook hands. I told him he did a great job considering the circumstances. Then I said, “if you ever skip pre-mission checks and get me into something like this again, I will stop the convoy. Then I’ll have the guys pull security while I tear you out the frame.Got it?” Honestly though, I don’t think I scared him anywhere near as bad as that trip did.



Letters from Iraq ~ August
It’s August now and the weather is finally starting to change. Its still unbelievably hot, but my long lost beautiful clouds are returning. I cannot remember the last time I saw one. I know it might seem silly, but it was a big deal to me to wake up and see a slightly overcast sky in the east. It made for a beautiful sunrise. The pictures I took of it are priceless to me, but to anyone else they would probably seem pretty bland. In my eyes they represent the last days of a very long year.
August has brought with it some of the highest temperatures I have seen yet. I was recently asked how hot it really is here. To be honest I have no idea because our thermometers only go to 120 degrees. There are other ways to measure the heat though. An igloo ice chest filled to the top with ice will melt completely in about four hours, and by the end of the day the water inside is as hot as McDonald’s coffee. In full combat dress its nothing for me to drink eight one liter bottles of water on a seven hour patrol, and even then when we return I will still be thirsty. After stripping off all the combat gear we are drenched in sweat. We look as if someone has sprayed us with a garden hose, in spite of our air-conditioned trucks. At night in my room I now have to turn down my AC because I freeze. Three months ago I would sweat in my sleep with the air all the way down. Its amazing what you can get used to.
It’s August now and the weather is finally starting to change. Its still unbelievably hot, but my long lost beautiful clouds are returning. I cannot remember the last time I saw one. I know it might seem silly, but it was a big deal to me to wake up and see a slightly overcast sky in the east. It made for a beautiful sunrise. The pictures I took of it are priceless to me, but to anyone else they would probably seem pretty bland. In my eyes they represent the last days of a very long year.
August has brought with it some of the highest temperatures I have seen yet. I was recently asked how hot it really is here. To be honest I have no idea because our thermometers only go to 120 degrees. There are other ways to measure the heat though. An igloo ice chest filled to the top with ice will melt completely in about four hours, and by the end of the day the water inside is as hot as McDonald’s coffee. In full combat dress its nothing for me to drink eight one liter bottles of water on a seven hour patrol, and even then when we return I will still be thirsty. After stripping off all the combat gear we are drenched in sweat. We look as if someone has sprayed us with a garden hose, in spite of our air-conditioned trucks. At night in my room I now have to turn down my AC because I freeze. Three months ago I would sweat in my sleep with the air all the way down. Its amazing what you can get used to.

The other weather element that August has brought with it are the sandstorms. The picture was taken about fifteen seconds before we were completely engulfed. Ten minutes later it was gone. It felt like being in a movie like “The Mummy”. While inside the storm the sky is blood red and incredibly eerie. Visibility is limited to only a few feet, and the only thing audible is the wind. The sand gets into everything, literally. The tiny grains sting our faces, necks, and hands. Anyone caught in a storm without their eye-protection is in for it. Even with the glasses on the sand still gets in our eyes.

There is still a strange appeal to these storms for me though. I’ve always loved good thunderstorms, but never knew why. Now, I think of them as the Lord giving me a show. A beautiful and majestic display of his power. The same its true of sunsets and sunrises. In my eyes that is God Almighty showing off. To stand in the midst of a sandstorm, thunderstorm, or even when viewing a sunset and say to yourself “Lord, this is amazing, thank you”, to me that is one of the truest forms of praise. Such spectacles are part of His gift of life, and are not to be taken for granted.

There might be some of you who wonder how I can talk about hitting little kids with candy bars and killing bad guys, and at the same time speak of God and praise. I know it all sounds hypocritical, but its not. There has only been one perfect man to walk this earth, and thats Jesus. I am not Him, I am just a soldier that believes in Him, and depends on Him. Now, with that said, I have a very special request of those of you who read this. There is a road here in our area that has become incredibly deadly. I cannot give you any information about it except we are having a very hard time controlling it, and its killing your soldiers. If you would, please say a prayer for our guys, and our commanders. I do not make this request idly. I believe with all my heart in the power of American prayer. So pray for us in this small matter. Whisper it silently and watch God move. You are in this fight too, and you have the greatest weapon of all. Use it. Please.

Letters from Iraq ~ EOD
Just a few moments ago I finished an upgrade job on one of our EOD security team’s trucks. As I was working inside the truck installing some new equipment it occurred to me that I haven’t told you anything about these “unsung heroes”. EOD or explosive ordinance disposal teams operate twenty-four seven here in Iraq. The roadside bombs give them alot of business. Detonated IED’s and potential IED’S are investigated by the EOD teams. Now as dangerous as the job sounds what you have to realize is these guys are supplied with state of the art equipment and techniques. They are true professionals, and they prove it every single day. Yet, the soldiers so often overlooked are the security teams that escort the disposal troops, or EOD Security.
The primary function of the EOD security teams is to accompany the actual EOD units into the hot-zone, and provide protection as they work. Once attached to EOD these teams become bomb-hunters as well. Since they are exposed to the various methods the enemy uses they simply know what to look for. On many occasions the security element is called upon to assist in the actual disposal of the explosives by tracking down the method of detonation, or the insurgent holding the detonator. Personally, I love it when one of the security soldiers tags along on my missions. Hard chargers like them get me fired up. Not to mention they are all pretty much subject matter experts when it comes to spotting IED’s.
The security teams are made up of soldiers from all over the battalion. Soldiers whose training is for fueling, legal, signal, intelligence, etc… find themselves traveling all over the Iraqi countryside in search of the bombs and the bombers. Genuine proof that we are all infantrymen first, and all else is secondary. Their twenty -four hour shift starts in the early morning when they prepare their truck with ice, water, and ammo for usually an hour or so before they are actually on duty. Once the previous shift is relieved they simply wait, and they do not wait long. When an IED strike is reported over the command net, they get moving even before they are called. Then its out of the gates to the site. Upon reaching the site they set up a perimeter around the actual EOD troops by halting traffic and scanning the area. EOD check the area for more explosives, and then blow any unexploded ordinance in place. Then they all mount up and either head to another call or return to base. They respond to every single IED report in our area no matter what time. These gutsy American grunts pull countless hours outside the wire in full gear. Sometimes they spend their whole shift or longer outside to return exhausted mentally and physically. After their shift comes a well deserved day off. Then back in the saddle to do it all again the next day.

The EOD security team is just one of the many assets my unit sends in harm’s way everyday. The thing that sets them apart is the fact that they are performing a duty outside their trained job description. A very hazardous duty that is usually given to combat-arms soldiers such as infantrymen or scouts who are trained specifically for such tasks. However, in this fight their plate is full. Therefore computer guys, mechanics, and even commo-guys come together to fill the gap. American soldiers doing what they have always done; proving they are the best in the world.

Military Friendships are Different
In my time in the US Army I have met so very many people from so many places. Basic training buddies, my pals in AIT school, and my friends throughout my brigade would not exist had I not taken that oath. In that aspect my enlistment has become one of the sweetest blessings God has ever given me.
My military friendships are very different than my civilian ones. I recently read an email from a friend (military) about this truth that gave several examples of the difference between the two that I would like to share.
Civilian friends never ask for food; military friends are the reason you have no food. Civilian friends bail you out of jail and tell you what you did was wrong; military friends sit next to you and say “man, we screwed up, but it was fun!” Civilian friends cry with you; military friends laugh at you and tell you to man up. Civilian friends will leave you behind if thats what the crowd is doing; military friends beat up the whole crowd for leaving you. Civilian friends will talk trash to the person who talks trash about you; military friends punch them in the face. Civilian friends know a few things about you; military friends could write a book with direct quotes from you. Civilian friends are for a while; military friends are for life. The pressures of combat make strong friendships unbreakable. Pressure makes diamonds, and thats what my friends here are to me. My commo-shop consists of four of these diamonds. My boss NCO, Jay, and his four horsemen; Jerry, Jeff, Darrel, and myself. These guys are my brothers, and I love them dearly.
Jerry is twenty-five, and from Kansas. He is the “deep-thinker” of the group, and more often than not the voice of reason. Both of Jerry’s parents are deaf so he is extremely fluent in sign language. An extremely vigilant soldier, Jerry excels at everything he does. He is also my roommate, and I could not ask for a better one. Shoots expert, physical training stud, and a very good commo-guy.

The one thing Jerry is not good at is driving. God love him, the guy just cannot drive worth a flip. After a while we quit counting his fender-benders at Ft Hood. I remember one occasion when Jerry, myself, and a friend of mine named Trip were returning to post from eating dinner. Trip had left his military ID in his room on the base. To enter the base you have to have this. Jerry, being the great guy he is volunteered to drive on post, get Trip’s ID, and come back to pick us up. So Trip and I got out at a seven eleven off the highway and waited for him to return.

After a while I saw a vehicle approaching that looked like my friend returning. I asked Trip “is that Jerry?” In that precise moment the car’s brakes locked, white smoke appeared, and then a crash. Trip said “yup, thats him.” Jerry had collided with another car. Trip and I ran the distance to the scene.The driver of the other vehicle was a small young female who was obviously shaken, and crying. Always the Southern gentleman, I tried my best to comfort the lady, but to no avail. Jerry then told me “dude, shes deaf.” Trip was amazed at this and said “of all the people for you to hit, you hit a deaf person?” To which I said ” Heck, hes hit everyone else! At least he can talk to her.”

Jeff is twenty-one from Iowa and the “lady’s man.” He is the sharpest dressed and quickest tempered of the bunch. He is also the only father in the group. His son’s name is Quaid, and he is just like his Daddy. Though Jeff is the youngest in the shop he is by far the most mature. I act his age and he acts mine. To provide a better life for his boy he gave up a baseball scholarship to join the Army. As a soldier Jeff could set the standard. As a commo-guy he can’t be touched. A fierce competitor thats the best at everything he does. He is also one of the best friends I will ever have.

Darrel is twenty-six and from Texas. This guy is in a category all to himself. In ancient times he would be the court jester. In the United States Army he is a genius. Anytime we ever need anything we call on him, and he always comes through. Like myself, Darrel never meets a stranger. He is an extremely laid back soldier. Almost to the point of lazy. Yet, when he is given a mission you can take it to the bank that it will get done. As a commo-guy he too can’t be beat.

Unlike Jerry, Darrel can drive. The guy loves it. A total speed freak. I remember once on FT Hood he made the mistake of spinning his tires in a parking lot. Actually, spinning the tires was not his mistake. Getting caught by a Lieutenant Colonel was. The incident was reported, and Darrel was punished. The punishment was five hours of “smoking.” Smoking a soldier involves an NCO and all of the exercises he can think of. Part of Darrel’s getting “smoked” was running from one end of our parade field to the other, picking up a small stone, and returning with it. He was made to spell the word SAFETY with the rocks. Too funny. Needless to say, Darrel learned his lesson: next time don’t stop, just keep driving.

My commo-shop is perhaps the best in the theatre. All branches of our armed forces come to it for support. Even the special operations community look to us. The reason is we are the best at what we do. We are the best because we have had the honor and priviledge of having the best to teach us. Jay.

Jay is the same age as me at thirty-one. He hails from west-Texas, and has been my NCO and best friend since I met him two and a half years ago. He is one of the toughest and most intelligent men I have ever met, and absolutely fearless in combat. Jay has five American flags flying at his home in Texas. One for each of us. He was the first of us to arrive here, and he will be the last to leave. His mission in Iraq? To bring all of his soldiers home to their families.

As an NCO or non-commissioned officer, Jay is old-school. He was fortunate enough to be trained by the type of NCOs’ that are disappearing from this Army. The kind that put their soldiers first. His door is always open, and if one of his soldiers need him he is there. No matter when or where. Even soldiers from other units come to him. They know he cares and that he always has an answer. A class act to say the least. There is no one more professional than him.

As a commo-guy I just cannot say enough about Jay. He is a legend in the 4th Infantry Division. The proof is in his soldiers.

“No greater love has any man than this: to lay down his life for a friend.”

It’s common knowledge that Iraq is a nation that has been devastated by the chaos of war for centuries. Everywhere you look regardless of where you are the signs of conflict are visible. Iraq has simply become numb to war, and fighting is part of their culture.This indifference has always made me curious about the children. Obviously the adults are involved in the fighting, but what of the little ones? Where do they fit in the scheme of things here? The nature of my team’s duties have limited us to a window’s view. All of our missions and all of the places we’ve been we have merely seen the children as we passed by with never a word exchanged. Personally, that vexed me. I feared I would leave Iraq with a one-sided understanding, and only the knowledge of the violence that adult human beings create. Then God in His goodness gave me the opportunity I have wanted for so long. A chance to talk to the kids.
The mission was simple. Our task was to escort one of our signal elements to a patrol base west of Taji. Equipment there vital to Brigade operations had gone down during the day, and had to be repaired as soon as possible. Once the repairs were complete we were to escort the signal guys back to Camp Taji.
The plan only had one hitch. The small patrol base is located in an area known for sectarian violence. The north side of the main highway is Sunni, and the south is Shiite. The two groups exchange gun-fire regularly along the highway leading to the base, and the base is located directly between the two rivals. We were advised to identify our targets before firing as they might not be shooting at us. Personally, the idea of an individual firing a weapon anywhere near me is to say the least, unappealing. Add to that the fact that I cannot shoot back until I see him firing at me!? Thats just not fair at all, but its the nature of our fight here.

Fortunately the mission was relatively uneventful. Unlike other routes in our area, the route we took to the patrol base was IED free. I say ‘was’ because two days after our mission several IED strikes were reported in the area.

Upon arriving at the base we all dismounted the trucks to stretch a bit. The signal guys went to work, and the rest of us just milled around. As we talked, two small boys climbed onto the razor-wired barrier of the compound. One of the other gunners and I walked over to speak to the little guys. In extremely good english the ten year old boys began asking us for soccer balls, candy, and toys. Many of our units carry these items, but unfortunately our team doesn’t. Then one of the boys asked me for my flashlight I was wearing on my body-armor. Playfully, I inquired what he had to trade for it. The little guy just didn’t have anything. So I told him if he gave me his name he could have the light. His said his name was Assein, took the light, said thank you in Arabic, and ran off.
Apparently Assein advertised a bit because suddenly there were seven children on the barricade. The kids asked us for MRE’s which we had, but we cannot give them out anymore. The enemy uses them to hide IED’s. Instead, we handed out frosted flakes and beef jerky. The guys also exchanged American currency for what little Iraqi money the kids had. This thrilled us and the kids. The children were happy because our money is worth a hundred times more than theirs, and our guys had souvenirs. It was a good trade.

The bartering ended, and we just talked to the kids awhile. The oldest of the group was a thirteen year old girl. I am not certain, but I believe she was an older sister to one of the smaller kids. She never really spoke to us, but simply smiled sweetly and watched. She wore no veil.

One of the boys asked me if I was “shi”. To which I replied “what is shi?” The little guy was asking if I was Shiite or Sunni. Laughing, I told him “buddy, I’m from Alabama.” He replied “Abaama? very good, Americii very good, Sunni no good.” The nine year old boy was Shiite, and already hated the Sunni.

Two of the little girls were sisters. Their names were Xana and Nuura. Xana is ten and Nuura is five. Xana wore a veil, but while speaking to us she would take it off. When vehicles approached she would wrap her face quickly, grab her younger sister, and run across the street to hide. Once the car was safely past the girls would return. I asked Xana why she ran, but I don’t think she undertood the question as she did not answer. When I asked about the veil she completely removed it, defiantly raised her chin with a sarcastic smile, and said “no good, veil no good.” Her eyes were green, her smile was beautiful, and she had attitude to match her good looks. In the states she would be a heartbreaker in the making.

Despite the hardships of this war the children were happy. The guys and I played thumb-war with them through the razor-wire, and taught them American handshakes.We talked and played with them until curfew when they had to leave. It was a pleasant experience I will never forget.

After leaving the patrol base we headed back to Camp Taji. Upon our return we dismounted and began to talk. On the way back we all noticed one small event. An Iraqi father about thirty years old walking with his baby son, and holding his hand. I only mention it because it was such an unusual thing to see here. We see babies three and four years old on the side of the highways unattended regularly. They just sit in the dirt and watch us pass. Its a sight that just hurts the heart. On the other hand, seeing that father holding his son’s hand made us all feel good.

Playing with those children, and seeing that father with his son was like a little ray of hope. Through all the despair and violence its hard to see if we really are making a difference here. Now I see that maybe we are. Hopefully, the sacrifices we have made have not been in vain, and one day these children we met will understand what we’ve done for them.


The past few weeks have been tough on us here. Sectarian violence has risen tremendously in our area. Shiites killing Sunnis and Sunnis killing Shiites. Between the two are the coalition forces, and it seems that killing us is just as satisfactory as killing each other to the two sects.
One town in particular that lies in our area has been ravaged by this sudden rise in violence. Until recently the town was peaceful, but lately it has become a serious problem area. Urban fighting and mortar attacks are the issue. To assist our coalition elements located in the town a team was assembled and dispatched to assist in the fight. I was on it.
The convoy to the town was easy as IED’s aren’t really a threat there. Upon arriving we set up shop, and joined in the fight. Our mission was to help secure the coalition patrol base, patrol the area, access the situation, and assist in locating enemy mortar teams.
Securing the base was actually redundant in my opinion. The small base is manned by military police units and cavalry scout units from my brigade. These guys are as tough as they come. That little patrol base might have had a lot of things to worry about, but getting overrun was not one of them. To those guys I imagine our presence might have seemed an intrusion at first, but once they realized who we were and why we were there they were glad to have us.
Patrolling the area is just a part of accessing the situation. We had received reports that as many as 50,000 people had evacuated the city that was previously home to 150,000 residents. The reports were not accurate. Our fourth day there we estimated the number to be much closer to 90,000 who had evacuated. While on patrol the few people we saw were on the market streets, or loading their belongings into trucks. We also came across makeshift barricades in the back streets of the town. These barricades were made up of rocks, trash, or anything large enough to make an automobile stop. It seems that our enemies place these obstructions, uniform themselves as Iraqi Army or police, and then sort through the civilians that pass through. Often resulting in murder. On one of our patrols I saw a small boy setting up one of these barricades. Our cowardly enemy cannot even do that for himself. I call them cowardly because that’s what they are. They place roadside bombs, drop mortars on us, and use hungry children to commit murder. Rarely do they ever chance a confrontation with us directly as they know the result before it even begins. If they ever do fight us it is because they are cornered and trying to escape, but even then our treatment of detainees is such that often they simply surrender in the hopes that they will be released to fight us again. Unfortunately this does occur, and I will keep my opinion on that to myself.

I mentioned before that patrols were a part of our situation assessment. Another factor to access was the mortar issue. While at the small patrol base we were mortared at least four times a day, and sometimes six or seven times. Fortunately for us, the enemy mortar teams do not have enough time to aim with much accuracy. This is because as soon as that first mortar round fires from the tube we know almost exactly where they are, and the Apache attack helicopters are on the way. The enemy has adapted to this by firing the mortars from tubes located in the beds of pick-up trucks. They fire six or seven rounds and then run for their lives. Besides the lack of accuracy it is actually a very effective method of engaging us. Only the enemy is not engaging us alone. Their mortars were landing all throughout the town as well. Killing innocents in the process. On one occasion I witnessed a mortar that passed over our location and landed in town. Approximately ten minutes lat er a man approached the compound with a boy in his arms that appeared to be about twelve years old. The boy was injured so our guys let them in. While they were in the base I was on the roof and unable to see what was happening. Shortly after the man’s arrival I saw him leave, and he still carried the child. The boy was dead. The first of many civilian casualties me and my friends would witness in the days to follow.

About an hour after that mortar strike an Iraqi Police truck entered the compound. In the back of the truck were four detainees dressed as Iraqi Army. I watched as the IP’s laid into these guys. The prisoners were snatched from the truck and (in southern terms) got the absolute stew whipped out of em’. To the point that I thought maybe I should step in, and not because I felt sorry for them. Not that at all, but out of duty as I was the only American present at the time. Now, had I not seen what happened to that child an hour earlier I might have stopped the beating these guys were getting. However, in that moment I merely watched, and I have to say it made me glad. After all, these men would live, but what of the people they had murdered. “Beat em’, and beat em’ til you find the rest,” I thought. Later, I worried about feeling this way. That feeling of sweet vengeful hate. I refuse to lose my humanity here. So I prayed on it and God reminded me of “righteous anger.” That is the feeling I had, and not hate at all. Hate is reckless, and has no purpose other than to do evil. Our anger has purpose. The evil and madness here must stop.

In the face of all that horror and pure hatred that men create for themselves it is very easy to lose sight of hope. All those things that are right, pure, and good just fade. All that is left is personal courage, love of the soldier next to you, and faith in God Almighty. Honestly, it is very hard to see the Lord in such circumstances. I must admit I found myself asking “Lord, where are you? Don’t you care?” In His sweet Grace He answered. You see, when the time came for me to be relieved, I requested to stay because my friend who would replace me is much younger than me and a father. The thought of anything happening to him in my stead was just too much for me. Now, I don’t mean to sound like ” ooh look at me, I’m a tough guy.” On the contrary, I was very afraid the whole time. I am writing this because of the miracle that occurred after my request to stay was denied. As soon as I found out Jeff was coming to replace me I hid in my h um-v and began praying for the Lord to guard him just as He had guarded me. God did. The morning after he relieved me, Jeff and another friend of mine were talking by their trucks. Neither of the two were wearing their body armor or their helmet because they had just woke. Just then a mortar round whistled overhead and landed with a thump fifteen feet away from where they stood. The round landed in the area where our “piss tubes” are located. The ground was too soft there to set off the charge. It caught the mortar like a pillow. As per usual the Lord was with us the whole time. He just wanted to make a big entrance to make sure we knew it. God is good, and I am thankful “its all in His hands.”

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