Feeling the loss of fallen friends
Among our losses over the last two weeks are three National Guard Soldiers – one from New Hampshire, one from New York and now one from Illinois. Two were killed by improvised explosive devices in the south and the other was killed by a suicide bomber up north.
Corp. Scott Dimond from New Hampshire was killed on 13 October when the armored vehicle he was riding was struck by an IED. All the other occupants of the “Cougar” Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle escaped with only minor injuries and bruises when the truck was flipped by the explosion. Dimond was the gunner in the turret on top. He didn’t escape and died immediately.
He was a remarkable man, having served 20 years as a local police officer and then joined the National Guard. He left his wife and four children back home in Franklin. He volunteered to come to Afghanistan with about 17 others from his state, including a cousin.
In terms of rank, he was a junior soldier, but at age 39 and with 20 years law enforcement experience he had a tremendous impact. The other members of his Embedded Training Team from New York and a newcomer from Illinois came to love the guy. The younger troops used to come to him with personal issues about family and other things. The leaders trusted his judgment.
His loss struck them all hard. It was made worse by a terrible article written days later by a British newsman who was embedded with them at the time of the incident. The article was incredibly self-serving, inaccurate and filled with speculation and insensitive remarks. As an experienced public affairs officer, I thought I had seen it all, but I could not have imagined this. I rate this as the worse article I have ever seen and neither the team that was hosting him nor the fallen warrior deserved the treatment meted out.
In contrast, we have all kinds of other reporters working over here – from the U.S. and elsewhere — doing great work. Dave Tobin from the Syracuse Post Standard has been here a couple of weeks now and is pumping out accurate and solid stories that Central New Yorkers can trust.
Fortunately, hometown New Hampshire newspapers are telling Scott’s story. In one of them a reporter tells of the funeral, which was held at the community middle school. The gymnasium was packed. The cousin who deployed with Scott spoke and said that thanks to a buddy from New York that he was serving with, he was able to switch his leave dates and come home to be at the funeral. And then he said that the buddy – Specialist Deon Taylor – had also just been killed in action.
In the evening of 22 October, I was summoned to the Joint Operation Center to receive what I knew would not be good news. I was informed that an IED had struck one of the vehicles assigned to the 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. Two Marines were killed, as was a soldier, and another Marine was wounded. The 2/7 has been serving in the south since the spring, when we got here primarily to support the training of the Afghan National Police. We sent down National Guard soldiers who were police officers by civilian occupation to work with the Marines. I knew right away that there was a strong chance that we had lost a policeman.
It was nearly 11 p.m. and I was called once again to the JOC. The Battle Captain said we had more information on the incident, including the identity of the Soldier. When I got there, the JOC sergeant major leaned toward me and said “It’s Taylor.”
Deon Taylor was a New York City police officer and National Guard troop whom everyone grew to like and respect. He was set to remarry. He had an 8-year-old son from his first marriage that lives in the Capital Region. At Fort Bragg during our post mobilization training, he was assigned to the same training group as my public affairs section. I saw him regularly. Soon after getting to Kabul, he and other police officer-troops were sent down to Kandahar to be assigned to Marine Police Mentoring Teams.
The next morning, Spec. John Smith, our section broadcast journalist, came into our wooden office with red and swollen eyes.
“Didn’t you get any sleep?” I asked.
“No sir. We were up all night, me and the guys next door. Taylor was my roommate,” he said. “We were saving space for him in our b-hut for when he was coming back up. It wasn’t going to be too much longer.”
The New York Daily News has run two stories now, and the Executive Chamber has issued a news release ordering flags to half staff for the dedicated public servant he was. Friends here at Camp Phoenix were given permission to fly from Kabul to Kandahar to attend the memorial ceremony there over the weekend. They have also written their own remembrances of him with photos that they are sending to the Daily News for use on a reporter’s blog site. We will hold the headquarters memorial ceremony here tomorrow, and I will once again be the narrator.
I sent Spec. Smith down range on Monday to go out and videotape an Afghan National Army operation with our embedded trainers in the east. It is a big operation, and he will be with other soldiers and Marines. It’s risky, but this is his job and something he has often told me that he hasn’t been given enough opportunity to do because of his other duties. He won’t be back in time for our ceremony, but it is just as well. Moved by the loss of his friend, he left an envelope with some information “just in case.”
One of his tasks has been to edit special video productions of each of our memorial ceremonies for the families of the fallen. He does a masterful job of filming the ceremonies at Camp Phoenix, as well as when he was sent to Kandahar and Bagram. He blends photos, video and music in a gentle, sophisticated and dignified way. He really has done a great job and has made about 16 of them so far – most are ceremonies for multiple fallen. They are exclusively for the next of kin.
This one will probably be the toughest for him to make after he gets back.
A suicide bomber disguised in the uniform of an Afghan policeman detonated his weapon in Baghlan in northern Afghanistan on the 27th and killed and wounded many, including Afghan children. Two American soldiers died, including Sgt. Kevin Greico of Bartlett, Ill. He joined the Guard in 2006. He had 13 years previous experience in the Navy. He was married with two children.
A few minutes ago, Capt. Lenny Williams, another Illinois Guard member working here at Camp Phoenix, e-mailed me a recent photo of Sgt. Greico so we can use it in the ceremony program. A couple of hundred Illinois troops came in about a month ago, replacing many New York troops who had finished their tour. Lenny and Kevin were among them. In another month and a half, the rest will be coming over to replace the New York 27th Brigade here in Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix. Illinois has now lost two in the short time the advance group has been here.
Since the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York Army National Guard took over Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VII last 26 April we have lost 43 U.S. personnel from the Army, Marines and Navy - each loss a tragedy beyond measure.
The numbers of wounded as a result of battle related injuries has past 150.
The breakdown of our losses is 21 Army, 19 Marines and 3 sailors. Our Army losses include 18 Army National Guard, including eight from New York and three regular Army.
All but four losses are considered killed in action. Of these, the breakdown is 4 due to gunshot wounds and 35 due to the various forms of IEDs.
There are hundreds of IED “events” each month, but in most cases we find them before we strike them or before they are set off. When they go off, only a small portion actually inflict injuries due to our up armored humvees, MRAP armored vehicles and the personal protective equipment we all wear, including helmet, body armor, ballistic eye protection, flame resistant uniforms and gloves. But some IEDs are just bigger than others.
Our task force is comprised of roughly 9,500 U.S. service members, coalition partners and civilian technicians committed to training and mentoring the Afghan National Army and Police forces while also supporting the Afghan government and its people.
In this political season, I appreciate heated and exaggerated language and rhetoric as part of democracy in action. Even when I hear or read statements, editorials or opinions on blog sites that I just can’t agree with, I actually celebrate them because they are indeed an illustration of freedom and its expression is a part of the process.
I think the only words and opinions that I would want to argue against are those that express or suggest that the lives and the deaths of our service members is somehow a “waste.” Those who harbor this view just don’t know what they are saying.
I feel I share an understanding with my brothers and sisters in the uniform of our nation that the lives and service of such men as Scott, Deon and Kevin are absolutely necessary for our nation, our freedom and future. While war is full of “waste,” the strength and determination of a citizen soldier in the face of the threat and adversity will never be. Any one of us can fall and we won’t see it coming. Even if we could, people like Scott, Deon and Kevin would just drive on - and so will the Mikes, Jims, Kathies and others over here, in Iraq and elsewhere.
We must fight tyranny, hatred and aggression and we must use our very best in this fight because no one else will do. Not just anyone can serve in the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force. Not just anyone can be a police officer or a member of the National Guard.
Not just anyone is willing to make America’s security a personal responsibility even at the cost of their lives.
"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." - General George S. Patton, Jr
Lt. Col. Paul Fanning is submitting photos to accompany this blog in a gallery, "Pictures from the Front." To view the most recent photos, which accompany this blog entry, click here. To view the entire gallery, click here.