Rest easy, brother. Until we regroup...
Personal story time: Two years ago I flew to New York City and reunited with some Army brothers I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We all had the pleasure of being stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany, and later deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in the autumn of 2006. It was really great to see everyone coming together again.
Our deployment was quite dicey- Ramadi was considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the country at the time, and it was our task to help clean up the streets. But the insurgency was heavily mixed in with the friendly civilian population and wasn’t going to leave without a fight, which quickly became apparent. For the first few months, it was not uncommon for one of our platoons to take contact (fire from the enemy) on a daily basis. We were in the hornets nest.
On November 11, 2006 (Veteran’s Day) our brother Jace Badia was blown up in a Bradley from a huge IED and lost his leg. Three days later on November 14, we lost a brother named CPL Eric G. Palacios-Rivera during a fire fight. It was a shock to us all when this happened.
This was just month number one out of a deployment that lasted over 13 months.
Throughout the deployment, we experienced countless close calls due to the nature of our job. For months, we patrolled the streets during the day and conducted house raids at night. We discovered insane amounts of weapons caches, even got to work with Naval Special Warfare (NSW=SEALs) a few times. Humanitarian missions were also conducted. We provided food, water, gas, electricity, and other supplies to the civilians in hopes to win “hearts and minds”. As cheesy as it sounds, it worked! We were successfully cleaning up the streets one month at a time.
However, the city was still dangerous. Sadly, we lost another brother, SFC Raymond Buchan on July 1, 2007 during an ambush on Donkey Island. Look it up because it’s an amazing story. He was a great leader, and a friend to dozens of grunts in our company. It really sucked to see him go.
Months passed, and by the time it was our turn to head back home in November 2007, we had gained the trust of the Iraqi civilians in our area and things were dramatically safer than when we arrived. The people of Ramadi began to have stable jobs again, and most of the insurgency was thrown off it’s feet. It felt good leaving something behind better than how we found it- Mission complete in my book, but not without it’s costs. We lost some wonderful human beings, and I’ll never forget them.
Fast forward to 2016 in NYC for our reunion. It was about 8 of us staying in NYC for a few days. We had the privilege of seeing the Veteran’s Day parade, and I had the privilege of photographing it. I snuck in the middle of the street because I had my Canon gear with me and looked the part, and got some really cool shots. We also visited ground zero of the World Trade Center with a fire fighter who was stationed nearest to the twin towers. His first hand account of the day and years of experience as a fireman really set the tone well for the visit. The museum is amazing- I highly recommend it.
Three days later, we traveled to Atlantic City were Palacios’ parents and brother live. We had to pay our respects to his family and let them know we have their back. Palacios was a great person who always had a smile on his face. No one had anything bad to say about him, ever, and I attribute his character to his awesome family. We accompanied them to the cemetery where he rests. It was an honor to visit his grave on the 10 year anniversary of his death. We gathered around, drank beers, and reminisced about the glory years. It was truly amazing to be a part of.
Enjoy a beer today in his honor.