The making of a “Battle Gladiator”

By: BattleGladiator | 08 Jun 06

I would like to say hello to anyone and everyone who may stumble across this wonderful project that has been introduced to me by a fellow Soldier, Grey Eagle. She is a wonderful woman, and I have the utmost respect for her and her convictions. Ones like her are few and far between. Keep your head up lady….I’m counting the hours now!

I serve in Grey Eagle’s Battalion and have been with this unit now just shy over three years. I have had over six Company Commanders, three Executive Officers, three 1SG’s, and one Battalion Commander. This is my second deployment in three years, and the fourth of four anniversaries I have missed with my husband. I’ve served as an S4, a Battalion Maintenance Officer, Maintenance Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, Maintenance Control Officer, and now I am a Battle Captain. The Battle Captain is the official title but there are a lot of other terms of endearment that I have been privy to learning since placed in this position. Most of them I will not relay to you for obvious reasons, but I did hear one from a fellow “Coffee Captain/Power Point Ranger” that I just had to keep, and I have been petitioning to have it added to my ORB ever since. He introduced me to the “Battle Gladiator.” It is ironic in the sense that the only battles I will ever see are the ones I watch in the TOC on CNN. And the occasional peer to peer epic Battle Royale that I am notorious for, but in order to be true to my new status as the Battle Gladiator, I will not be defeated–counseled maybe–but not defeated.

If someone would have said, “Captain, what is the absolute LEAST thing you want to do while serving in Iraq?” I would have said, “I NEVER want to be a Battle Captain–I want to have boots on the ground–rally the troops in a blaze of glory–kick some doors in–wooohooo!” So, of course, that being the case, here I sit at 0250 AM, as the Battle Captain. I rarely see daylight so I look something like I just crawled out of a cave in order to stalk my next victim for chow–while all my buddies are sporting their “California” tans looking like they belong on the cover of a Maxim magazine. I have made close friends with the other Battle Captains because by nature of the job, we have to communicate quite frequently, even though I have never seen half of them in real life. The most excitement I have in a day consists of trying to beg my boss to let me leave the FOB, and everytime I do it is like flashbacks of junior high school. “You NEVER let me do anything…it’s not fair” and then I run off to my SIPR computer to do some more slides and pout. I did mention I was 31 years old, right??? However disgruntled I may be, I am like Rain Man when it comes to grids, routes, frequencies, phone numbers, and call signs. Sometimes for fun, I will start fiddling with the Blue Force Tracker, and jack it all up, and spend the next two hours trying to figure out how to get it back to normal. You just haven’t lived until you’ve banged your head on your keyboard over and over again because despite how educated you are, you CANNOT figure it out–but the 19 year old Game Boy master can walk over to it and have it right as rain in seconds. BUT, I say Ok, I can roll with the punches. I can take one for the team. I can make the best of this….but I spend every day in complete seething fury…albeit transparent—I hope. I have started counting to ten a lot, finding my happy place, smiling on the outside–screaming like hell on the inside. You know what I’m talking about…it’s a lot like being grounded. You sit in your room and watch all your friends playing outside, but you are beholden to those four walls and can’t get out. Yeah, that’s a lot like my job.

On a serious note, the upside to this is that I am afforded visibility of the operations of the BCT as a whole. I get the opportunity to see the “big picture” of what we are accomplishing here. I know sometimes in the day to day of the deployment, there are things that get lost in the fog of war, and seeing the “big picture” tends to get a little fuzzy. But this is what I offer to my Soldiers, and I try like hell to remember this when I get up every day, and that is that everything we do or don’t do here can and inevitably will ultimately effect the overall mission. To make it as simple as I can, just think of this scenario: An infantry man and his team have a M1114 up armored humvee. The engine is blown and needs to be repaired. The high speed maintenance tech will put his mechanics on that truck as soon as it is dragged into his shop so that the men can get back in the fight. A mechanic, who may be having a bad day, or is not as experienced, or is distracted….will replace the engine. However, suppose he made an error when replacing the engine, but it was small, and it went unnoticed by the inspector. The next night, the platoon of infantrymen roll out on their routine patrol with their newly repaired M1114. While out, they are ambushed by insurgents and just as they are driving around to get into a better position to engage the insurgents with their .50 cal machine gun, the engine starts to sputter and then it just stops. The vehicle is boots up. Now the infantry men are immobile and are basically at the mercy of their buddies, and the insurgents. The situation went from being a little escalated to being potentially fatal. So, the bottom line is this…that mechanic who is as far from a firefight as one can get, was the defining factor in the situation, because he did not do his job. Had he treated the job, and the truck like it would be the truck he himself were riding in out in the streets of Iraq, would it have been done so carelessly? I don’t think so.

I reinforce this point to my Soldiers daily because it puts an entire different spin on things if your life LITERALLY is depending on a piece of equipment to work. When I were a young, enlisted tank mechanic a thousand years ago, in 3rd ID, I was on a Maintenance Support Team (MST) for three years supporting the 2-69th Armor Battalion. This was back when the “linear battlefield” still existed. As a member of the MST, the placement of the Unit Maintenance Collection Point (UMCP) in relation to the battle was not that far behind the maneuver unit. This was the place where the tanks were brought to be fixed expeditiously and then return to the fight. The Brigade Support Area (BSA) seemed a million miles away–in the rear. What that meant to me, even as a 20 year old specialist, was that if I didn’t know my job and didn’t get those tanks back in the fight as soon as possible–the next thing in line was the UMCP. In a very simple way, I understood that it was in my vested interest to do the best job I could do–because I only had my M16 and I had only fired it twice. I don’t think my little team of mechanics could have put up much of a fight with our little bity guns against their big ones. I use mechanics in the scenario, because they are continuously overworked, under recognized, and are behind the scenes making it happen every day. I present the “big picture” and how what they do makes a difference, even though they may not be able to see it so clearly.

The principle can apply to every single situation. Even my job. If I don’t make sure that the boss has a refrigerator stocked with Skoal and Beck’s near beer, then the entire staff will suffer his wrath. When he doesn’t have those things, he comes up with ideas for the staff….like, HEY! I know….S4…I need a ferris wheel and a hot tub RIGHT NOW! Yeah, stuff like that. Well, maybe not a ferris wheel, but a Diesel 4×4 Dooley Truck for his very own—HERE—in Iraq that looks coincidally just like the one he drives at home. I still don’t know how he managed to get that thing.

As for me, I am still honing my skills as the Battle Gladiator…but for now, I have to go make the boss’s coffee.

My Best Friend

By: Grey Eagle | 07 Jun 06

Many of you have come to know and grow fond of Grey Eagle through her website, but I have the pleasure of being her best friend. Even though I don’t have the enjoyment of being near her everyday during this deployment, I know I can always count on her for anything at anytime. I visit her every chance I get and have a great time when I do. I know it may be hard to believe that you can have a good time in Iraq, but I do when I am hanging out with her, even if it is a trip to the chow hall to get some grub. This deployment has been rough on her, as it has on all of us in some way. I am very proud of the things she has done over here and the website her and Balding Eagle have created for the woman of Iraq. If I had to choose one person to voice the opinion of all females in Iraq, it would definitely be grey eagle. She has done a great job at doing it thus far. I would just like to let you all know that Grey Eagle is the one hell of a remarkable soldier, wife, mother, and best friend. I wouldn’t trade my friendship with her for nothing. Hats off to you grey eagle… and thanks for being the friend that you are. I love you!!

Spc Frie

The Story Of Sam Huff

By: Grey Eagle | 07 Jun 06

Huff’s parents reluctantly let her join the army when she was 16 and she quickly gained a reputation for enthusiasm and grit. ‘She’s the bravest kid I’ve ever known,’ said her father, Robert Huff. ‘She was up and down that damned road between Baghdad and the airport, which is notorious for improvised explosive devices. But she knew the risks and believed in the mission.’

“I can’t count how many times Private Huff said this to me day after day. Always with a smile and a laugh after she said it. Followed by, ‘I wouldn’t change where I’m at for anything.’ That’s the kind of person she was. In all honesty she was a model; a model Soldier.”

According to her battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Switzer, she was not a typical Soldier.

“Within two weeks of her arriving in our unit, even I knew who she was,” Switzer said. “Battalion commanders get to know their Soldiers for two reasons. They got in trouble or they are very unique individuals. Private Huff was a unique individual. Her smile could light up a room. She could lighten the mood of any hardcore (noncommissioned officer) and even bring a smile to an old warrior’s face.”

Switzer told his fellow Soldiers that he had spoken to Huff’s parents. They told him they knew their daughter might perish in combat, but that Huff felt she was doing what she always wanted to do; serve in the United States Army. Huff felt she was in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people.

“If you knew Sam at all, you knew her two loves; dancing and her fiancé Nick,” Lathers said. “That girl would dance any time she got the chance, I’d catch her dancing in our room, dancing down the hall. She danced with a confidence and grace most people lack. 18 is a tender age to leave this world. But know this, she lived a life that many people only dream about.”

Huff’s team leader, Sergeant Sam James praised her for her beauty as well as her brains.

“Her thirst for knowledge sometimes overwhelmed me as a leader, leaving me scrambling to answer question after question,” James said. “She was also a beautiful young lady, the kind that would turn heads in the mall.”

James continued to extol the virtues of his Soldier.

“You would be hard pressed to find a Soldier that could learn and retain knowledge as fast as she did,” James said. “If I wrote down every positive quality I’d want in a Soldier, Huff would still be better. She was the kind of Soldier that made being a leader in the Army fun.”

Captain Robert Matthews, Huff’s company commander, described which of Huff’s many qualities he will miss the most.

“She was a quiet professional who took her job seriously,” Matthews said. “Her dedication to duty and pursuit of excellence was an example for us all to emulate. Sam was a brave and honorable woman. She did her duty without complaint and earned nothing but respect and admiration from those of us that served with her. Her death was tragic and has left a void that will never be filled.”

Switzer mentioned that Huff will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, an appropriate resting place for a young hero. “I can bet you the sun will be shining that day (the day she will be laid to rest), and up in heaven a bunch of old warriors will be smiling.”

Adapt and Overcome

By: Marque Thompson | 05 Jun 06

In boot camp, the one single thing I learned that stood out above all else and is something I utilize to this day is to adapt and overcome.

Adapt and Overcome.

This is such an important lesson to utilize in every one of our lives. We are constantly forced to change - whether it’s an exciting change or a traumatic one. Or even small changes we need to deal with in our daily lives. Adapting to our situation seems common sense - but, us humans seem to do everything in our power to fight it. We complain, whine, feel sorry for ourselves, and do things that make the change harder than it ever has to be.

The first step is to accept the change. Adapting means accepting and being OK with it. Not that everything is just dandy and we aren’t terrified or grieving if it’s a bad change - but, being OK with the fact that this is just the way it is.

Overcoming is the hard part - but, it gets to be routine after a while. You look around and say “well, this is where I am. It sucks, but here I am. Now, what do I have that I can utilize to get me through this and move me to the other side.” It could just be little things - camping with your kids and you are missing a vital piece of equipment - you find something to replace it and make it work instead. It may not do any where near as good of a job - but, you adapt and overcome. It’s good enough. It’s not easy. It’s anything but easy. I know - we are going through things now that have beat the ever living shit out of us. I feel like I have been completely beaten. It takes all my effort to just get out of bed every morning and move. But - there is no other choice.

Do you think the soldiers in Iraq are excitied to get up every morning and face another day of scorching heat, loneliness, fighting, war, and pain? They have learned to adapt and overcome.

Keep on keeping on….

Soldier was looking forward to return home

By: Grey Eagle | 03 Jun 06

More than anything, Spc. Holly McGeogh, 19, wanted to go home.

She was weeks away by January 2004, and her missives home to suburban Detroit were dripping with anticipation and excitement. There were rumors of an exit from Iraq in March. McGeogh could see the homecoming play out grandly in her mind’s eye.

“It’s gonna be such an exciting day when I land in the States. It’s gonna be a day I will always remember,” she wrote to her family. “And when I get back to Michigan, that’s going to be amazing!! I’m gonna be so busy cuz u guys are going to be draggin’ me around like, ‘Look, she’s back!!!’ Well, please give me a couple days when I first get home so I can absorb it all.”

She ticked off the perks that awaited: her brother Robert’s promise that she could use his old Saturn, the strange feeling of driving something other than a Humvee, the delicious feel of her “big bed” back home in Taylor, Mich. “I really miss u all soooooo much. To be honest, if it wasn’t for u guys, I would have never been able to make it through all this.”

Her boyfriend, Spc. Sergio Cardenas, another soldier deployed at the same base in Tikrit, and their struggle to catch a few moments alone in the battle zone, were other key topics of her letters home. She was looking forward to the simple joy of a date with him at Taco Bell. “I’m sure u know what I mean, rite?”

The Internet was her lifeline to home, and she talked about how her platoon leader, Sgt. Eliu Miersandoval — “My daddy,” she called him — would cut her some time after guard duty to send e-mails.

In a letter e-mailed Jan. 5, McGeogh talked about a convoy mission. Troops spotted something that looked like it might be a roadside bomb, “so I stopped right away and backed up. The other two vehicles had already gone by it. We got out and pulled security. Then we called Charlie Company out to take a look.” It turned out to be nothing.

“I had felt a little embarrassed. But at least at the same time I knew that we had done the right thing,” she wrote.

The little story had a moral to it. McGeogh wanted her family to understand that the soldiers look out for each other in Iraq. “I felt that I wanted you to know.”

But the recurring theme throughout her letters was the trip home. By Jan. 28, she knew she would fly out in eight weeks. “The days have been going by sorta fast,” she wrote, “knock on wood, I don’t want them to start going by slow.”

During a convoy mission in Kirkuk two days later, no one saw the roadside bomb that went off near McGeogh’s Humvee. Two soldiers with her, one of them Miersandoval, were killed. And she became the first female service member from Michigan to die in Iraq.


The Story Of A Female Soldier

By: Grey Eagle | 08 Feb 06

The true story of Army SPC Michelle M. Witmer, assigned to the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police Company.

On the night of April 9, 2003, Michelle’s squad was called in to help protect an Iraqi police station that was being overrun by insurgents. Michelle, who usually drove the vehicle, instead acted as gunner that night. Minutes before she headed out, she sent an e-mail to her twin sister Charity (a medic in Baghdad), about their sister Rachel, who was also an MP stationed with the 32nd MPC in Baghdad.

The e-mail said, “Hi, sweetie bear. I love you. We are about to head out. Things have gotten really bad. I’m really worried about Rachel. She is [patrolling] in a bad part of town. I hope you will be ok. I just want you to know I love you for ever.”

Michelle and Rachel saw each other before they left that evening, in vehicle convoys headed for different parts of the city. Here are their own words about the events of April 9, taken from e-mail messages and interviews.

Michelle wrote, “We had a briefing telling us to prepare ourselves as best as possible for what lies ahead. I guess every convoy that’s gone up north so far has taken fire or been ambushed. The question of whether we will or not is not even really a question, more like a guess as to when.”

Rachel said, “I was in a gunner truck. I remember looking over and seeing my sister as a gunner. That’s odd. She’s usually the driver. I smiled at her. She smiled back at me. To this day I will kick myself, I had an urge to run over to her and hug her and tell her to be safe.”

There was something different in Michelle’s face, Rachel says. “It was more stoic than usual and she just-I don’t know if people know what’s going to happen to them, but she just-she had this calm, stoic look on her face.” Then Michelle waved goodbye, and it was the last time Rachel saw her.

Looking back, Michelle’s sister Charity also noticed something different about her twin sibling. “She just was so-at peace with herself, and with life. And [in] retrospect it’s just incredible to me. It was like she knew.”

“As I understand it, the patrol that Michelle was with was three Humvees, and they found themselves in the middle of a three-block-long ambush. All hell broke loose and there was fire from every direction.”

Michelle returned fire with her 50-caliber rail-mounted machine gun. Although she wore extensive protective gear, a single enemy bullet found an Achilles heel, striking below her arm and piercing her heart.

When Michelle was killed, she was supposed to serve only five more days of patrol duty before preparing to leave Iraq.

Above: Michelle with children of Baghdad. A fellow MP, Shizuko Jackson, wrote: “The children LOVED Michelle, and they literally chanted her name every time we pulled up to the station, ‘Michelle! Michelle! Michelle!’ Months after we left Al-Quanat for another mission, whenever we came back to visit, the kids still remembered her and asked for her ‘Where is MY Michelle?!!” Left: Michelle and her sisters Rachel and Charity.