FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 13, 2006) - Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis packed only 136 pounds into his 6-foot frame, but few have matched his inner strength.
McGinnis sacrificed himself in an act of supreme bravery Dec. 4, belying his status as the youngest Soldier in Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. The 19-year-old mechanic from Knox, Pa., likely saved the lives of four Soldiers riding with him on a mission in the Adhamiyah section of Baghdad.
McGinnis was manning the gunner's hatch when an insurgent tossed a grenade from above. It flew past McGinnis and down the hatch before lodging near the radio.
His platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, recalled what happened next: "Pfc. McGinnis yelled 'Grenade ... It's in the truck,' I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down."
McGinnis did so even though he could have escaped. "He had time to jump out of the truck," Thomas said. "He chose not to."
The Silver Star Medal was approved for McGinnis's action and will be awarded posthumously.
"He gave his life to save his crew and his platoon sergeant," Thomas said. "He's a hero. He's a professional. He was just an awesome guy."
Three of the Soldiers with McGinnis that day have returned to duty, while a fourth is recovering in Germany.
McGinnis joined the Army after graduating high school in 2005. He had been in the Army 18 months and made his mark even before his heroic deed.
"He was a good kid," said C Company's senior enlisted Soldier, First Sgt. Kenneth J. Hendrix. "He had just gotten approved for a waiver to be promoted to specialist."
He also appeared on the Nov. 30 cover of Stars & Stripes, manning his turret.
Besides his military accomplishments, McGinnis leaves his friends and family with memories of a fun-loving, loyal man.
Pfc. Brennan Beck, also of the 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt., said McGinnis made others feel better.
"He would go into a room and when he left, everyone was laughing," Beck said. "He did impersonations of others in the company. He was quick-witted, just hilarious. He loved making people laugh. He was a comedian through and through."
While having a witty side, McGinnis took his job seriously.
"He was not a garrison Soldier. He hated it back in garrison," Beck said. "He loved it here in Iraq. He loved being a gunner. It was a thrill, he loved everything about it. He was one our best Soldiers. He did a great job."
Beck has memories of talking all night with McGinnis about where they wanted their lives to go, and said McGinnis always remembered his friends.
"When I had my appendix removed, he was the only one who visited me in the hospital," Beck said. "That meant a lot."
Another infantryman with the 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt., Pfc.Michael Blair recalled that McGinnis helped him when he arrived at Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany.
"When I first came to the unit ... he was there and took me in and showed me around," Blair said. "He was real easy to talk to. You could tell him anything."
McGinnis' final heroic act came as no surprise to Blair.
"He was that kind of person," Blair said. "He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down."
The brigade's senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. William Johnson, also had high praise for McGinnis.
"Anytime you get a Soldier to do something like that - to give his life to protect his fellow Soldiers - that's what heroes are made of," Johnson said.
It also demonstrates, Johnson continued, that the 'MySpace Generation' has what it takes to carry on the Army's proud traditions.
"Some think Soldiers who come in today are all about themselves," Johnson said. "I see it differently."
(Staff Sgt. W. Wayne Marlow writes for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.)