Things they take to war
November 30, 2010
<B><I>SGT. 1ST CLASS JAMES RIVERA:</B></I>
NOT unlike any Soldier about to deploy, the first item I packed for deployment was my lucky-charm item.
It's a blown-up picture of me and my wife embedded onto a quilt that we took one day while we were in Sears, in a mall in Clarksville, Tenn., after we saw an example in the photo department.
The first thing I did upon getting my living quarters was to hang my quilt on the wall. It is always a topic of conversation among the people who see it. I have not seen another Soldier with such an item.
It's like having my soul mate there with me in my room. My wife loves the idea because for her it's like she's checking on me, making sure I always behave. It serves as my lucky charm as well.
<B><I>CAPT. MATTHEW A. WRIGHT:</B></I>
IN 1917, my great-grandfather Edward M. Gagen, was drafted and sent to Europe to fight in the "Great War," commonly known as World War I. Christmas the year prior, he received a prayer book written in English and Latin, which was common for Catholic literature prior to the 1970s. This was the only gift that his parents had ever given to him.
After surviving the trench warfare of World War I, he passed on the prayer book to my grandfather, Peter Carrier, who was to marry his daughter (my grandmother Geraldine Gagen) around the start of WWII. Peter Carrier would carry it with him on D-Day when landing on the beaches of Normandy. After surviving the initial invasion of Normandy, my grandfather, along with seven others, was blown from a foxhole June 8, 1944. He was the only one who survived the blast. He carried this same prayer book with him that day. I never knew my grandfather because he died on the operating table in 1983 after battling the wounds that he sustained from that blast in Normandy. I guess you could say he was a tough guy. It took him a long time to succumb to the injuries that took seven of his friends.
My grandmother (Geraldine), who died in 2007 at age 91, gave me her husband's prayer book and rosary beads. She understood that I was joining the Army, which was surprising because she had Alzheimer's disease, so even a basic understanding of anything was significant. I carry this book with me here in Afghanistan.
<B><I>SPC. BRIAN SPRADLIN:</B></I>
MY husband comes from a close-knit, hard-working family, that has lived mainly in a rural network of towns in southern Ohio.
His father served in the Air Force for 30 years and deployed to Iraq in 2007. He carried with him a small American flag on missions outside the wire, making notations on the (flag's) borders of where he traveled and when.
Upon his return, he took Bryan and his brother to visit the monuments and cemeteries at our nation's capital. His brave service and the brave service of so many before him inspired Bryan to join the Army. Bryan's decision to join the military surprised and touched his father, and their relationship has never been closer.
I was not surprised to learn that Bryan planned to carry his father's flag into battle once more, this time in Afghanistan, as he records the service of American Soldiers and the progress of the Afghan people as they move forward with reclaiming their country from the Taliban. But it was not the only keepsake he brought with him. As we packed the last of our belongings into duffel bags and rucksacks, he tucked a discolored, frumpy looking teddy bear into his assault pack. The bear, he told me, had been given to him on the day of his birth and had always been with him.
In his barracks room, the bear lived on top of a shelf next to a World War II helmet his father had given him to play Soldier with as a child. I had forgotten about it by the time we moved into our apartment together, and yet there it was, back and about to go to Afghanistan with us.
Before Bryan joined the Army he had never flown on a plane and never traveled outside of the country, except once to Canada on a camping trip with his father. In the two years since, Bryan has lived in several states and been to Germany and now Afghanistan.
His recent interactions with the Afghan people have opened his eyes to a level of poverty and hardship that didn't exist in Ohio, even in the poorest neighborhoods. To him, the bear must represent how far he has come and the man he is still evolving into.
<B><I>SGT. JOHNNY SEXTON </B></I>
WHEN we were on a route-clearing mission back in January, we hit an IED (and) I had to act quickly to help my fellow Soldiers to safety, and recover the vehicle to avoid an ambush.
I was hooking up the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle and needed a bigger tool to finish hooking it up to my wrecker. I looked over and in the snow was a pretty nice wrench, like something you would find in Sears. I grabbed it up and it fit the bolt I needed to tighten it down perfectly.
We loaded up and made it back to Forward Operating Base Lightning, Paktya province, Afghanistan, a three-hour drive from where we were just blown up.
(Sexton kept the wrench, placing it in his individual body armor for easy access. He said the wrench has been used just about every day since, whether it's doing preventative maintenance on a vehicle preparing for the mission of the day, or recovering a vehicle outside the wire.)
I feel since I found the wrench at a time when we needed to move a vehicle the most, it feels like it is my lucky charm. I know it sounds corny, but we have not been blown up since I found it, so I keep it with me. If anything, the wrench I found comes in handy, and (is) a small comfort to me.
<b><i>PFC. JESSICA KIMBAL</b></i>
AFTER my grandmother passed away when I was 11, I was fostered into my brother's family. My brother (Pvt. Logan Yost, an infantryman) always took me under his wing.
My brother was my best friend growing up-he was all I had. I didn't have the picture-perfect childhood.
I wanted to go to college after high school, but I did not have the money to attend. I had heard about the GI Bill through the Army. I was also interested in joining the All-Army basketball team (so) I went to see a recruiter. The recruiter mentioned the opportunity to go airborne, (and) being competitive (in) nature, (that) intrigued me.
I talked it over with my brother; he did not want me to go alone, so we both joined the Army together. We both tried out for airborne and made it! My brother and I were not at Fort Bragg too long before the both of us deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The deployment has brought us closer together. It is like a hardcore friendship, and it is comforting to know someone has your back in a foreign country away from anything we've ever known.
<b><i>PVT. LOGAN YOST</b></i>
WHILE on deployment we have gone on several missions together. Sometimes we would be outside the wire for several days in a row. At night we would all take turns staying awake to pull security. When it was Jessica's turn, I would go sit with her to keep her company so she wouldn't be alone. She would do the same thing for me when I was on security detail.
I feel for anyone who has siblings in the military. We are lucky to have gotten stationed together, but most of the time siblings get split up and sent halfway around the world from each other.
<I>In addition to having each other, Kimbal and Yost carry good-luck charms with them. Yost has an old set of dog tags, carried by his grandfather during the Korean War. Kimbal keeps a $2 bill she has been carrying since she was 11.</I>
<B><I>CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 MICHAEL WILSON</B></I>
THE Soldier's Medal I carry is significant and very sentimental to me. The medal has been in my family for nearly 70 years and has been safely carried during various conflicts by three generations. It was given to my grandfather, John C. LaCour, in 1942 by his mother upon his departure for Navy basic training. He was a member of the Seabees and saw action in the South Pacific near Guadalcanal during World War II. He returned from war safely.
Two decades later, my cousin and uncle, both Seabees, carried the medal to Vietnam in 1965 and 1969 respectively. Each of those men returned safely from the conflict and returned the medal to my grandfather.
In the early 1990s, my brother and I became the third generation charged with safeguarding this medal. My grandfather gave my brother (a member of the Air Force) the medal as he left for Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East. He returned unharmed to once again return it safely to my grandfather.
In 1992, I entered Army flight school and had my first opportunity to carry the medal. I returned the medal safely a year later to my grandfather upon completing flight school.
In 2003 I was deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom, and since my grandfather had passed away in 1996, my grandmother placed the medal in my care for the second time.
Last year, when preparing for this tour in Afghanistan, my mother put the medal in my hand and told me I was going to war and I needed to carry it to keep me safe. It is the third time for me to carry this very important piece of my family's history to a conflict. My son has expressed interest in joining the military, and I look forward to passing the medal to him when he departs for duty to carry on the tradition, thereby adding another generation under its protection.
<B><I>SPC. ADAM ROSS</B></I>
IS name is Wrinkles, and he was one of my son's first visitors after leaving the delivery room. One of the nurses laid him in my son Aiden's tiny crib, where he would remain until Aiden was healthy enough to come home with us.
Born a month early, Aiden didn't seem much bigger than the tiny stuffed animal, and the sight of Wrinkles sometimes lightened the mood in the hospital room.
After a couple birthdays and Christmases, Aiden has amassed a large family of bigger animals, and Wrinkles is often found wedged behind his bed. When I asked Aiden if I could bring one of the animals with me to Afghanistan, he responded with a curt "no," but I was able to secure Wrinkles without him noticing. He may have forgotten Wrinkles, but I never will.
<b><i>STAFF SGT. DANIEL BALDA</b></i>
I brought my stuffed dog, Chuck Ragan, for a couple of reasons.
I wanted something that was going to remind me of my boys (Aidan, four, and Colman, two) to take with me to Afghanistan.
For Colman's birthday, Aidan bought him a Build-a-Bear; he thought I needed one as well.
We went to the mall to let the boys pick out a stuffed animal for me. He thought I needed a dog, since I didn't get to take our Anatolian Sheppard, Bosco, with me. Next up was a short message that I could replay.
I waited until I got to Afghanistan to hear the message. When I heard the first part, "I love you Daddy!" I broke into a grin. Then I heard Colman's submission, something my wife taught him when they come to watch me play church-league softball. "BOOOOOO Daddy!" I laughed out loud-just the amount of motivation one needs when having a bad day in Afghanistan.
The only things left were to put some clothes on the dog and give him a name. The boys donated a shirt they had both worn at some point but was too small for them now. Aidan wanted to name him "Chuck Ragan," after the lead singer of the band, Hot Water Music, and one of my favorite singers/musicians.
Not a minute goes by during the day where I don't think about my Family, but it's nice to hear their voices whenever I want. In return for their gift to me, I take pictures of Chuck Ragan doing things around the base so they know he's staying busy.
<B><i>SGT. 1ST CLASS JOHN QUEEN</b></i>
MY youngest daughter, Madison, gave me this frog in 2002 when I came back into the Army. At the time, our home was in Washington state, but I had come down on orders (to) Fort Hood, Texas, and she and my wife were unable to leave with me.
Madison had an assortment of nearly 1,000 frog toys, miniatures and other collectables. So as a way (for me to) remember her, she took this one out of her collection (and gave it to me).
I put it on the dashboard of my truck and for the 2,200-mile drive to Fort Hood, it bounced from one end of the cab to the other.
Over the next year and a half, it stayed in my truck, either on the dash or in the console.
In 2004, I deployed to Iraq with Troop F, 9th Cavalry, and took the frog along as a reminder of my home and Family.
I carried the frog with me wherever I went, from our convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad, to the numerous missions I went out on in support of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
I actually lost it twice during the deployment, but was able to find it each time.
I was in contact with my daughter's sixth-grade class in Puyallup, Wash., so for fun, and to get a few laughs from the kids, I took a picture of the frog between the Crossed Sabers monument in Baghdad. That picture became very popular with a lot of people and is part of Google Earth. From that point on, that little frog became something very special to me.
After returning from Iraq I was assigned to Germany, and over the next three years took the frog everywhere. I have photos of it in Bulgaria, Belgium, Greece, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, at Buckingham Palace in London, in Amsterdam, at the "Bridge too Far" in Arnhem, Times Square, Mount Rushmore and more recently at the "Friendship Bridge" that links northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
My little good-luck frog has gained a small following from most anyone who sees it. I've also had several people request to have their picture taken with it.
<B><i>SGT. JEREMIAH J. RUTLEDGE</b></i>
RUTLEDGE has shared all of his deployments in the company of a moose.
Back in 2005, Rutledge was getting ready for his first deployment. This required an explanation to his then- 10-year-old daughter.
"I was explaining to her that I was going to Iraq, it was far from home-and far from her," said Rutledge.
She immediately went to her room and came back with a plush moose. She asked her daddy to take Mike the Moose so he would always have a part of home with him.
Mike is currently on his third deployment, this time to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"He and I are present at all webcam chats with the Family," said Rutledge. "We are both still in one piece. Great work, Mike!"
<B><I>2ND LT. JOSHUA WEISMAN</B></I>
THE item that I have been bringing with me consistently to my schools, training exercises and deployment is my stuffed Cthulhu figure that my wife gave to me.
When I left Tennessee to go to the Leadership Development Assessment Course at Fort Lewis, Wash., in 2008, my wife Olivia sent me the stuffed animal as a companion and a reminder that she loved me and was thinking about me. Lil' Cthulhu has followed me from Leadership Development and Assessment Course; to the Basic Officer Leadership Courses I attended at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Jackson, S.C., and all the way with me to Afghanistan. (Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity created by horror author H.P. Lovecraft in 1926.)
Cthulhu holds a special place for me in another way.
He's a reminder of my childhood and some of the stories that my father would read to me before I went to bed at night. He liked reading different types of stories to me, and one night he had a copy of a H.P. Lovecraft book he found, and read a story called "At the Mountains of Madness." It might not seem like the most likely story to read to a five-year old, but my father knew that I had a great imagination and would not be satisfied by something like Dr. Seuss or Encyclopedia Brown, though he did read those on occasion as well. After he finished "At the Mountains of Madness" he read several other stories from Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos" and I was hooked.
Every time I get in my bunk to get some sleep, Cthulhu is there to remind me that I have an amazing wife who loves me to no end and that I miss more and more every day, as well as a reminder of my childhood and how awesome my father was and how lucky I am to have had him in my life.