Chemical Corps Soldier personifies personal courage, places mission first
March 11, 2008
Integrity check - How many times have you thought, or even said, "This is not my job ... I didn't sign up for this ... I'm not supposed to be here, doing this!"'
Even the most dedicated and selfless Soldiers, when honest with themselves, may answer yes to that question, because they're human - they breathe, bleed, want and need, just like everybody else. Soldiers are not different because they never think, "what about me'" They're different because despite being human, especially in moments when they may think, "I didn't sign up for this," they still find the personal courage within themselves to "place the mission first."
Sgt. Charles A. Claude Jr., has found and lived that personal courage throughout his seven years in uniform, a time that's afforded him many opportunities to say, "This is not my job" - perhaps none more obvious than during his recent tour in Iraq.
Claude redeployed to Fort Bliss, Texas, in December 2007, after serving a 15 month tour in Mosul, Iraq, with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7 Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, where he earned the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor and the Purple Heart for doing what he's always done - "placing the mission first."
"We're a combat engineering company, and [downrange] we were in charge of clearing all of Mosul of [improvised explosive devices], which is the second largest city in Iraq, and we only had one battalion and one route clearing company, so we did two to three missions a day," Claude explained. "We were about three months from coming home - it was Sept. 2 - I'd been the first sergeant's gunner since the second month of the deployment and we were the element that would pursue people that fired RPGs and small arms fire at us after an IED - that's what we were doing that day, moving to contact on some guys that fired an RPG at [us], and it was a big fire-fight, all hell broke loose ... we were coming down this back road, and I was shooting this car, and around the corner there was an insurgent and he tried to go head-to-head with our [Armored Security Vehicle]. He actually did some damage with his AK-47 - took my driver's window completely out, and blew my sight out."
During the fire-fight, one of the insurgent's rounds came through the ASV window, flipped around inside the vehicle and shattered apart, wounding Claude's arm and his first sergeant's leg.
"I didn't even know I was hit at that time," Claude remembered. "It all happened so fast ... we got a call from the vehicle behind us saying that the [insurgent] was hanging on our vehicle, so I popped out of the hatch and shot him ... that day was just as crazy as the rest of the days, but that day we got hurt - I'd say it was only about two weeks later and we were back out on the road again."
By the way - Claude isn't a combat engineer (21 B) like the majority of his company. He's a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist (74 D). But on that September day, like the hundreds of combat days before it, Claude didn't act like a 21 B or a 74 D - "I just acted like a Soldier," he said. "It's something I've always tried to do, so that moment was no different."
Claude's actions prior to that day also reflect this attitude. For example, he had continued to work as the unit's Nuclear Biological Chemical and Ammunition noncommissioned officer after assuming the position as first sergeant's gunner earlier in the deployment.
"Originally other engineers were supposed to be the first sergeant's gunner, but we were shorthanded, people where stepping up and filling spots - I ended up working 12 to 16 hours a day and that may have included going on a five hour mission, coming back and being in charge of the [Tactical Operations Center] ... and completing my ammunition duties, and we were firing off rounds every day," Claude said. "But, I'm not the type of guy that wants to sit in the office listening to all the action on the radio ... of course with my background I wanted to be out there with my unit."
The background Claude referenced includes his three years as an infantryman (11 B) and his first tour to Iraq in April 2003 with the 10th Mountain Division.
"I re-classed after my first deployment because I wanted more time to go to school ... I wanted to challenge my brain ... and I just thought the Chemical Corps was interesting," he explained. "I didn't expect to do what I did during this last deployment. I'd already done that as an 11 B ... I wasn't thinking I'd be out there fighting everyday."
He said since re-classing, he's actually done more, and recalled sitting in the combat support hospital having his arm cleaned after the Sept. 2 fire-fight and thinking, "I've seen more action as an NBC guy than I ever did as an 11 B."
But his recent combat tour wasn't the first time following his re-class that Claude tackled missions outside of the CBRN field, missions that some may say weren't his job.
"My personal experience since I've re-classed is that units see the [Combat Infantry Badge] and know I used to be infantry and they think we can have him do anything," he said. "Even when I was at a chemical company, I was training people on how to do room clearing - not that a mind. I have the experience, so if I can help, if it's the mission, I will complete it."
Col. Michael Bolluyt, Claude's former chemical battalion commander at Fort Polk, La., now the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center's Chief of Requirements Determination Division, said, "Sgt. Claude came to the battalion during a crucial period ... and he stood out with basic combat skills as we began training on the brigade sponsored live-fire ranges - he became a teacher and mentor to his peers in all the skills we were introducing to CBRN Soldiers."
Bolluyt added, "In the blistering heat of Fort Polk, he never complained, never quit, and put the mission first because he knew how important the training was, despite one's MOS."
While his infantry experience led to an unusual mission even during his time in a chemical company, Claude said, all Chemical Corps Soldiers should prepare for the experiences he's faced as an NBC NCO.
"It's important for some of the younger [Soldiers] to read this and think, 'that could be me in a year or two,'" Claude said. "With any MOS like this, where you are probably the only one in a company, you have to really show that you are supposed to be there, to earn respect ... you have to have pride in the Chemical Corps, represent it and think, 'I'm going to do this job as well as anyone.'"
Bolluyt said this message is incredibly relevant for CBRN Soldiers, because the Chemical Corps is one of the few Army branches that have Soldiers at the corps, division, brigade, battalion and company levels.
"The Chemical Corps is making enormous contributions ... we are the fifth most deployed branch," Bolluyt explained. "All formations across the battlefield are vulnerable ... by hearing Sgt. Claude's experiences, I hope senior leaders see the importance of exposing their Soldiers to a mixture of combats skills."
Claude agreed and said that today, all warriors have to be infantry Soldiers at heart, and they have to know how to do the jobs around them, because even though everybody may have a specialty on their team, they may have to cover down to accomplish the mission, as he has throughout his career.
He also said his experiences have made him a better-rounded NCO with the ability to adapt and change to lead all types of Soldiers.
"During this last deployment, I had a squad of six Soldiers and none of them were my MOS," he said. "But again, if you do what you're supposed to do as a Soldier and an NCO it will take care of itself ... over time they will not even look at you as 'just the NBC guy' anymore."
As a Soldier, an NCO and a member of the Chemical Corps, "Sgt. Claude has made a mark for future CBRN Soldiers to recognize and emulate," Bolluyt said. "He is a warrior of the highest caliber."
Yet, even Claude admitted, "Sure, there have been plenty of times when I've felt like 'why am I doing this''" - But that never stopped him from climbing into the gunner's turret of his first sergeant's vehicle, because he said, "You've got to always think, no matter what, I'm a Soldier - putting the mission first is always my job, regardless of what that mission is."