Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for November 30, 2009 - Col. Tom Cathey

Colonel Tom Cathey

Current Unit: 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training)
Current Position: Chief of Internal Review
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: Asheville, N.C.
Hometown: Waynesville, N.C.
Years of Service: 28

The term “brothers in arms” is typically used to describe the fellow Soldiers in one’s unit, those who share the same uniform, with the same American flag on the shoulder. For Col. Tom Cathey, the term is more expansive. He considers the Iraqi soldiers he trained and led in battle to be fellow brothers in arms; a sentiment that was demonstrated through his heroic actions during his deployment when he came to the aid of 10 Iraqi soldiers trapped under insurgent fire.

Cathey recalls that April 10, 2007 seemed like any other day for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. As part of a Military Transition Team, he and his Soldiers were serving as military advisors to an Iraqi Army Division, and together, the team had been responsible for completing numerous cordon and search missions to locate insurgents and explosives throughout Baghdad, Iraq. After being in theater for more than nine months, Cathey and his unit had seen considerable security improvements as a result of their efforts.

Within a few hours, however, the day took a turn. Just after 7 a.m., the Iraqi troops under his guidance radioed for backup. They had received enemy fire during their first mission of the day and had taken cover in an abandoned building. Now surrounded by insurgents, they were running out of ammunition and in desperate need of cover and support. Cathey, the chief of the team, made the decision to lead a group of 11 Americans and two Iraqis in a four-vehicle convoy to rescue the isolated Iraqi troops.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Cathey said. “But I don’t think we ever thought we couldn’t do what we needed to do to get those soldiers out.”

Traveling down dangerous streets and alleys in Baghdad, the convoy experienced heavy enemy fire and grenade explosions. En route to relieve the trapped Iraqi unit, Cathey and his team encountered another Iraqi squad in need of assistance. After evaluating the situation, they radioed for another team to assist the second squad and continued on toward the abandoned building.

In what Cathey calls the turning point of his deployment, the eight-hour mission was conducted without any injuries or causalities for either the American Soldiers or Iraqi squad. The next day, Iraqi Colonel Munam personally thanked Cathey and his team for their efforts. Although Cathey was grateful for the praise, he was humbled by the gravity of the mission.

“It was just doing the right thing to do for those Iraqi soldiers. If someone hadn’t helped them, they couldn’t have got out,” he said.

For his leadership, heroism, courage and meritorious service, Cathey was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and many of the Soldiers on his team received Army Commendation Medals.

Cathey returned from Iraq in June 2007, and currently lives in Asheville, N.C., with his wife, Amy, and their three sons, Joshua (18), Seth (13) and Jared (13). He remains extremely grateful for the support his family gave him throughout his deployment, as he knows the toll his absence played on his teenage boys.

“The families of Soldiers, including mine, may not know the weight of a rifle, but they know the weight of worry,” he said. “Often times the deployment is harder for the family than the Soldier.”

A Reservist with the 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training), Cathey also works as a salesman for Vulcan Materials Company. The company received the Pro Patria Award in 2006, an annual distinction given by the Department of Defense to a civilian employer for their support of Reserve and National Guard Soldiers. After nearly 30 years of Army service, Cathey plans to retire in June 2010 and continue his civilian career.

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