By Spc. Ryan Stroud, 59th Ordnance Brigade, Public AffairsJuly 28, 2008
With the sun rising in the background, Soldiers gather around each other, get down on a knee and begin their prayer. A tradition for the Soldiers, the prayer is said by someone new before the group heads out on a convoy mission into Baqubah, Iraq.
They ask for safety and security so they can properly conduct their mission, and bring the Army one step closer to its goal -- provide a safe and secure nation for the people of Iraq.
As these Soldiers get ready to "roll out," they can't help but crack one last joke at their fellow Soldiers, breaking the tension from the possibility of dangers they might experience outside of the forward operating base. This is also nothing new; it is just as much tradition as the prayer.
They load into their Humvees and drive out the gate of FOB Warhorse into the brightly gleaming sky, ready for whatever awaits them.
The Soldiers are close, and not as close as friends, rather as close as family. Mission after mission, these Soldiers have experienced everything from successful patrols to heartbreaking tragedies. But all this brought them closer together, solidifying them as a real band of brothers.
"Blue Platoon," a fierce group of Soldiers from Company D, 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are no strangers to action, violence and improvised explosive devices; but they say none of those things will break their spirits. They get up, dust themselves off and get ready for the next showdown.
"We've been through a lot and seen a lot," said Spc. Mark Henry, a member of Blue Platoon and a native of Cleveland. "But anything you can think of, we're willing and able to take that mission on."
It's this attitude which helped mold this unit into the brutal machine they are outside the wire. But back inside, these Soldiers have nothing but love and amity for each other and their leaders.
"I think we have become closer here (in Iraq) as a platoon ... after losing some of our best friends out here, that brought us closer," said Sgt. Justin Mayes, a soft spoken but efficient leader for Blue Platoon.
"As each day and mission goes by, I think our love and respect as a family gets bigger," said the Lumberton, N.C., native. "We each know the guy beside us will always back us when it's needed."
While in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2006-08, these Soldiers work hand-in-hand with the Iraqi army to help provide a sustained government and security force to serve the citizens of Iraq.
"We are trying to help the Iraqi army sustain their country right now, so we can go home and sustain our own country," said Pfc. Charles Brooks, a member of the Blue Platoon and a native of Chicago. "This is their country so this is their job, but they need our help and guidance right now and we're doing our best to help out."
"We hope that us being here keeps (the people of Iraq) in a peaceful state of mind," Henry said. "We provide security for the Iraqi people while their army is being trained. The overall goal is for (the Iraqi army) to completely take over responsibility to where they don't need our help anymore and we can go home.
"Of course, I want to go home, but I fully understand why we're here," he continued. "The IA and the people of Iraq need our help. When we roll through cities and people come out (of their homes) and are clapping because our presence is there, that means something."
This positive response is what these Soldiers are hoping for every time they leave the wire, though they know it's not always likely. Either way, these Soldiers, each knowing the other's job, are ready and prepared for whatever challenges face them while patrolling the streets in Baqubah.
"What we do every day is go outside the wire," Mayes said. "You can be a driver one day, run the gun the next. We switch it up and learn the other guy's jobs. That's what makes us a good team.
"We do it all. Everybody has to know everyone's job ... we're all able to step up and take charge," he continued.
From conducting patrols to raiding houses or providing security, the team has been through it all and they do it together.
Not every mission has gone the way the Soldiers had planned, but things like IEDs have yet to stop these Soldiers from finishing their mission at hand.
"We've had some bad days out there, but we're hanging in there and trying to stay strong and finish this deployment out," Mayes said.
After going through combat experiences together, Brooks said they have formed a special bond.
"It definitely makes you closer as a team; you put your trust in the people around you to do their jobs," he said.
While these Soldiers might have an "all business, no play" attitude outside the wire, the concept changes once children are involved.
With the team's convoy moving down a busy street in Khalis, Iraq, the gunners of the Humvees throw candy to the children and wave to everyone on the street.
"The children are friendly; most of them are really nice," Brooks said. "They like us. We hand out everything from candy to soccer balls."
And the families of the Soldiers back home are getting involved with reaching out to the children, too. They pack up and mail off everything from toys to school supplies for the Soldiers to hand out.
"Family members do send us things to hand out to the children," Henry said. "My girl back at home just sent me some school supplies to give out."
"Most of the supplies we hand out on missions come from home," Mayes said. "That really is a big help."
After a long day of patrols or fighting, the Soldiers, who work long hours in support of their missions, return back to the FOB, prepare for the next mission and take time for some much needed rest and relaxation.
"When we get back from a mission, we are just so tired and beat," Mayes said. "But we have to be ready for the next mission. We have to do maintenance (on our vehicles and weapons) whenever we can find the time. But if we get time, we'll relax, watch movies and get on the Internet."
"I try to jump into the showers as quickly as possible," Brooks said. "I also try to relax and watch movies. You have to clear your head and get ready for the next day and the next mission. That's really important."
As these Soldiers prepare for the next day, looks of relief, exhaustion and contentment fill their eyes. They have made it through another day and are ready for the next.
And there is not a complaint from the group about having to go out again the next day for another mission. They will be heading out together, with their platoon, with their brothers.
"I trust the guys that I work with," Brooks said. "I can trust that they know what they're doing, so we're going to be OK.
"I love working with these guys," he said. "After the stuff we've gone through out here, you become closer as a family. Being here has been a bonding experience."
"It's great because we're so close now; it's more of a family than a platoon," Henry said. "Everybody knows everyone's wife's names, their kid's names -- this really is a family."
And tomorrow, as the sun rises, the band of brothers will gather again, take a knee and pray. They pray for the day ahead, remembering their fallen comrades. They do this not because they have to, but because they choose to.
"It's been hard at times," said a solemn Henry. "Everybody in the platoon thinks about them every single day. We talk about them constantly."
"We pray every day before we go out, every mission," Mayes said. "It's something that helps us and brings us even closer together. It's a good thing."
"We try to keep going, move on... these guys would want us to," Brooks said in solace. "Those guys were vital members of our team and they are going to be terribly missed."
Editor's note: Spc. Ryan Stroud was deployed in Iraq before coming to Redstone Arsenal.