Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Heroes I Have Known

This one's for New Yorkers in particular.

In the National Guard, unit bloodlines are often as crossed as those of European royalty. In New York’s infantry units this seems particularly true. In 2000, when I joined the 1-105th Infantry, Sgt. Christian Engledrum was already in the unit. Like everyone else who spent five minutes with him I began to think of him as a friend. Chris wasn’t the best looking guy, or the funniest, or the most charismatic, but he had a quality, a likeability that made him seem like an old friend right off. Four years later we were both in Iraq. On November 29, 2004, he was fresh in country with the famous 69th Infantry; I was almost through my tour with the 2-108th.

A roadside bomb took Chris’s life that day, along with PFC Wilfredo Urbino, another 105th Alumni. Their deaths hit my company hard. We had all been in the 105th together. Those who had been in Bravo Company with Chris flew down to Baghdad for his memorial. December 3rd was a bittersweet day of reunions and mourning. Men cried who I’d never imagined would. From the soldiers who were there I heard accounts of the ambush.

Mostly they talked of the incredible heroism of Spc. Daniel Swift, who like Chris was a New York Firefighter. Dan Swift also wounded in the attack, crawled out of the disabled vehicle and immediately fired his weapon at the most likely enemy position. As the rest of the patrol began to engage the enemy Dan began to work to save the wounded. According to one sergeant there that day, Swift did “everything right that day.” His Bronze Star medal hardly seems adequate recognition for his heroism.

I met Dan Swift briefly this past summer at the NYPD-FDNY rugby match dedicated to Sgt. Engledrum and his family. But I didn’t get the chance to really talk to him. I wish I had. I still want to thank him, soldier to soldier for doing his best to save my friends. For continuing to risk his life for theirs despite his wounds. For keeping his head in combat. Daniel Swift is truly a hero. Thank you!
On November, 29 2005, Americans and New Yorkers lost another hero. Staff Sgt. Steven Reynolds of Jordan NY was the 100th New Yorker to give his life in Iraq. He is unlikely to be the last. Again and again people who hear about my time in Iraq ask me: “Is it worth it.” As I think about our most recent losses, and about those closest to my heart, and about the close calls I had in Iraq, I still have to answer yes, I think it is.

It was worth it to dismantle the evil Hussein regime. Worth it to see that dictator and his colleagues sitting in a courtroom, answering for hundreds of murders in Dujail. Worth it to bring elections, a constitution, and democracy to Iraq. Worth it to pursue and cripple Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq organization, killing or capturing hundreds of terrorists along the way.

I can’t speak for every soldier, only myself. But as a soldier, I understand the risks. I went to Iraq I knowing I might not come home. Stopping tyrants and terrorists requires that some of us make that sacrifice. In a post 9-11 world we no longer have the luxury to wait out our foes. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my friends the heroes. Chris Engledrum, soldier, firefighter, husband, father, son and friend is foremost among them.

There are some in our country who would have us believe that Chris and Wilfredo Urbino, Steven Reynolds and the rest have died for nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. They died to protect us from a destabilizing dictatorship in Iraq that supported terrorists. They died to protect us from an insurgency that harbors a group that identifies itself with al –Qaeda. My friends and comrades have died to bring the freedom, security and prosperity that we enjoy at home to a place where the lack of these qualities breeds hatred and terrorism. Terrorism that directly threatens us at home.

Continuing thanks to The Mudville Gazette


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Vargas?? He was in the Hmvee with our other three brothers. I was there and trained with them from Tx., Ca. then over there.

Thu Dec 22, 06:42:00 PM 2005  
Blogger John Byrnes said...

Felix of course is a hero as well. He is also a great friend, a funny guy, a hell of a martial artist and posseses the worlds most prominent jaw. Love the guy like a brother.

This post was written as an editorial for the NY Post, but didn't make that weeks cut. As an editorial writer, I strive to use examples to make a point. I was not prepared to list every hero I have known. It wouldn't have worked.

That said the vast majority of the men and women serving in our Armed Forces today are heroes. And with few exceptions the soldiers I have known and served with from the NY ARNG are outstanding individuals!

I am working on several projects for both TV and print that if they work out will hightlight some of our stories from The Twin Towers to The Sunni Triangle. Please send me a line at my email: JRB1013@aol.com, I'd love to hear about your experiences with Felix and the guys. Also you are in touch with Sgt Andrew Neeson ask him to email me.

Thu Dec 22, 07:38:00 PM 2005  

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