Thursday, March 09, 2006

Eulogy for a Hero!

SSG Kevin Jessen, saved my life. Not just once, but day in and day out, for the better part of six months. When I met SSG Jessen in Iraq in 2004, his Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team was assigned to Task Force Hunter, based on the 2-108th Infantry battalion, an Army National Guard unit from New York State. EOD was the “bomb squad” on our little base. If I said that SSG Jessen impressed every one of us, it would be an understatement. He excelled!

Maybe the tall easygoing kid from Arkansas had a special rapport with New Yorkers, he did marry a women from Syracuse. More likely he was just a friendly, forthright southerner, with a ready smile. Everyone in the Task Force knew him, and every one of us not only liked him, but we immediately respected his incredible professionalism.

My company, A Co., regularly had one of our platoons assigned as the Task Force’s Quick Reaction Force or QRF. This meant we regularly escorted the EOD teams to the sight of roadside bombs (IEDs) whether they were discovered or exploded. We spent a lot of time with SSG Jessen. We learned a lot from him. Many of us got to be pretty good friends with a great guy.

Jessen, he immediately became known by his last name. He was an expert on explosives and IEDs. The bane of our existence in Iraq. The one thing we were all at least a little scared of. Jessen could tame them. He defused dozens of them, after detection. And he inspected the remains of dozens more that had exploded. He was not only a subject matter expert, he became an intelligence source.

He could identify the handiwork of particular bombers operating in our area. He was certain that there were two main bomb makers with two different styles and several emplacement teams putting them in. Armed with SSG Jessen’s information about IEDs our soldiers were able to detect and defeat them more often.

An IED exploding is a terrible thing. One minute you are rolling down the road, all is quiet. Drivers are focused on scanning the road. Backseaters may joke a little to relieve the nervous tension. Every trip on the roads of Iraq is a journey of anticipation of an IED. Suddenly one day the world explodes. Sound and fury smash together in a deafening roar. Panic strains against training. Fear bubbles up from the gut, and you execute your battle drills.

Soldiers punch out immediate security patrols to eliminate the triggerman if possible. The roadside bombers in Iraq rarely plant a single bomb. They hope to disable a patrol. Then if possible attack again. The second attack can be aimed at exposed soldiers, responding Medical vehicles, or responding EOD teams as they try to assess the bomb crater.

On Sunday March 5, 2006 SSG Jessen on his second tour in Iraq responded, as always to the call for EOD to come out. Rawah Iraq near Mosul at the head of the Euphrates River, is patrolled by elements of the 172 Stryker Brigade combat team. Discovery of an unexploded IED meant both danger and opportunity. Reports indicate that SSG Jessen was suited up in his bomb suit and defusing the IED when a second undiscovered IED was exploded, killing him.

There is no doubt that the enemy had directly targeted SSG Jessen. He was assassinated. I’m sure the IED teams in Rawah hated him as much as the ones in Dujail did two years ago. Kevin Jessen was not just a hero, but a hero of mine. He was a friend of mine as well. One of the saddest parts of soldiering is how many friends become heroes. I think I can safely speak for every soldier that served with Task Force Hunter, when I say we salute you Kevin. You were the best kind of soldier. We’ll miss you.

Thanks as always to Mr. and Mrs. Greyhawk.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeriann said...

I went to school with Kevin, he was one of my best friends. Every afternoon, he and another guy would go out behind the tennis courts and set off little bombs they had made from 2 liter soda bottles. He loved to blow things up.

Mon Mar 13, 05:38:00 PM 2006  
Blogger John Byrnes said...

Well he put his love of explosives to good use. I'm sorry for your loss.

Tue Mar 14, 02:00:00 AM 2006  

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