Friday, February 23, 2024

Honoring our hometown heroes

by Jack Evensizer
| November 11, 2010 8:00 PM

As Idaho's 116th National Guard Cavalry Brigade marches off to war, Hayden's "Wolf Pack" Bravo Company, reorganized now as the 455th Engineer Company, is part of the Army Reserve's 321st Engineer Battalion, and remembers their 2006-2007 tour of duty in the relentless heat and barren landscape in western Iraq. The Battalion was the lead element of "Task Force Pathfinder," a route clearing mission, arguably one of the most dangerous of all endeavors, not to mention that they did it in a combat zone, constantly in the sights of the enemy.

"It took us four days to clear 600 yards of road in Anbar Province" Staff Sergeant Joe Minor, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the unit's full time technician relates. He and Sergeant James Corey, the unit's full-time administrator, give credit to Bravo's mechanics who repaired the company's vehicles after IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) would damage them. "Staff Sergeant Linder and Sergeant Bowyer and their crews would "fix our vehicles with whatever parts were available to keep us mission capable" Minor continues, "and with their support we could concentrate on our job." Corey and Minor had missions with the Army's Buffalo, a six-wheel, 23-ton heavily armored mine clearing truck which features a V shaped hull that directs the force of a blast away from the occupants. During their tour, the 321st cleared approximately 1,000 IEDs by "poking into the dirt [with the 30 foot robotic arm on the Buffalo] until it makes a noise... tink, tink, tink." EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) is then called to disarm the device. IED's are the primary cause of injury and death for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is estimated that each IED causes three casualties, so some 3,000 casualties were avoided by the courageous endeavors of our local heroes.

Originally constituted in the National Army in 1918, the battalion saw action in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1946, earning a Presidential Unit Citation for Okinawa, the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and Meritorious Unit Citations in 1944 and 1945. In 1948 its headquarters were moved to Boise, and later activated for service in Iraq in 2006.

In keeping with its military tradition, the 321st is one of the most decorated units in the Iraqi theater of war. Equivalent to an individual earning a Silver Star, the 321st was awarded the Army's Valorous Unit Award. The citation reads "...[the unit] displayed extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy... The Battalion significantly reduced casualties resulting from improvised explosive devices for both friendly forces and the Iraqi civilian population." It also earned the Navy Unit Commendation for service with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). The citation reads "The personnel of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) transformed the future of the Anbar Province of Iraq while combating a brutally persistent insurgent threat across a battle space spanning more than 50,000 square miles... redefined the concept of valor to meet the unique demands of counterinsurgency operations..."

Numerous Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts were awarded to Bravo Company soldiers during the war, and with actions still pending for the awards, a total of "a lot" is what Corey and Minor tell. Bravo Company's fallen heroes, Staff Sergeant Coby Schwab and Corporal Kelly Grothe, are in a place of honor on the hallowed halls of the 455th and shall never be forgotten.

Jack Evensizer is a resident of Dalton Gardens.