June 18, 2018
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Insurgent attacks were the norm for soldiers patrolling in Iraq

By Darren Ripley, Special to the BDN

I was stationed at Ft. Stewart, Ga. from January 2004 to February 2006. I was assigned to the 293rd Military Police Co., 3rd Military Police Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division.
In March 2004, we deployed to Iraq for a year. Once there, my platoon was attached to 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, known as “The Big Red One.”
Our company had convoyed from Kuwait to Tikrit, Iraq over the course of three days. On the third day, we stopped at Camp Speicher in Tikrit to refuel our convoy. It was there that my platoon was separated from our company.
My platoon was assigned to Baquoba in Diyala Province, while our company was assigned to Mosul. We didn’t have a lot of time to say our “good-byes,” so I rushed from vehicle to vehicle, saying “good-bye” to what friends I could find.
The last words I ever spoke to my friends Andrew Tuazon and Dan Harrison were, “I’ll see you in a year. We’ll have a beer when we get back.” Andrew was killed by a sniper on May 10, 2004, and Dan was killed on Dec. 2, 2004 on a mission to reinforce Iraqi commandos who had come under fire.
Our main mission in Baquoba was to train the local Iraqi police and work alongside them. My platoon, along with a platoon of New Hampshire Army National Guard soldiers and a handful of military intelligence soldiers, lived in an Iraqi police station in the middle of the city. Houses, businesses, and busy streets surrounded our building.
We got attacked quite a bit. Rocket-propelled grenades would sometimes come through our walls during firefights. The insurgents hit us with mortars, RPGs, car bombs, rockets, and small arms fire to try to kill us and take over the police station. It was important to them because it was the provincial police station, and if they could kill us and take it over, that would be a big victory for them.
I was wounded twice from roadside bombs. The first time was April 17, 2004, and the second time was June 18, 2004. I remember these dates because April 17 was the day after my mother’s birthday, and June 18 was Father’s Day weekend.
I only received one Purple Heart and not the second one. Of the 33 people in our platoon, 11 received the Purple Heart by the end of our tour.
We did a lot of other combat duties. We did joint missions with field artillery units, the tank company, an infantry company, and engineers and worked quite a bit with the 10th Special Forces Group. They were with us on April 9 when our building came under attack and on April 7 when we rescued a Kiowa helicopter and its pilots after they were shot down by an RPG.
On night patrol on June 19, the lead vehicle in our convoy was struck by a single RPG. I was in the second vehicle. When I heard the explosion, I turned and saw the fireball on the truck.
We returned to our police station with the medics waiting outside. They pulled our squad leader, Staff Sgt. Lara, and our platoon leader, 1st Lt. Dawn Halfaker, out of the Humvee and started first aid.
Lara had his right arm taken completely off at the shoulder, and Halfaker had her right arm hanging on by the muscle, veins, and tendons. After hitting below the windshield where the Humvee wasn’t armored, the RPG came through and hit Lara’s right shoulder and then hit Halfaker’s arm before exploding when it hit the metal behind her seat.
We then escorted them and the field ambulance across the city to Forward Operating Base Warhorse for further medical aid. They were flown to Baghdad via UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. They lost Lara twice on the flight to Baghdad, but were able to bring him back. They are both alive and doing well now.
Our platoon was very busy that whole year. We didn’t have any days off unless we came home on leave or went on a four-day R&R. We got one hot meal a day, and that was dinner chow, and we had to travel to Warhorse to get it. We mostly relied on MREs and whatever we got in care packages.
I can definitely say that the support we got from people back home was great. If we had not had that support, our job would have been a lot harder, and we would have wondered why we were doing what we were doing.

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