A friend has sent us the eulogy given by Lt. Col Rod Coffey, Commander 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (Wolfpack), Diyala Province, Iraq, at the January 22, 2008 memorial ceremony for his six soldiers and one Iraqi interpreter killed in a booby-trapped house in Sinsil, Iraq on January 9, 2008 during Operation Raider Harvest. Col. Coffey spoke to honor the soldiers that died in the operation:
Specialist Todd E. Davis, 22, of Raymore, Mo.;
Staff Sgt. Jonathan K. Dozier, 30, of Rutherford, Tenn.;
Staff Sgt. Sean M. Gaul, 29, of Reno, Nev.;
Sgt. Zachary W. McBride, 20, of Bend, Ore.;
First Sgt. Matthew I. Pionk, 30, of Superior, Wis.; and,
Sgt. Christopher A. Sanders, 22, of Roswell, N.M.
Col. Coffey spoke as follows:
Gen Petraus, LTG Odierno, Major General Hertling, BG Boozer, BG Thomas, COL Riscassi, fellow squadron and battalion commanders and command sergeants major;
On behalf of all the soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment we thank you for coming to pay tribute to our fallen brothers in arms.
We are here to honor the memory and service of seven men, seven of our brothers in arms.
There is a story about loss in war where one character comments to another, “We are ready for the occasional empty chair, the fond farewell for comrades lost. But we are never, never ready for so many.”
I cannot, as your commander, in anything I say today diminish the impact of losing these men all at once. In fact because we lost them so quickly, it all seems like a bad dream -- that we will wake up tomorrow and they will all be back again.
Each of us, whether present at the scene that day or not, will remember when we first found out. We will remember our inner anguish when we got up the nerve to ask, “Who was it?”
Others will recall the steeled strength it took to calmly and professionally report and verify the battle roster numbers, knowing full well we owed them this calmness and professionalism, so their families would be taken care of.
Others of us will never forget rescuing the four wounded that day and getting them to a helicopter as fast as we could. All these things are true. All these things will be seared in our memories. It was a terrible day and we cannot change that.
We are not alone in mere personal grief, or our desire to honor the fallen. The presence of the general officers here is their effort to acknowledge the sacrifice of this unit and the bravery of these men. Although I have not been able to access every news report, the ones I have read indicate the nation supports us, mourns with us and honors the men we have lost in the recon platoon.
The governors of the states of Virginia and Nevada and Wisconsin and Oregon and New Mexico have ordered the flag of the United States of America and the flags of their respective state flags be flown at half-mast on the day of our men’s funerals. We are not alone in honoring them. Again, I don’t have news stories for all of our men yet but those I have read indicate hundreds have attended their funerals.
And why this reaction? Why hundreds of people at funerals? Why governors issuing decrees for flags to be flown at half mast?
Because we are all in awe of their great sacrifice, courage and devotion to duty and each other. These men, our men, are fallen on the field of battle. Forever more that is their legacy. Their names are now enshrined on the scroll of America’s hallowed dead. And where they died, where they shed their blood, is sacred ground to us.
We still cannot help think why. Why do we have to lose such good men?
Part of the answer is only good men like these volunteer to serve and defend their country. Here’s two brief examples of their motivations:
SPC Davis had his car packed and had been admitted to the University of Oklahoma when he changed his mind and decided to enlist in the army. His family believes he did so out of pride for his father who had served in the military and had passed away in 2003. There he was -- the excitement and opportunities of college life and getting a degree ahead of him -- and he heard that call, the call to defend and serve his country. At the last moment he could not go through with the easy choice. He chose the harder life of a soldier in a time of war.
Of SSG Gaul his stepmother noted, “Being a soldier was his life. It was what he truly wanted to do.”
I could mention every one of them and tell a similar story. I wish I knew more about Roy’s story, for the courage and guts displayed by our interpreters on a daily basis is an inspiration for us all.
It is still a natural human instinct to ask….But what did they die for? Wasn’t it a waste?
There are several answers to that question but the most basic and simple is they died for us. They entered that house so you and I wouldn’t have to. At that moment they saw it as their duty to clear that house and they acted with discipline courage and bravery. The character of our fallen heroes in the recon platoon is revealed by the actions of the living that day.
As many of you know they were essentially lured to the house by someone that we later discovered had ties to Al Qaida. One of the members of the platoon, on the roof when the blast occurred and the building collapsed -- and wounded himself -- ran down the local who had had lured them to the house ……And then when he found him, did nothing more than detain him.
That professionalism, that discipline, that honor and self-sacrifice speaks of extraordinary nobility of character in the entire platoon. Another soldier, the senior squad leader at the scene with calmness and strength took over the role of platoon sergeant as if he had been doing the job for months.
I could go on and on about the enormous character demonstrated by that entire platoon and entire company that day – a strength and determination that continues to today.
And then there is the unfeigned determination of the recon platoon. It’s not put–on. It’s not fake. They are not trying to be something they are not and failing to express their emotions about this. But the speed with which they have rebounded and insisted to me that they go out on missions again is awe-inspiring.
I do not know where such men come from, except to say they are the kind of men who have made America great and will continue to preserve it.
The act of going in first, the act of willingly doing your duty in a dangerous environment, is by its very nature an act of heroic self-sacrifice for the sake of others. These men we honor today had that spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty to an awe-inspiring degree.
And so I need to speak of what else they died for, and what I believe our honored dead would now expect of us.
I’ll begin by saying what they would not want. They would not wish to be seen as victims of a misguided war, victims of stop loss – or victims of anything else for that matter.
We know we are fighting extremism here in a thousand ways. And as the hometown news articles are getting written several of these fallen heroes are on record stating they believed the war in Iraq is a noble cause.
For those who want to support us by getting us out of Iraq as soon as possible, without a victory, I have but one comment. You’re too late. We have sacrificed too much and all we ask of you is the necessary time to finish the job.
Our children and yours, our grandchildren and yours will be safer for it.
This squadron and the formations on its left and right have in the balance sheet of history, already achieved far more than extremist reckless hatred will ever accomplish.
SSG Dozier once asked his father Carl, “Is it weird to really want to do this?”
His father Carl, filled with pride at what his son had become said "No," "This is what you're trained to do."
On another occasion this brave man, SSG Jonathan Dozier told his father he was prepared to die, “But,” he said, “I don’t want to die for nothing.”
So I ask you Wolfpack to make this promise with me: SSG Dozier, will not have died for nothing. We owe him a victory. We owe him a win. We owe him our own lives if necessary.
If the enemy comes out to fight he will be met with a disciplined lethal ferocity he has never before endured. If he plays the sly game of intimidating, beheading and torturing the innocent people of Iraq when he thinks we’re not looking he will be met with a cunning, a sophistication and a relentlessness that will lead to his utter defeat.
This is my promise to you as your commander and from all of us to our honored dead.