Saturday, January 29, 2005

Army Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe

Read about 1LT Hoe and his death, from the Washington Post:
Fort Lewis soldier dies on campaign trail

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots", indeed. Every time we lose servicemen and women in Iraq, it hurts. We've just irretrievably lost part of our nation's and my generation's best, and Nainoa Hoe is no exception. It makes me question why I'm safe at home and going to college while the real important work is over there. I know my Columbia degree will open doors and allow me to pursue my interests at a higher level, but there are bigger things happening while I check this block. I have to be patient and focused, and finish what I started, but you know, I can't wait to get out of here and into a project that matters.

The account of 1LT Hoe's death by sniper reminds of a battle drill I was in during Beast Barracks. 1LT Hoe was leading a small mixed element - he was escorting MI troops - on foot to a local medical clinic when they were ambushed, with the sniper shot that killed him as first contact. Well, in the battle drill during Beast, I was wearing MILES gear, the laser tag stuff the Army uses to simulate weapons fire. It was my turn to play squad leader. We were told of an enemy position somewhere to our front and our mission was to find, engage and destroy that position. We approached on foot. My squad was in a standard patrol formation, section-A in an inverted V in front, and section-B in an inverted V to my rear, spread out to avoid bunching in case of burst fire or a grenade, and eyes open for the enemy. I walked in the middle as the squad leader, not so much looking for the enemy as controlling the squad. Well, somewhat like 1LT Hoe's death, first contact was my MILES gear buzzing, signalling I was 'dead'. No warning, no hint of impending death or even specific danger. I was just doing my job and the next moment, buzz. 1LT Hoe's killer was camouflaged in a MOUT environment while my Opfor was in the woods, but the situation seems familiar. Obviously, I was picked out by the sniper for the first shot due to my position in the formation, and so was 1LT Hoe. My 'killer' was in a camouflaged position to our 2:30 and about 50 meters up a slope. A close, easy shot on the firing range, and we never knew he was there until he 'killed' me. My section leaders reacted well. They immediately engaged and 'killed' the enemy, who was just the one sniper, with section-A fixing his position from the base of the slope while section-B overran his position from the right flank. I mostly heard the remainder of the engagement sitting in dirt, rocks and leaves at the spot I 'died'.

I'm not equating my 'death' in a controlled training environment to 1LT Hoe's real-life death by a real-life sniper in a real-life ambush in Iraq. In my case, this battle drill effectively introduced me to the realization that unlike the movies, there may not be a dramatic build-up to a soldier's death in combat. There may not be anything one could have done differently or better. It just happens, where you are occupying the time and space the next US Army soldier makes full payment for real estate (Starship Troopers reference).

Vaya con Dios, LT.


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