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PHOTO BY FIRST SGT. ROBERT JENNINGS
Soldiers from Alpha Company carry Staff Sgt. Todd Nunes' casket to the awaiting aircraft.
A fallen leader remembered
Staff Sgt. Todd Nunes becomes the
company's first fatality since Vietnam
2 May 03 0920 hours >> An explosion and small arms fire are heard from the front yard of the patrol base. All the roof observation posts are reporting direction and distance. A dark cloud can be seen from the roof. My hand-held radio is full of traffic from 3rd Platoon, who was on a mounted recon at the time. They had just been ambushed by a roadside bomb and AK-47s. I rushed around to gather some soldiers to move out to assist.
2 May 0925 hours >> I'm rolling out the gate with an element from 2nd Platoon. Almost horrified at what I might see, I have to get my game face on. I know the soldiers will be looking to me for guidance once I get on the scene. The initial reports have been confusing. I'm really not sure what I'm going to find. I knew the route they were going, so I took an alternate to approach them from the other direction. I arrived at the scene just as soldiers were getting two casualties prepared for evacuation.
The scene as I arrived was chaotic, as to be expected. I immediately looked for the company commander who left with the patrol. He was preparing Spcs. Charles Woolwine and Juan Hernandez for evacuation. They had moved both soldiers to the bed of the vehicle and I signaled to Spc. Christopher Poe, the commander's driver/radio operator, to move out.
I reached over and grabbed Hernandez's hand and assured him he was going to be all right. I don't think my hand has ever been gripped so tight. The look on his face I will not forget, almost like a small child on his first day of school, peaceful but terrified.
I looked at Pfc. Wilbert Herrera, Miami, Fla., and said, "Reassure these guys they're going to be fine." He nodded as the truck moved out.
I scanned the scene as the truck rolled off. There were a few soldiers giving buddy aide as the rest were pulling security. A police officer approached me, blood on his uniform, explaining to my interpreter how he had evacuated two soldiers to the medical facility in his car.
The platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Austin Brown, approached me. He explained how everything developed and gave me his initial casualty report.
I conducted a quick survey of the scene when one of our station police chiefs approached me. I explained what had happened and he told me he was going to begin his investigation.
I ordered my driver to hook the damaged vehicle to mine and we would tow it to the mechanics for repair. Both rear tires were blown out and extensive damage to the under carriage was my assessment. Just as I was preparing to leave, 1st Platoon Staff Sgt. Robert Ryder arrived with a dismounted patrol to secure and conduct an on-scene investigation. I briefed him what I was going to do and moved to Kirkuk Air Base.
PHOTO BY FIRST SGT. ROBERT JENNINGS
Staff Sgt. Nunes just before a patrol in Kirkuk, Iraq.
2 May 1100 hours >> I was just informed that Staff Sgt. Todd Nunes from Tennessee died of his wounds at the medical facility on Kirkuk Air Base.
This week's article has been a difficult one to prepare. It almost feels like I've lost one of my own children.
In the Army you create incredible bonds between soldiers in your unit. This is especially true for units that deploy to combat who have trained together for so long. We all have spent so much time on and off duty together, spent time getting to know each others families, and come to understand the values and beliefs of all the soldiers around us.
This week we mourn one of our own, the first Alpha Company soldier to fall in combat since Vietnam. We not only lost Nunes, we had to evacuate four other soldiers for further treatment, and six soldiers were returned to duty after their wounds were treated.
This week is a time for remembrance for our brothers, who will no longer serve side by side, but in our hearts and minds.
Nunes was born on July 3, 1974, in Santa Clara, Calif. Shortly afterward, he moved to Tennessee, which he always called home. An avid wrestler in high school, Nunes joined the Army in 1994.
He has been stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and Schofield Barracks. He had completed the U.S. Army Air Assault School and earned his Expert Infantryman's Badge.
All during our deployment here in Iraq, I have observed Nunes' quiet but stern leadership. Not one to lose his temper, he used long tedious hours of corrective training as a tool. I watched him not only help his soldiers understand this deployment, but learn and improve himself at the same time.
After the memorial service on Friday, I sat down and talked with a few of the soldiers from his squad. Sgt. Mario Gordish, from Ann Arbor, Mich., a team leader in the squad, gave the eulogy at the service. He said: "Staff Sgt. Nunes was a great leader who always listened and believed in me. I've never had that kind of confidence trusted to me before.
"He also was so optimistic, it used to make me mad. I remember there was this time and it was cold and raining in the middle of the night, people were complaining, but he wouldn't.
"He found the bright side to everything."
Gordish added: "I've learned how to look at things a little different. His attitude towards life in general will be the biggest influence on me.
"He liked to joke around. I'm still waiting for him to kick in the door when I'm watching TV. This whole incident has brought our entire company closer together. I've seen many things this week that prove just how close we really are."
Platoon leader 1st Lt. Oliver Hollis, San Rafael, Calif., and platoon Sgt. 1st Class Austin Brown, Irvington, Ky., both said that they could always rely on Nunes to do the right thing, no matter what.
Brown said, "He always stuck up for what he believed in. He was a good friend."
Hollis noted how he never had to worry about mission preparation. "It seemed as if he was a half step ahead of me all the time," he said.
Spc. Renardo Livingston, Erie, Penn., remembers how Nunes told the kind of jokes that only he would laugh at. "He was always laughing. Sometimes he had a really dry sense of humor. But I remember when I was a private and he put me in charge. I liked that because I was able to learn so much looking at it from a different angle. I think he was an awesome leader."
Other soldiers in the platoon remember how Nunes used to wait for the opportune time to jump into a picture when they were trying to be serious.
"He was like that guy from Maxim Magazine. We were trying to be serious and he'd pop right in the back," a friend said.
Others mentioned how he used to say he was the man in his wrestling days in high school, or how much of a Tennessee Titans fan he was.
All in all, the soldiers were able to smile as the week ended. Part of their therapy has been talking about the incident in groups instead of trying to forget it.
This week Alpha Company took a big hit. We will recover; we will continue to apply pressure on this cowardly enemy and we will continue to work with the Iraqi people to achieve a better and freer lifestyle.
Everyone here wants to send their condolences to Nunes' wife, Christie, and his two children, Larissa, 7, and Alex,18 months. He will be missed and you will forever remain in the Gator family.
I'm going to close this week by stealing a line Capt. Todd Moe, Alpha Company Commander, used at Nunes' memorial in Kirkuk: "Staff Sgt. Todd Nunes will be missed by his squad, his peers, a young platoon leader, a seasoned platoon sergeant, the crusty first sergeant, the old man, and the rest of the Alpha Company Gators."
God bless and Aloha.
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Character of soldiers
We also had to evacuate four soldiers for further medical treatment to Germany then on to the States. I talked with these soldiers' friends so all of you could know a little bit about them.
detailed by buddies
Spc. Charles Woolwine, Roanoke, Va., was evacuated for shrapnel injuries to his legs. Spc. Brandon Finch, Greensboro, S.C., said, "He was always serious about his job. Any time before an inspection or a mission, he was preparing to the tee. I've never seen somebody pay that much attention to detail. The guy was like a machine."
Finch went onto say that Woolwine was hoping to attend Special Forces Selection School on return from Iraq.
Spc. Joseph Salinas, Long Island, N.Y., was evacuated for injuries to his left arm. Spc. Renardo Livingston recalls how they always used to joke about who was getting bigger from lifting weights. He added, "We used to talk about getting out of the Army and how our kids were going to grow up playing together." Then he smiled and said, "We went to basic training together. We'll meet again."
Spc. Juan Hernandez, Tatum, N.M., was evacuated for shrapnel wounds to the abdomen. Spc. Rocky Rodriquez, Porterville, Calif., Hernandez's roommate at Schofield said, "He loved talking about muscle cars. He always talked about his family. He said he just wishes they could all be together again." Hernandez was also the company guidon bearer. This is the soldier that most displays and upholds the true values of the Army.
Pfc. Cory Ferguson, Springdale, Ariz., was evacuated for injuries to his right foot and left hand. He was the new guy. He had only been in the unit a few months before the deployment. His platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Brown, explained how he had come so far so fast. "He was the rookie in the platoon. He was a smart kid that surprised us all how fast he was able to learn and perform our SOPs."