Memories that Live On

     It’s been just over a year since I learned that I lost one of my buddies in the Iraq War.  What really makes me happy to know is that Capt Travis Patriquin’s legendary slide show and his efforts at getting the Ramadi Sheikhs to join America in the War on Terror live on now in the Anbar Awakening movement in Iraq. 

     Travis’ father Gary sent me the story below in an e-mail awhile ago, and I’ve been meaning to post it for quite some time.  With work and school slowing down for the holidays, I finally got a chance to give this piece its due.  It’s the last part of a speech by Secretary of Defense Gates to the Association of the US Army on 10 Oct of this year.  I think it says everything I could imagine needing to say.

In closing, I should tell you that when I speak to Army leaders I make it a point to ask them to communicate to their subordinates not only the thanks of a grateful and admiring nation, but also our pride in what they have accomplished.
The story of just one unit explain[s] why.
The 1st Brigade of the First Armored Division, the “Ready First Brigade,” had been based in Germany for more than 60 years, most of that time preparing to beat back a Soviet invasion across the Fulda Gap. It was deployed to Iraq in 2003, and extended after the Sadr uprising in 2004.
Last year – before there was a “surge,” or a “new way forward,” or a new counterinsurgency manual – they were sent back to Iraq, this time to Ramadi. The city was controlled by insurgents and Al Qaeda, and was written off as lost. The brigade commander was told: “fix it, don’t destroy it.” It was up to him, his staff, and his soldiers to figure out the rest.
And so instead of patrolling from large bases, the Ready First Brigade set up small combat outposts in Al Qaeda strongholds – where troops led by sergeants and lieutenants and captains cleared and held neighborhoods one at a time. The enemy would not go quietly – and responded with an onslaught of roadside bombs, mortars, and ambushes. Among the hundreds of stories of heroism that emerged from this period was of Sergeant David Anderson. He saved the lives of several soldiers on September 24th after they were ambushed and hit by multiple IED attacks. He would later receive the Silver Star for his efforts.
One of the Brigade staff officers was Captain Travis Patriquin. He spoke several languages, including Arabic, and he grew a mustache to fit in. He became the expert on the neighboring tribes – local power brokers going back hundreds of years who had been largely shunned up to that point by our military.
Like any self-respecting army officer, Patriquin had a Powerpoint presentation. It was called “How to Win in Al Anbar by Captain Trav.” But instead of charts and graphs, this presentation used stick figures and simple stories to teach soldiers how to deal with Iraqi tribes – a relationship where “shame and honor” meant a good deal more than “hearts and minds.” At this young captain’s direction, the brigade courted local sheiks over cigarettes and endless cups of tea – outreach that, combined with Al Qaeda’s barbarism, helped spark the “Anbar Awakening” that has garnered so much attention and praise in the past months.
Over time, Ramadi was taken back from Al Qaeda and given back to its people. These gains came at no small cost. During its tour, this brigade would suffer more than 95 killed and 600 wounded. One of them was Captain Patriquin. He did not have a chance to see his ideas and efforts bear fruit, but no doubt would have been proud to have seen what the hard work, courage, and ingenuity of the soldiers had started: A city liberated. Al Qaeda uprooted and reeling. And the tide turned, at least in this one important battle, in a conflict that will determine the future of the Middle East for decades to come.
It is soldiers and stories like these – repeated in so many places and so many times – that inspire us and make us proud and hopeful about the future of America’s Army. Our country’s defense could not be in better hands.

     If you’d like to make a donation to the trust fund for Travis’ children, please click here for more information, and thank you!

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