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Tragedy strikes Rhode Island Army National Guard Unit in Iraq

National Guard Bureau News

Release Date: 9/07/2003

By TC Michael McNamara and SGT John Cervone

RI National Guard Public Affairs Office - On Monday, September 1, 2003, three soldiers from the 115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island Army National Guard, were escorting a convoy along Main Supply Route Tampa south of Baghdad. At 3:15 PM, an explosion from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) rocked their HMMWV.

Convoy security was usually a routine mission for the 115th Military Police Company, but not so today. The catastrophic explosion killed SGT Charles Caldwell and SSG Joseph Camara. Specialist Edmund Aponte, the third member of the crew, was severely wounded.

These tragic deaths mark the first fatalities, from enemy action, suffered by the Rhode Island National Guard since the Second World War. SSG Camara leaves behind a loving wife and three children. He was a much-respected policeman in his hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts and a 21-year veteran of the National Guard. SGT Caldwell left behind a young wife. They had been married for only a few weeks when he deployed. SGT Caldwell was also a "traditional" National Guardsman. When he wasn't in uniform, he worked for Putnam Investments. Specialist Edmund Aponte, the third member of the crew, received shrapnel wounds to his head, neck and torso and severe burns to his upper body. SPC Aponte is currently at Walter Reed Medical facility and is expected to make a full recovery. His wife and three children have journeyed to Washington, D.C. from their home in Providence, Rhode Island, so they can be with him. Like the others in his crew, SPC Aponte is not a "full-timer." He works for Electric Boat in North Kingstown, RI, building submarines for the U.S. Navy.

The 115th Military Police Company, along with the 119th MP Company and the 118th MP Battalion Headquarters, departed Rhode Island on 12 February 2003 and moved to Fort Drum, NY, where they underwent additional training and certification for deployment overseas. The 115th MP Company arrived in Kuwait on 2 April 2003 and soon moved north to conduct operations in Iraq. They have been operating in the Baghdad area since early May. Since arriving in Baghdad, the 115th Military Police Company has been involved in many hazardous missions. They have conducted security sweeps in a dirty town called Fallujah. Back in June, the 115th MP Company was sent into Fallujah under the control of the 3rd Infantry Division, one of the first divisions to gain control of Baghdad. Their orders were to capture unauthorized weapons and round up the usual suspects. The "usual suspects" had attacked a truck carrying members of the 101st Airborne earlier in the day. They had killed one American soldier and wounded several others. The "usual suspects" would be defined as anyone with a weapon. In this part of the city apparently everyone has at least three weapons. It was all sweat, fear and loudspeakers ordering civilians from the streets. It was American soldiers patrolling a hostile area trying to tolerate unbearable heat and being taunted by the local citizens they thought they had come to "liberate". That operation cost the 115th MPs two men wounded.

Members of the company have stood at traffic checkpoints in 110-degree heat, searching vehicles for contraband weapons and ammunition, while being taunted by Iraqi citizens who allow their children to throw rocks at the American soldiers. On any given night, a vehicle driven by one or more Iraqis may suddenly careen toward a checkpoint being patrolled by soldiers from Rhode Island. The soldiers never know if the vehicle is going to explode or if they will be shot at by automatic weapons fire. These soldiers are always on edge and always warily looking over their shoulder.

The soldiers of the 115th Military Police Company have performed stupendously in the face of the enemies' attacks. They have demonstrated their skill and dedication while being placed in many volatile situations. "They are doing a magnificent job in a very difficult situation," stated Major General Reginald Centracchio. "All of Rhode Island is extremely proud of them."

Every night, as they drive off on patrol, they know that they will probably receive enemy fire, but they also know that this is the only way to draw the enemy out. Every night they drive into a city that can erupt around them at any given second. However, they are proud to be representing the United States in bringing freedom and democracy to a subjugated land.

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