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Mortar attack gets quick response in Taji

Army News Service

Release Date: 4/29/2004

By 1st Lt. Christopher J. Heathscott

TAJI, Iraq (Army News Service, April 29, 2004) - Four Soldiers of the 39th Brigade Combat Team's Support Battalion were killed April 24 when mortars rained down on Camp Cooke, about 15 miles north of Baghdad.

Other lives were saved, officials said, by Soldiers with combat lifesaver training and medical personnel who quickly responded. Two of the assailants were killed and five captured in the brigade's counter attack, which also confiscated homemade launch tubes sparked by a battery.

"This is a time and event that I prayed I would never have the responsibility for as a commander; But due to a violent strike by a cowardly enemy...that time has come," said Lt. Col. Allen Hargis, commander of the 39th Brigade Combat Team's Support Battalion.

Three days earlier, the mortar attack killed Capt. Arthur 'Bo' Felder, of Louisville, Ark.; Staff Sgt. Billy Orton, of Humnoke, Ark.; and Staff Sgt. Stacey Brandon, of Hazen, Ark. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Patrick Kordsmeier, of North Little Rock, later died of wounds while on a medical evacuation flight.

"It's a tremendous loss that we've sustained at the hand of an enemy that we don't always understand," Hargis said. "Our hearts and our support go out to the families."

The Support Battalion, headquartered in Hazen, Ark., had six Soldiers seriously wounded from the attack as well. Luckily, Hargis said the battalion supports the brigade with a medical unit, Company C, better known as 'Charlie Med.' The aid station was only 50 meters away from the point of impact. And with the brigade's large numbers of trained combat lifesavers, help was on the scene fast.

"They were there immediately," Hargis said. "We have 160 combat lifesavers in the battalion. They responded prior to C Med getting there. We were able to get them down to level 1 treatment within a matter of minutes."

"Any time there's casualties, my company does the casualty assistance. We actually took the casualties in the attack and more than likely, as a result of their actions, saved some of the lives of the six Soldiers who were injured," he continued.

"There were a lot of heroes today during this tragic attack, and I was very impressed with how everyone from the lowest ranking Soldiers remained calm and focused on taking care of our wounded," said Col. Mike Ross, deputy commanding officer of the 39th Brigade Combat Team.

"Our combat lifesavers, medical personnel, and chaplains on the scene provided excellent care to our wounded Soldiers. Seeing them in action helps strengthen our Soldier's confidence and allows them to stay focused on their mission of eliminating the threat elements that were responsible for these attacks," Ross said. "All of these Soldiers make me extremely proud to be a member of this brigade."

Hargis said some of his Soldiers have commented on feeling bad about not being able to fire back on a mortar attack, but he assured them, "the brigade is firing back for us."

"Our mission is to support the brigade and the brigade is supporting us by returning fire on the mortars," he said. "As a matter of fact the individuals that shot the mortars that took the lives of my Soldiers...two of them were killed and five were captured as a result of that incident."

Along with the 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery, focusing efforts on continual improvements in base security, Hargis said his Soldiers are currently working on building up peace of mind through security improvements in their living areas.

"We're continuing to improve the force protection around our sleep areas and we're also going to continue to improve the force protection around our work areas to ensure the safety of our Soldiers," said Hargis. "There is a lot of good thought going in to making sure our Soldiers are protected."

(Editor's note: 1st Lt. Christopher Heathscott is a member of the 39th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)

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