It has been 8 years since SGT Jacob Simpson, my friend, former crew member and Soldier died in Tal’Afar Iraq. My memory is not so good anymore. There is a murky haze around the details, so when I jump around in this post or if you remember it different, please forgive me.
When I first came home I would have described what I was doing in the third person. It would have a deluge of Army specific terms like “avenue of approach” or BOLO (Be On the LOokout). I would describe these events tactically and clinically. It is easy to summarize events, even events that are horrific, when you avoid the emotions. As time has passed those terms are mothballed, but the feelings remain fresh. I write about my feelings a bunch but I have never verbalized this day eight years ago until today. It is too hard.
Up and Down
I was patrolling blocks away when “CONTACT” burst over the radio. That word, in that intonation, spikes your adrenaline. If you are outside the wire, it means FIGHT. If you are not near the fight, it means GO TO THE FIGHT.
It seemed like only moments before that high turned into a pit of despair. The highs and lows always seem to still affect me. This and other events linger as reasons. The voice on the radio, alarmed and excited seconds before reported to us with the solemn words that dropped us all:
“He’s dead. Simpson’s dead.”
Why? Where? What?
The updates rolled in and my troop deflated. The enemy disappeared back into the population. The attack was so quick our response bore no gains.
We were providing security for Iraqi’s trying to receive treatment at the local hospital. There were gruesome reports of mistreatment along sectarian lines. Our presence stabilized a city resource and brought relative normalcy to a town where the mayor’s son was killed and booby trapped not months before.
None of that sh!t mattered now.
The next few days are a blur. I remember wanting to cry at the hero flight but being so Angry that I wouldn’t. That rage fueled us all for a while, but these days, mine has given way more to sorrow. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle brought his body back to camp. As the track plodded along slowly towards the tarmac the reality set in. Our Troopers bravely escorted him into the plane painting an all too familiar picture of a Soldier draped in a flag en route to his final resting place.
My Commander and First Sergeant had the impossible task of eulogizing Jacob at the farewell ceremony. They nailed it. The images of boots, rifle, bayonet, Stetson and dog tags still give me pause. We crossed in front of it, gave our last salute, gently touched the dog tags and walked away hoping that those ritualized acts could seal the wound. They didn’t.
The day after the attack I remember talking with our Regimental Commander and telling him the good stories about Simpson. There were only good stories about Simpson.
This is what I remember.
I met Specialist Jacob Simpson the first day I arrived at my troop. I had a different Combat patch (4ID), a Combat Infantry Badge and a screaming high and tight haircut. I didn’t look, smell or act like a scout and Jacob could see that so he started pinging me with questions. He had the look of a squared away Soldier and was extremely attentive to my replies, so I immediately took note and liked him.
I had the further good fortune of getting Jacob on loan during gunnery before our deployment. Even though he was not officially assigned, he took his job with a seriousness that impressed me. It would have been easy to slack off or do the minimum. He did the opposite.
We had jumped around but settled outside of the dry fire range one day. We had all of our crap just strewn in the back and it was annoying him. He wasn’t able to do his job as well, so he took out a wrench and started mounting straps on the outside of the track. Then he hung our stuff out there. He didn’t do it to win points, he did it so he was able to do his job better. He took initiative and just did it. Moreover, he did it with a smile. A little rock n roll on the radio, a little sun on his face and this Specialist was happy to contribute in any way.
When it was our turn to shoot our Gunnery, he put us in a position to excel by counting rounds and keeping track of the firing scenarios. We could come in second in our Troop in large part from the teamwork he helped foster.
When he earned his Stripes I saw the pride and determination enter his face. Ready or not he displayed what all of our great NCO’s showed us before and during that deployment: the NCO corps is the backbone of the Army. He was a professional and wanted to earn the respect of his peers, superiors and subordinates alike. He had great tough NCO’s above him and while the learning curve was steep, he rose to the occasion.
When the Troop shuffled the roster and he received his team members he continued the excitement and initiative that I witnessed months earlier. They followed him around and knew he was the big brother type the was going to show them the ropes. He moved with urgency and when he got excited he would stand on his tip toes.
He wanted to go to Selection for the Special Forces. I had a number of friends that completed selection and I had been through a few other schools, so if he ever caught me with down time he peppered me with questions. I was happy to answer. I knew with time and more experience he would be a fine SF Soldier.
He was taken this day eight years ago. He was taken too soon. He died in service to this nation defending the defenseless.
As my commander eloquently pointed out at his eulogy, he is a hero and we will always miss him.
Until we meet again my friend.