Monday, March 24, 2008

While We Were Hunting Eggs


By the time Specialist Jerry Ryen King decided to write about his experiences in Iraq, the teen-age paratrooper had more to share than most soldiers.

In two operations to clear the outskirts of the village of Turki in the deadly Diyala Province, Specialist King and the rest of the Fifth Squadron faced days of firefights, grenade attacks and land mines. Well-trained insurgents had burrowed deep into muddy canals, a throwback to the trenches of World War I. As the fighting wore on, B-1 bombers and F-16s were called in to drop a series of powerful bombs.

Once the area was clear of insurgents, the squadron, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, uncovered hidden caches with thousands of weapons.

Two months later, Specialist King, a handsome former honors student and double-sport athlete from Georgia, sat down at his computer. In informal but powerful prose, he began a journal.

After 232 long, desolate, morose, but somewhat days of tranquility into deployment, I’ve decided that I should start writing some of the things I experienced here in Iraq. I have to say that the events that I have encountered here have changed my outlook on life...

The most recent mission started out as a 24-36 hour air-assault sniper mission in a known al-Qaida stronghold just north of Baghdad. We landed a few hours before daybreak and as soon as I got off the helicopter my night vision broke, I was surrounded by the sound of artillery rounds, people screaming in Arabic, automatic weapons, and the terrain didn’t look anything like what we were briefed. I knew it was going to be a bad day and a half.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, March 7, 2007

A month later, Specialist King was sitting inside his combat outpost, an abandoned school in Sadah, when suicide bombers exploded two dump trucks just outside the building. The school collapsed, killing Specialist King on April 23, 2007, along with eight other soldiers, and making the blast one of the most lethal for Americans fighting in Iraq.

In that instant, Specialist King became one of 4,000 service members and Defense Department civilians to die in the Iraq war — a milestone that was reached late Sunday, five years since the war began in March 2003. The last four members of that group, like the majority of the most recent 1,000 to die, were killed by an improvised explosive device. They died at 10 p.m. Sunday on a patrol in Baghdad, military officials said; their names have not yet been released.

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