Instead of posting an inspirational quote today, I wanted to comment on the significance of this holiday. It is meant to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country and fellow man. Thankfully, during my most dangerous time in Iraq, all my soldiers came home safe and whole (with some minor scarring). Unfortunately I can't say the same for the Company that I was a part of.
On November 20, 2003 an IED exploded next to the tank titled Beast, killing our Company Commander: Captain George Wood. He was out on patrol with the Company XO, traveling through areas everyone in the Battalion had traveled on and would travel again after that night.
In nearly 13 years I've shared very little about the man how has been a mentor and role model for me. Honestly, it's always been a difficult topic, and I've never been sure I could do him justice. In honor of Memorial Day, I will share some of the details I remember for this fallen hero:
There is a much longer story to the night that CPT Wood died, but won't (probably) ever share that on a blog. Instead, I want to focus on the man Captain George Wood was. At 6'5" he was not your typical tanker. In fact, I'm not certain how he even managed to fit in the tank, as it's a tight fit for me at 5'10". Playing college football at Cornell, he was always a big physical specimen, but he had a mind to match his size. He was capable of quickly assessing a situation and determining a path forward, as well as retaining a massive catalog of useful (and useless) facts and details. In fact, he often pushed us as Lieutenants to not sit still and let a situation develop. He was a man of action and believed that it was better to make the wrong decision and correct than to wait for the perfect decision to become apparent.
I remember one particular day shortly after he took command of Bravo Company, where he wanted to lead a Company size foot patrol through the town surrounding FOB Scunnion. As an Armor Company, it was unheard of to just walk through the streets with no real goal other than to show presence and perhaps interact with the locals. Many of us were uncomfortable with the thought of leaving the armored vehicles behind, but we followed his lead and left the gate of Scunnion on foot for the first leg patrol of the entire deployment (I believe 6 months in country). He worked his way up and down the line, talking with soldiers and locals, making a real impression on everyone. It was hot, we were all grungy and dirty, but he was smiling, and I think it endeared him to his new company.
Although he was the Company Commander for only a couple of months, he found a way to impact everyone in the Company quickly, taking time to talk with his people and sharing details. He cared about everyone's well being, and worked hard to ensure his people were cared for. He was mission focused, but wouldn't needlessy put his men in harms way. He was time conscious, but made sure the jobs were done right. And he would listen to the suggestions of his officers, sometimes even letting them control the situation if they had a better handle on it than he did.
In another instance, I remember working with an AC-130 (think plane with big guns) to root out some people who fired an RPG at my patrol. CPT Wood was also out the gate in a different area, heard the radio chatter and made a B-Line to my position. Because I had the initial contact, he let me dictate where he set-up his tanks to support, and let me continue the operation. Most leaders wouldn't be willing to let a subordinate control a situation of that magnitude.
Many of the things I do, and the leader I've become are because of the impression Captain Wood left behind. He is the strongest leader I've known, and I wish he had been around longer to teach us all more.
So on this Memorial Day, I pay tribute to a friend, and mentor taken too soon, but an instrumental force in who I am today. Thank you Captain Wood.
|Theron Perna at CPT Wood's Funeral (AP Photo / The Observer-Dispatch, Heather Ainsworth)