Two years into Iraq war, National Guard deaths silenced a state | VailDaily.com
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Two years into Iraq war, National Guard deaths silenced a state

THOMSON, Ga. – During his 18 years in the Georgia National Guard, James Kinlow settled into a peaceful, small-town life focused more on being a citizen than a soldier.Kinlow had married his high-school sweetheart and rarely missed the Lincoln County Red Devils’ home football games. He worked in a lumber yard and drove a freight truck. The citizen-soldiers he trained with every month included family friends and former teachers; he cracked them up with his imitations of the officers.Then, late last year, he got the news: He was going to war.So between Christmas and New Year’s, he tore off two sheets of notebook paper and wrote out his life in summary, with a blank for the newspapers to fill in later, beginning with the end.”Mr. James O. Kinlow, 35, of Holt St. died —- in Iraq.”Nearly seven months later, the sentence was completed.He died on July 24. He did not die alone; three of his comrades died as well. All together, 18 soldiers in the Georgia-based 48th Infantry Brigade have fallen since their arrival in Iraq in June, sad examples of the bloody price paid by U.S. citizen-soldiers in this war.Since the March 2003 invasion, at least 497 National Guard or Reserve troops have died in Iraq, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. casualties. These are not professional soldiers. These are the people who sell us insurance, drive our trucks, fix our cars.”The Guard is different in the respect that these folks are seen around town every day, driving a deputy sheriff’s patrol car or working at the 7-11 or teaching high school,” said U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “These are everyday folks who have been commanded to go to war.”Folks like James Kinlow, who survived just six weeks in that hostile land. His journal from those weeks depicts a Guard unit quickly coming to grips with unpredictable dangers.He encounters his first roadside bomb during his third mission June 10. “We heard this big bang and saw black smoke. We immediately sped up and blocked off the road. We went looking for the suspects but never found anyone. Today I was really scared.”On June 13, he frets over orders to raid a house and take detainees. “I really didn’t want to do this. They said that there would probably be a lot of shooting. But the Lord answered my prayers and it was called off. The bad part is that we have to do this tonight at 2400 hrs.”On June 26: “We had a crew to get hit tonight. Steed, Williams, Haggin, Jones, Hosendole. They were all injured but none life threatening. This is the first time people from our Co. were injured. This Really Hit Home Tonight.”Kinlow’s final entry, July 23, ends on a happier note – “Got my leave.” He could look forward to two weeks at home in mid-August.The next day, the unseen bomb ripped through the armor of Kinlow’s Humvee. He was at the wheel, Sgt. Carl Fuller led the patrol squad, Spc. Gus Brunson manned the machine gun, and Spc. John Frank Thomas sat ready with his rifle in the back. None survived.They were the first combat casualties for the 48th Brigade since World War II. And the carnage continued with shocking swiftness. Another roadside bomb killed four more 48th soldiers July 30. On Aug. 3, three more died when a suicide car bomber hit their checkpoint.Eleven dead in 11 days. In Georgia, a state that’s home to 13 military bases and has deployed thousands of active-duty troops to Iraq since 2003, these deaths hit particularly hard.Gov. Sonny Perdue wept openly at a news conference. From the statehouse to office buildings, factories and school classrooms, the entire state paused for a moment of silence Aug. 18.As each death was reported, surviving comrades struggled to keep their composure. Sgt. David R. Jones had been a deputy at the Richmond County Jail for seven years, and he fell back on the gallows humor of the jailhouse when his comrades died.When Kinlow’s crew was killed in Baghdad, Jones wrote to his wife in Augusta: “This is a test of the David Stabilization System.”Jones, 45, had volunteered to deploy to fill a vacancy in the 48th Brigade. His jailer’s wage didn’t always cover the bills, and Jones hoped hazard pay from Iraq would help his family’s financial struggles.But no pay could compensate for these hazards. The June 26 explosion that jolted Kinlow left Jones with a scratched cornea. Then, a few weeks later, came Kinlow’s death.”He got really down after Kinlow’s accident. It took him a while to bounce back up,” said his wife, Karen Jones. “He put in one of his letters that that was the good part about ADD (attention deficit disorder) – you couldn’t put your mind to one topic for too long.”Jones had just six days to grieve. On July 30, his patrol struck another roadside bomb. He and three others died.”David did say it was really hard to go back out. But they went,” his wife said. “That’s what courage is – when you know what can happen and you go anyway.”Staff Sgt. Richard Moses had been Kinlow’s squad leader in the brigade’s Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. He was sidelined early after injuring a knee during field exercises in Kuwait. As his knee mends at Fort Gordon in Augusta, he’s also dealing with guilt.”The first eight guys, we were all like family in the same platoon,” Moses said. “That was my vehicle that got blown up. Kinlow was my driver. If my knee hadn’t have been out, I would have been in that vehicle. …”I’m taking medicine now for nerve problems and sleep, because I’m having dreams about my soldiers every night. I’m afraid to go to sleep.”As a combat engineer in the 48th Brigade, Spc. Mathew Gibbs would scout patrol routes in a hulking armored vehicle the Army calls a “buffalo,” designed to sniff out bombs before they kill other troops.On Aug. 2, the 21-year-old factory worker called his wife and family in the rural, southwest Georgia town of Ambrose. He’d been assigned to a new duty, manning checkpoints.The next day, a suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives at the checkpoint Gibbs was guarding with two other soldiers.The Fleetwood mobile home factory in Alma, where Gibbs worked building interior walls, stopped its fast-paced production line for a moment of silence.Rae Gibbs asked her husband’s fellow soldiers to tell all they knew. “They all assured me they didn’t even know what was coming and didn’t know what hit them.”Before he deployed, Gibbs planned to move his wife and daughters, ages 5 and 3, to a small house on his in-laws’ farm. He had the restoration plans drawn up. He’d even picked the color – bright yellow.”He should have gotten to college like he planned. He should have gotten to watch his daughters grow up,” said Lee Carver, Gibbs’ mother-in-law. “He should have gotten to paint that house yellow.”Vail, Colorado


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