The Catholic Defender: Iron Rakkasan
It was October 1989 after arriving back to the United States from Germany that I was assigned to Fort Campbell Kentucky.
I would first report to Fort Sam Houston for BNCOC (an NCO School). While I was at Fort Sam I was glad to see the Catholic Priest who had been there when I came through during my initial Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
I really enjoyed participating with the choir there as this was a great release from my normal studies.
There was always good fellowship and I enjoyed Father's Sunday meetings over contemporary issues. This reminded me of the CNN show "Crossfire" and I loved it. All this was a great support for me as I went to the different Schools for progression and promotion. I would be there until March when I returned back to Fort Campbell.
Ft. Campbell is very beautiful. It is right on the Tennessee/Kentucky State line between Clarksville TN and Hopkinsville Ky. The Post Office happens to be on the Kentucky side of the line so it is post marked "Kentucky".
I was soon placed in the 20th Replacement Center where I In-processed into the Base. I quickly learned that I was going to the 3rd Brigade Rakkasons (HHC 3/187 Infantry).
This would be a light infantry unit much different from my previous units. Before, my job was supporting units with tanks driving M113 A-2, A-3 tracked vehicles. Now, I would be hoofing it everywhere we go. We live totally out of our rucksacks, literally.
I would quickly be put in for Air Assault School in July, 1990 and I would soon earn my EFMB (Emergency Field Medical Badge). That badge is one the most difficult badges to earn. My first deployment with HHC 3/187 was in Panama. The Jungle was an interesting place to train. The triple canopy looks very beautiful, but don't let that fool you, it can be very dangerous. You definitely did not want to mess with the wild animals because that could get you killed.
They have what is called the "Bush Master" a snake that is very territorial and known to be aggressive. They are also very poisonous. When you go there to the Army Base there in Panama, you will see a jar with a finger that was bitten off by one of these snakes. They kept it there for us to see so we would not mess with any of the animals.
There also is the Fer D Lance that would surprise you then kill you very quickly. These are snakes you do not want to mess with out in the triple canopy jungle. We were setting up a bivouac when we discovered one of these snakes sitting in a tree right over the First Sergeant's hooch (poncho utilized as a tent).
That was an uneasy situation. We killed it with a blank shooting an M-16 at it's head. You had to get close to it to make that kind of kill with firing a blank.
The heat was dangerous, sunburns were not a small thing there, the jungle would be very dangerous without water. It was great training and I enjoyed my time there.
After returning to Fort Campbell, August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Our training began to focus for the possibility of war in the Middle East, we trained extensively against Chemical attack and heat related injuries.
It was reported to us that Saudi Arabia was going to be hot, 130 degrees in the shade. It was August 1990, that we flew into King Fahd Airport being guided in by F-15's. There was visibly seen about 40,000 empty body bags stacked near the runway.
That was a wake up call. This was the beginning of Operation Desert Shield. I soon discovered that the opportunity to witness for Christ was going to be incredible. I was able to speak with both Officers and Soldiers in the Saudi desert as they would come to me with questions about the Catholic faith.
I remember the Motor Pool Chief was worried that we were not going to make it home. He was raised Catholic, but had not been to Mass in years. We had several talks about the faith and that we were going to make it home.
I was teaching Soldiers how to pray the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and read the bible. About 3-4 months into this deployment, we had a Catholic Priest assigned to our unit, I was able to have daily Mass right there in the desert.
We would use an MRE box as an altar. All our training was of great value, we had good leadership, for the most part, the Gulf War went fairly smooth.
Upon returning back to the United States, I'll never forget the welcoming we received with all the people cheering us off the plane at Fort Campbell.
You could hear them from the plane. I couldn't help feel a lot of pride in our Country and being an American. Soon after returning our next Battalion Commander would be one of the greatest leaders I would ever be privileged to serve with. LTC David H. Petraeus reported to the 3/187 Battalion giving us the name "Iron Rakkasan". He liked visiting the training going on and he always wanted to see the training I had my Medics doing out on the ranges.
On one occasion, I was out supporting a live fire exercise. I'd been out there about a week and I had my video camera so I got some good pictures to include of General Petraeus. One morning I had one of my Soldiers replace me as planned so I could come in to play in the Division/Post Softball Tournament. We did well during the season and we were in for the post cup!
That night, General Petraeus was shot in the chest by a stray round that was fired. My Medic did a good job responding to the situation, treating for both entry and exit wounds, starting IV, and getting him evacuated out of there. As leaders, this is a great example why we need to maintain training as you never know when something can happen. When training events are taking place, for the Medic, it is always real world first.
General Petraeus would be flown to Nashville to Vanderbilt Hospital. He was very much in our thoughts and prayers, three weeks later he would be doing push ups in the Hospital. The man is a machine. He started a Physical Training Program we called "Iron Rakkasan".
These were Soldiers who would score well over 300 on their PT test. I would be one of the few that would earn that title. We would go on to win the Post Championship beating our arch rivals from the 502nd Infantry beating them twice to win the title! That was sweet!
After five years assigned to the Rakkasans, the many deployments to California, the many 12 mile road marches, I would soon leave the Rakkasans. I would reach the pinnacle from being a Senior line Medic, the Evacuation NCOIC, the Battalion Aid Station NCOIC, and finally as the Medical Platoon Sergeant. I was always proud to have served under General Petraeus.
I have several awards that has his signature to include one for winning a Division Championship for him. The last time I would see him was in Iraq. I was part of 15,000 plus Soldiers that were going after the Belgium 12 plus mile road march Medal when running the opposite direction towards me came General Petraeus and his team of body guards.
I was able to recognize him in the dawn of the day and as he ran on by I yelled out "Iron Rakkasan", he responded "Who ah"! For many of you wanting to know where the word "who ah" came from, here is my story:
During the Korean War, the Rakkasans were given this name which mean "falling umbrellas" by the local Korean civilians because that is what they looked like jumping out of planes with parachutes. On one occasion as the Rakkasans were parachuting down, they were being pinned down by enemy gun fire. There was a machine gun suppressing fire from a bunker. One of the Commanders seeing what was happening motioned one of his Platoon Leaders to come to him. He instructed that the Platoon Leader take his platoon and knock out the bunker. The Platoon Leader pauses for a moment and then responds back to the Commander, "Who us"! That is my story where we got the word "Who ah"from!