15 May 2008 (Camp Taji, Iraq)

On Thursday, the 15th, Doc Bosley came around to check everyone’s IFAKs (improved first-aid kits). He made sure everyone was restocked, had all the appropriate supplies, and was ready to start working again.

Once he’d come around and checked everyone form his list, we, the squad leaders and LT Schardt and SFC AB, started working to update our sensitive items inventory lists. Each platoon was assigned particular equipment from the company arms room, and each platoon assigned specific items to squads. Sensitive items are key essential pieces of equipment, expensive equipment, and equipment that we wouldn’t want the enemy to have access to. Those items include our weapons, optics, lasers, night vision, etc. In Sadr City, things had gotten broken, damaged, destroyed, or passed around between soldiers as needed. We knew we had all of our equipment, because we did a hands-on check multiple times each day, but we needed to make adjustments to our inventory list so that we knew exactly which soldier, squad, and platoon was assigned which piece of equipment. Each time we changed the inventory list, including equipment nomenclature, rack numbers, and serial numbers, something would come back incorrect and need to be fixed. That wouldn’t be a huge deal, except we have to go through and visually inspect each item, to make sure we’re accepting responsibility for the correct piece of equipment. It was long and tedious, and a simple typo could mean tracking down a soldier somewhere on the camp to double check his serial numbers.

While that was going on, I continued working on awards recommendations. I wrote CIB recommendations for all of my guys and a few other soldiers who happened to be with me when we got into contact. I put Caballero, Juice, Fuller, and Sanchez in for Army Commendation Medals, and I recommended SGT Taaga and SGT Fraleigh for Bronze Star Medals.

At 1300, we were called to the CP to draw out our pro-masks (protective masks, AKA gas masks). We were not thrilled. They are bulky, uncomfortable to wear in or out of their carrying cases, and certainly not convenient for riding in cramped vehicles. Plus, we didn’t want to carry around extra gear that we’d likely never need. We hadn’t carried them up to this point, so why now?

At 1400, someone, probably Nikjoo, came through our living area knocking on doors and calling everyone in the platoon out of our rooms. We all stepped out into the muddy walkway between the buildings and stood around wondering what was up.

I was looking toward the PL and PSG’s CHU door, waiting for them to come out and tell us whatever they had to say, when I saw LTC Boccardi, 1SG Angulo, our battalion S-3, and Chaplain Burton walk up between a couple of the CHUs and mix into the group of soldiers standing there.

This wasn’t my first rodeo; I knew as soon as I saw them.

Daggett didn’t make it.

Army Sergeant, John Kyle Daggett was 21 when he died in service to his country. May06084

LT Schardt and SFC AB came out and called for squad leaders. We went into their room, and there was some debate about how and when to tell the platoon. I pointed out that the men were smart enough to know something was going on with 1SG and the officers from battalion standing around. We had been given some updates on Daggett’s condition along the way, and we were hopeful.

LT Schardt broke the news to the platoon. He struggled to get it out, and it hit the men hard. SGT Daggett was a good kid. He was young, a good soldier, a ranger even, and well-liked among all the guys, both above and below him in the chain of command.

After the PL and PSG were done talking, we were dismissed to go on about our day, but it wasn’t long before our entire company was called to the chapel. Some officers, at some level above us, were up in arms about the fact that we’d just dismissed the guys to go off and be where they felt most comfortable.

Instead, we had to sit in the chapel, so we could think about it and talk about it. 1SG Angulo, Captain Veath, Chaplain Burton, and LTC Boccardi all had things to say. Honestly, I was just pissed. I felt like the guys needed time to process and to mourn their friend, their brother, and in their own ways. Some may want some time alone. Others may want to surround themselves with more brothers. Everyone is different. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

I’m not sure how, but somewhere along the lines I had gotten to know the chaplain pretty well. We’d sat next to each other on a flight when he was new to the unit. We were flying from Oahu to the Big Island for training, and we’d had a nice conversation. After that, we always chatted when he was around. We talked about my son Jacob, about the kids in Iraq, about how things were going in the unit, about life.

Sometime in 2007, while we were still back in Hawaii, all of the battalion’s team leaders and squad leaders were called into a meeting with the chaplain. Soldiers were getting in a lot of trouble; guys were getting DUIs, pissing hot on drug tests, getting into bar fights, picked-up for underage drinking, and all sorts of other incidents. It reached a boiling point when a young private went out partying in Waikiki; he was drinking and popping prescription pain killers, and housekeeping staff found him dead in his hotel room on Mother’s Day morning. I escorted his remains back to his family and stayed for the funeral services.

2006 and 2007 were rough; I swear we were called to work every weekend because some dumb-ass Joe, as in G.I. Joe, who’d never been away from his mama didn’t know how to act in public. It was putting a lot of stress on all of us. At one point, the plan in our company was to make the offender’s platoon come in and do a road march, equipment layout, and I can’t remember what else. They also had every soldier calling and checking in with their leaders by 8 P.M. on Friday and Saturday nights. I had to speak to each of my soldiers, find out what they were doing, where they would be, and did they have a backup plan for transportation. Then, I had to call my boss and tell him what they were doing, and what I was doing. I know it ruined so much of my time off with my family. I’m sure it did for everyone else too. It never failed that there would be one soldier who forgot to call in and wouldn’t answer his phone. It always took most of my evening on nights before a day off of work.

I remember sitting in a platoon sergeant meeting, before SFC AB had been assigned to our company, and our platoon sergeant at the time wasn’t around. Our former 1SG, 1SG Neil, and the platoon sergeants were discussing how to keep soldiers out of trouble. I forget what they wanted to do, but it was basically restricting soldiers from drinking, or something. I argued that taking away the opportunity to screw up didn’t create disciplined soldiers. It created soldiers who didn’t know how to choose to do the right thing when no one was watching.

It was about this time that I made the decision to leave the army after our rotation in Iraq, if I survived.

With all of this drama going on, battalion asked the chaplain to get feedback from the NCOs. Everyone was afraid to talk; the chaplain was an officer from battalion HQ, and no one wanted to be the one to open their mouths for fear it would all get back to the higher-ups. We sat in silence, listening to the chaplain talk. No one said anything, until finally, I’d had enough. I let Chaplain Burton have it. My words weren’t directed at him, but they certainly weren’t censored. I used the full range of my soldier vocabulary, telling him; this is fucked up. That’s fucked up. This is bullshit, and who’s fucking idea was that? and these guys don’t wanna fucking talk to you, sir, because your an officer. My tirade went on for a bit.

My peers, the other sergeants and staff sergeants in the room, sat there wide-eyed. They couldn’t believe that I was talking to the chaplain like that. I think someone even told me that I needed to chill, and I was like, No. Fuck that! He’s asking; I’ll tell him the truth. What are they gonna do, call me in to work this weekend? Send my ass to Iraq?

Chaplain Burton waved his hands and shrugged. “Don’t worry about SSG Taylor, he and I go way back. I know how he talks.”

A few years after we returned from Iraq, Chaplain Burton sent me this video on Facebook. He said, “I could totally hear you or SFC Locklear giving this speech.” He’s not wrong; I love this video. It definitely sounds like me. (Not safe for work or kids.)

Sadly, Chaplain Jim Burton lost his battle with cancer in 2017. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

On this particular occasion in Iraq, I found myself in a position to tell the chaplain and some other leaders exactly what was on my mind again. I told them that none of these guys wanted to go off and kill themselves. I explained that we all wanted to go out and kill militia fighters. I also told them that none of these guys wanted to come back up here and talk with local sheikhs and watch sheep herders; “we want to fight.”

After being held in the chapel for awhile, we were released to go about our day. Most of the guys were visibly upset. Some seemed okay, but it was clear that everyone was trying to figure out how to be. For some, it was their first time losing someone close to them. For others, it wasn’t. It didn’t make it any better; I think some of us older guys were just numb.

A little later, Captain Veath came by my room. He knew I always carried a camera, and he asked if I had any photos of Kyle. I showed him what I had, and we talked about all that had gone on at the chapel.

When Captain Veath left, I saw that SGT Tyler and 2LT Bowen, from other platoons, were down the way packing and inventorying Daggett’s  belongings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s