Commander, Company B, 1-69 INF (M)
Dear Banshee Friends and Families,
I am happy to report that our company, along with the entire Fighting 69th, has validated on all the training tasks that we were challenged with upon our arrival at Fort Hood almost three months ago. It is an impressive and inspiring accomplishment.
From a geographically dispersed gaggle of individuals and squads, of infantrymen, tankers and engineers, we have become a trained and practiced infantry unit that has drawn accolades from our trainers, the battalion commander, and our commanding general. In more than one task here, the Banshees have performed better than any mobilized National Guard company before us. There is one big reason why.
From Montauk to Toronto, Banshee Company has drawn many of the finest soldiers in all of New York (and Canada). There is Spc. Donnell Miles who earned the honor “Hero of the Battlefield” two times during lanes training. Awarded by the regular army trainers here, the Hero of the Battlefield is a soldier who goes above and beyond his normal duties to positively impact the operation. Spc. Miles earned it the first time for extraordinary marksmanship and the second time for taking over a heavy machine gun and causing the “enemy” to withdraw. He is not alone. Also earning Hero honors is Spc. Richard Smoot whose leadership and experience are setting the standard in 2nd Platoon and Spc. Eugene Dolan, normally an automatic rifleman, took control of his entire squad to complete his training mission. Sgt. James Munro was named Hero after stepping above his role as rifle team leader to take over his squad and outperform many other squads on the training lanes that day. Sgt. 1st Class Frank Tooker, the new Banshee Company First Sergeant, was named Hero for being … well … himself. (And if all units in the Army had senior non-commissioned officers like Frank Tooker, Pete Swiderski, Arnie Reyes and Tommy Seifert, the battle for Iraq would have been settled a long time ago.) Finally, 2nd Lt. Joe Minning, one of our three new infantry officer school graduates, earned Hero honors less than 24 hours after joining his platoon. He has proved to be, according to one of the trainers, the final ingredient in the stellar mix that is our 3rd Platoon.
Unfortunately, the trainers only name one “hero” a week. In reality, there have been dozens more. And none are more significant than our “60 minute players,” soldiers who are there day in and day out without a complaint, without a worry, always getting the job done. Soldiers like Cpl. Patrick Sharp and Spc. Kevin Steinmetz of 1st Platoon, Spc. Jason Avvocato and Spc. Scott Mack of 2nd Platoon, Spc. James Ceglia and Spc. Samuel Chadwick of 3rd Platoon, and headquarters soldiers Spc. Marion Franks and Sgt. Joseph Laurito. Those men, and many more like them, are the foundation of Banshee Company and a clear indicator of why we have been so successful.
Gumbo, Lox and Leave
Our New York soldiers are not alone in their great accomplishments. In order to ensure the Fighting 69th has the most combat power available, all of the companies have “task-organized” to some extent. In the case of the Banshees, we have attached out for training and operations 2 LT. Ronnie Maloney’s and Sgt. 1st Class Pete Swiderski’s 2nd platoon to another battalion in the Brigade. In exchange, we received Sgt. 1st Class Richard Dean’s 3rd platoon of wheeled reconnaissance troops from the 1-156 infantry based out of Shreveport, Louisiana. After some discussion over which accent, Cajun or Brooklyn, represented proper American English (I’ll keep my opinions to myself), we accomplished some great training with our Southern attachment. Of special note are the performances by Spc. Damian Dixon who earned Hero honors in July and Spc. Darrieo Stephens whose natural leadership ability is matched only by his outspoken disposition. Both soldiers and more in their platoon have carried us through the training lanes here.
Because of the success and discipline of these soldiers and others throughout our parent brigade, the commanding general has pushed to get more leave for everyone. In a meeting with the general this week, he told us that he would do everything he could to get ten days of leave following our rotation to the National Training Center (NTC) in California. As with anything during these fluid times however, the leave is not a 100 percent guarantee. But I’d say it’s close to 95 percent. The Brigade Commander thinks it is likely for late September. We all have our fingers crossed.
The Big Schedule
So where are we now? We have finished training here at Fort Hood and are now focused on packing our equipment – everything from Humvees to computer paper. Pretty soon, we’ll have nothing left except for our rifles and rucksacks. That’s about the time we board a plane for the Mojave Desert and the NTC. We will train there for the better part of four weeks, focusing on operations in the desert at 120 degrees. To add some realism to the training, there will be some 2000 civilians, including several Iraqi-Americans, in the training area to replicate towns and villages in Iraq. It will be a well-resourced event that will test our young company. Following NTC, we will fly to Louisiana where we will do little more than store our helmets while we go on block leave (keep those fingers crossed). Following block leave, we will return to Louisiana and await flights to Kuwait, our staging area for operations in Iraq. Once we enter Kuwait, our clock starts ticking. The sooner w e get our boots on the ground, the sooner we will complete our mission.
In that I share my wife’s sentiments: “hurry up so you can come home.” That’s okay by me.
Finally, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all the friends and families whose support makes everyone’s job easier. Your letters and care packages have kept the soldiers in good spirits and confident that family and business matters are being attended to at home. We need all our soldiers focusing on training and their upcoming mission; you have made it possible. I also want to pass on a special thanks to Sgt. Ed Boniberger’s better half, Marnie Hall for her great work on www.bravobanshees.com and for the continued great work of the family support group, especially Karen Tooker on Long Island and Mike Little and Diane Smith in the Buffalo area. Thank you all.
Sean M. Flynn