To join the US Army, a person must be be smart enough, in sufficient physical condition, free of drug use and free of criminal history. These requirements mean only two out of ten teenagers qualify. Those who do enlist are often the best in other ways. The Stars and Stripes news report about one such young soldier. SP4 Dennis P. Weichel from Providence, Rhode Island. Sp. Weichel served as an Infantryman in the Rhode Island National Guard. On duty in Afghanistan, he was working on a convoy. A basic rule of convoys in Iraq, where I served, was that they should never stop. I am sure the same rule applies in the similar combat zone of Afghanistan.
SP4 Weichel’s convoy came upon Afghan children gathering spent artillery shells. They can sell them for scrap. The convoy stopped to move the children out of the way. As the convoy started to move forward, a 10 year old boy darted forward to grab another shell casing. Sp. Weichel jumped in to pull him back and was sruck by the moving MRAP. MRAP’s sit very high. The driver has little visibility close to the vehicle. The boy was not harmed. Sp. Weichel was run over and killed. A fellow soldier in his unit told a reporter, "he would have done it for anybody. That was the way he was."
When I was in Iraq, I rode with a security detail a few times. This security detail had conducted many convoys during their twelve months in Iraq. They went outside the wire 5-6 times a week. On one such run, we became entangled with an Iraqi truck, full of workers in the bed of the little truck. Two Iraqis died in that collision. Our HMMWV was almost overturned. After we emerged from our vehicle, we saw the prostrate Iraqi driver, obviously dead, another close to death. The driver of our HMMWV looked around and then collapsed. He profoundly blamed himself for the injuries and deaths to the Iraqi locals. Later when things were more calm and we were back at our base, I told him the opposite. I told him we would probably have died ourselves if it were not for his skillful driving and split second timing. HMMWV’s are top heavy. They topple easily. The turret gunner would have been severely injured or worse if we had turned over. To me, SFC Hernandez was a hero.
These are the people I served with. These are the people serving still.