News: Western Illinois University graduates serve in Iraq together
Story by Sgt. Cassandra Groce
by Spc. Cassandra Groce
133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detach.
KIRKUK, Iraq (September 5, 2006) – For the past 11 months, five Western Illinois University graduates have served together in Kirkuk, Iraq, as part of an Army rotation of troops fighting alongside and training Iraqi Security Forces and government officials in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Colonel David R. Gray (class of 1980) and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Benjamin (class of 1984), are the Commanding Officer and Deputy Commanding Officer of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Together, they have led the famed "Bastogne" Brigade in U.S. and coalition military operations throughout the entire northern region of Iraq, supervising the training and development of Iraqi Security Forces in an area roughly the size of the state of Maryland.
"It's been an excellent opportunity to have that kind of commonality in our experiences to work together," explained Benjamin. "It sets me up for success because I can better support him and do for the brigade what he [Gray] would do."
Major Ron Richards (class of 1981), a reserve officer with the 402nd Civil Affairs Detachment deployed to Iraq and works with a Provincial Reconstruction Team, mentoring and training government officials in Kirkuk.
Captain Michael Gacheru (class of 2000) joined the Bastogne Brigade in December 2005 and serves as brigade battle captain, monitoring and tracking all activities in the brigade's area of responsibility. His classmate, Captain Danny Davis, is Detachment Officer in Charge of the 310th Tactical Psychological Operations Company.
"It's great to have something that we can all look back on and say 'hey, do you remember this, or does this place still exist,'" said Gacheru, reflecting on the conversations the five have shared.
The alumni's experiences at WIU provide not only familiarity in an unfamiliar location, but also a chance to swap stories from their time as cadets.
"When I was a fourth year cadet we had to train the incoming sophomores, I remember I started singing a song," said Davis, explaining his fondest memory from the ROTC program at WIU. "The sophomore I was looking for started laughing and gave up his position, so I zapped him."
"I think we all look forward to going back and speaking to the cadets, at some point, and sharing with them our experiences and thoughts," said Gacheru.