News: Thunder Run, Desert Rogues: a historic battle, a family reunion
Story by Sgt. Richard Wrigley
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Past members of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment “Desert Rogues,” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, who served during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and who participated in the invasion of Iraq gathered during the course of two days in the Fort Stewart/Savannah area for the 10th anniversary of the famous “Thunder Runs” through Baghdad April 5-6.
The Thunder Runs refer to two separate raids of Baghdad, Iraq, made by Task Force 1-64, during the first week of April 2003.
The fighting during these battles was described in an online report by the U.S. Army War College as being very close-in and fierce, forcing soldiers to open up the hatches of their tanks or track vehicles and engage the enemy with their M4 assault rifles or M9 pistols in order to keep the enemy from swarming over their vehicles.
The report also attributes these battles to having broke the Iraqi regime’s back, and forcing the remaining political and military leaders to cease their actions.
Undoubtedly, the heroic actions of the Desert Rogues during those two tremendously pivotal battles bore highlighting during the gathering of the Rogues on the 10th anniversary of the battles.
However, once the veteran Rogues began to gather for dinner, it could be seen that the purpose of the gathering was something much more simple, and much more profound than celebrating a hard fought battle and victory: the purpose was Family and remembrance.
This became apparent when retired Col. Eric Schwartz, the Desert Rogue commander during the invasion, explained to the Rogues in attendance of the phone call he just had with the sister of one of the soldiers, Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker, who was killed during the first Thunder Run.
“I just spoke to Booker’s sister and she said, ‘Thanks for staying a family.’ I told her, ‘I can guarantee you, the Rogues will always be a family,’” Schwartz said.
“This is a family reunion … and personally I think there is a family of Rogues right now that aren’t in this room, and I believe with all my heart and soul that they are hanging out in a place a lot like this, and it’s Doc Hubble and Booker and about 24 other boys that can’t be here tonight - this is their night just as much as it is ours,” Schwartz continued to explain.
Not only was this sense of family immediately apparent amongst the Rogues through their interaction and the ease in which they got along even though many of them had not seen each other in ten years, they also confirmed it themselves later the next day when the Rogues met up at the battalion’s current headquarters, toured the facility and paid their respects at the Warrior’s Walk at Fort Stewart.
The Warriors Walk is a living memorial, where an Eastern Redbud tree has been planted for every 3rd ID soldier that has been killed in the last decade or so of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Booker’s memorial is one of the first trees in the first row, so it did not take long for many of the visiting Rogues to find the tree they were looking for.
While the Rogues of Company Alpha “Wildbunch,” 1-64 AR gathered around Booker’s tree, they had a long moment of silence.
Eventually they started to talk about “the good old days,” which quickly turned to joking about mishaps, blunders, and some of the comical things that happened while out there during the invasion. Many of them spoke about just how special the unit was, as many had served in numerous units and never experienced one as tight knit and close as the Rogues were.
Daniel Thompson, a native of Springfield, Ohio, was a gunner and then a tank commander for the Wildbunch during the invasion. He was also purportedly very close to Booker, and was there at the Warriors Walk taking pictures of everything with his phone and texting them to Booker’s sister, who could not be there, keeping her in touch with the rest of Booker’s extended family.
Thompson iterated just how close a family they were when he said, “The camaraderie in this unit is amazing … it is the closest knit unit I’ve ever been in during the ten years I was in.”
While the family bond could be seen in Thompson’s actions and sentiments, he also acknowledged that he was at the memorial to remember.
“Coming together here today is great because it’s not really the bad memories we’re all here for, it’s to remember the good ones,” Thompson elaborated.
Retired 1st Sgt. Robert Hay, the Wildbunch’s senior enlisted leader during the invasion is familiar with remembering the good, not the bad, as his most vivid memory is a bitter sweet one.
During the first Thunder Run, Booker was shot while engaging the enemy with his rifle out of the turret because the enemy was too close for the Rogues to effectively be able to use the larger guns on the tank, explained Hay.
“Staff Sgt. Booker’s gunner was Sgt. Gibbons, and when we went forward to evacuate Booker, Sgt. Gibbons was right there and he just stood up in the hatch, I looked at him and I kinda gave him a thumbs up, just to make sure he was good because we needed to continue to fight, and he just looked at me and nodded his head, and I was filled with such a sense of pride because despite everything that that crew went through, he still stood up in the hatch,” Hay related.
“My lasting memory will always be pride in those guys despite the tragedy of that day,” he added.
Schwartz echoed this sentiment of remembering the good not the bad when he talked about his memories.
“I think about it every single day - I try not to think about it sometimes, but I can’t help myself from thinking about it … it’s not the battles I think about though, its those knuckleheads here today,” Schwartz elaborated.
“The young Rogues I served with, they’ve constantly sent me notes over the years, and they always start with, ‘I don’t know if you remember me,’ - You know, I remember every single thing … I remember their wives, their children, their specific and individual acts of courage and bravery and even jackassery. I remember it all. I’ll never forget. They’re my boys,” Schwartz said.
So while the gathering was indeed put together to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Thunder Runs, those historic battles filled with courageous deeds that reshaped and changed the world, the true reason for the Rogues to have come together was something else entirely.
It was for the love between a father and his sons, it was for the spirit and memories of his boys; if any had the chance to observe it, they would have seen the gathering had little to do with a battle, and everything to do with family and remembrance.
Other contributors to this story include the Network Centric Warfare Case Study at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/dime/documents/NCWCS%20Volume%20III%20(web%20version).pdf