VFW Magazine March 2011 : Page 23

Organized for the Mission The 203rd is a prime example of how the regular Army,National Guard and Army Reserve integrate in the war zone. It reported to the 372nd Engineer Brigade (Reserve) from Minnesota, which fell under the 82nd Airborne Division and later the 101st. Stateside, the battalion comes under the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood,Mo. In Afghanistan, the Houn’ Dawgs, as the 203rd is nicknamed, commanded an assortment of companies. Three are based in Missouri: Headquarters, For-ward Support and the 1141st (Sapper). Two other Sapper companies—211th (South Dakota) and 810th (Georgia)— rounded out the National Guard con-tribution. Also in the mix was the 693rd Sapper Company, a regular Army unit based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., and A Btry., 5th Bn., 3rd Field Arty, from Fort Lewis,Wash. Later in its tour, the 203rd took Mississippi’s 287th Sapper Company under its wing. On a dismount patrol, platoon medic Spc. Loren Bonebrake, Lt. Mitchell Boatright and Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Stuenkel with the 1141st Sapper Company seek command wires stretching from a road in the Sabari District of Afghanistan in May 2010. serving there. Among them were 20 combat engineer battal-ions—seven divisional and 13 separate. An additional eight brigade or other independent combat engineer companies served. All these units combined lost 609 KIA. One of those KIAs was awarded the Medal of Honor. Cpl. Terry T. Kawamura of the 173rd Eng. Co., 173rd Abn. Bde., threw himself on a satchel charge in Camp Radcliff at An Khe, saving several lives, but sacrificing his own. The PUC was awarded to three entire combat engineer battalions (4th, 8th and 70th), three companies, one detach-ment, three platoons and one squad. The 4th ECB received two PUCs for separate battles in 1967. The 8th and 70th battal-ions both earned theirs during the Ia Drang Valley/Pleiku cam-paign in the fall of 1965. The 8th lost five KIA. It was not until May 2010 that Tom Clark’s unit, the 137th Engineer Company, finally received the Valorous Unit Award (VUA). As part of the 19th ECB, the 137th performed exception-al service from mid-1967 to the end of 1968. The 19th Battalion suffered 105 KIA and 400 WIA during that time. Engineers again stood out in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The 1st ECB, including the attached A and D companies from the 9th Engineers, received the VUA for breaching enemy defens-es. Tennessee’s 212th Eng. Co. led in Kuwait. Seven engineers of 1st Plt., A Co., 27th Eng. Bn., 20th Eng. Bde., died clearing cluster bombs at As Salman Airfield in Iraq on Feb. 26. Iraq and Afghanistan At the beginning of the Iraq War, on April 4, 2003, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith of 2nd Plt., B Co., 11th Eng. Bn., 3rd ID, performed heroically in Baghdad. Expending 300 rounds from his .50-caliber machine gun, he killed 50 of the enemy and is credited with saving 100 American lives. His Medal of Honor was posthumous, and the first for an engineer in 34 years. Combat engineers have been claimed far too often by the very devices they seek to destroy. IEDs inflicted multiple fatali-ties in four single actions in Iraq. A suicide bomber was the culprit in another action. Starting on March 31, 2004, five sol-diers of the 1st ECB were KIA in Habbaniyah, the engineers’ worst single loss in Iraq. On Aug. 3, 2005, three Georgia National Guardsmen of the 648th ECB were killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad. The year 2006 was not a good one for engineers. On July 8 in Ramadi, three men of the 54th ECB died in an explosion. Then on Nov. 11, three engineers of the 16th ECB were killed in that same city. Tragically, on Christmas, three members of the 9th ECB lost their lives in Baghdad. Roadside bombs in Afghanistan also have taken a toll among engineers. On March 12, 2006, four reservists of the Army Reserve’s 391st ECB were KIA near Asadabad. In 2007 on Aug. 28, three men of the 864th ECB perished in Jaji. On Oct. 15, 2009, four GIs of the 4th ECB died in Kandahar province. Last July 14, four soldiers in the 27th ECB made the ultimate sacrifice in Zabul province. To date, 238 engineers have been killed in Iraq and 57 in Afghanistan. The Engineer Memorial Wall in “Sapper Cove” at Fort Leonard Wood., Mo., will eventually honor them. Throughout all of America’s wars, the courage of combat engineers has been clearly demonstrated. Fifteen Medals of Honor are proof enough: Civil War (3), Indian campaigns (1), WWI (1), WWII (5), Korea (3), Vietnam (1) and Iraq (1). March 2011 • WWW.VFW.ORG • 23

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