Thu, Dec. 05

Verde Valley soldier returns from Iraq

Courtesy photo

Pvt. Luke Taber returned to Camp Verde after spending a year in Iraq with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Taber enlisted in the Army following his 2001 graduation from Camp Verde High School. He went through both basic and artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla. There he graduated in the top 10 percent of his basic training class and received an award for the highest accuracy calling in artillery fire. For this, he was given the appellation "Master Blaster."

During the initial weeks of the war, he and his squadron served as artillery support first for the 82nd Airborne, then the 3rd Infantry Division, and finally, the First Armored Division in Baghdad. Once there, the 2/2 ACR was assigned to the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad and worked there for the remainder of its tour of duty in Iraq.

Taber then became the gunner on the commander’s Humvee. On their daily patrols, the squadron cleared out the massive amount of munitions that the Saddam regime had stored in schools, hospitals and vacant lots. They also confiscated countless numbers of AK-47 rifles and ammunition from marketplaces and homes. Taber often accompanied Army Rangers as they raided the homes of suspected insurgents and Saddam loyalists.

But their work in Sadr City was not entirely military. Many of their efforts were given to restoring and supplying hospitals, clinics and schools; clearing garbage from the streets; protecting and improving the water system; and helping the residents set up elected neighborhood councils. During their final months in the city, the 2/2 ACR was responsible for training hundreds of Iraqi men and women to become members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the police force of a new Iraq.

Their work was never without danger. Shortly after arriving in Baghdad, Taber’s unit was ambushed by members of Saddam’s Fedayeen militia. One of his sergeants became the first casualty of a roadside bomb (IED) in Baghdad. Taber himself survived two IEDs that exploded a few yards from his Humvee. The squadron’s base sustained many mortar rounds and remained on high alert for the duration of its tour. In all, the 2nd ACR would lose 12 soldiers and scores more to injuries suffered in ambushes and by IEDs.

Another danger to the troops was the heat. During the Iraqi summer, the soldiers patrolled in four-hour rotations dressed in full combat gear, including steel reinforced flak vests, in 130+ degree heat. Each man was given a camelbak hydration pack, and each Humvee was equipped with a large jug of water. The soldiers bought ice from local Iraqis. Medics administered IV fluids to those returning from patrols and closely monitored them for signs of heat exhaustion. Despite these precautions, one of Taber’s fellow soldiers succumbed to heat stroke.

Taber brings home many memories unrelated to the war. He visited several landmarks of the defeated regime, including the giant crossed sword monument and one of Saddam’s ornate palaces. Asked what was the oddest thing he saw, he replied, "A camel going down the road tied to the back of a little white Toyota pickup."

But his best memory will be Thanksgiving 2003. He was chosen to represent the squadron at a Thanksgiving Dinner at the heavily guarded Baghdad International Airport. He was in the mess hall when it was announced that someone important would be there to talk to them. Everyone roared with excitement and appreciation as President Bush stepped out to greet them. Taber made his way toward the president, who began serving food to the astonished soldiers.

"So what’ll it be, Taber?" asked the president. "I think I’ll have yams, Mr. President."

This was by far the most encouraging moment of Taber’s deployment.

Home now in the United States, Taber can look back at a job well done, to a year of hard work and sacrificed that has helped not only the citizens of Iraq, but also our country and our world, to become a safer place for all.

If you would like to send any cards or letters to SPC Taber, you can mail them to P.O. Box 1984, Camp Verde.

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