14JULY1981 - 20DECEMBER2006
As I explained in my earlier blog, I am going to continue to chronicle my exploits from the deployment here (and eventually, the totality of it all, as well as the previous five years of my military life, will be put together in a book).
Today, it is especially important, not just for me, but for many.
Today is the anniversary of a soldier’s death. That soldier is SSG Jacob McMillan.
I can only recount what I know of SSG McMillan (or Mac, as he was commonly referred) from my own memory. I first met Mac when he joined the Brigade PSD team (Personal Security Detachment). I was in the 1-501st PSD as one of the section leaders and trained alongside Mac as we were indoctrined into the program.
Mac was tall and skinny, but with a commanding presence. He was in the kind of shape most of us want to be in. He was exceptionally athletic and competed and trained in the Army combatives program. He had also studied martial arts before that and was always eager to spar.
Mac had a devilish charm, which was accompanied by striking good looks. Mac had no trouble pulling in the ladies. He had a deep, almost grainy voice, an instantly recognizable voice.
What struck me most about Mac was his professionalism. Mac looked like that heroic soldier that we all aspire to be. Strong, agile, smart, handsome, and tough. When he spoke of military tactics and training, you listened. There was no doubt in what he had to say.
In short, Mac not only looked the part of a soldier, but lived it. Mac had been to Afghanistan before, with the 10th mountain division.He often talked about a friend (whom he referred to as his “brother”) who was killed there.
I trusted Mac. I felt that he was always someone that would be straight with me and someone that I could count on. In the end, it was always so. When he talked about some of the things he’d been through, I listened, especially when it came to losing a soldier or a friend. It was a fear I had never had to face, as my prior deployment I was just a joe, in charge of no one but myself. Now, I was a leader and I had soldiers to worry about.
The irony would end up being that his own advice would come back to haunt me.
When we were finally deployed and running missions for our respective PSD’s, I would see less and less of Mac. However, anytime our paths crossed, usually on mission, I would always feel that I was in the presence of someone special.
Mac was like the cool/bad kid on the block. He had that edge. He was that guy you wanted to think that you were cool and to hang out with. You were careful what you said around him and sometimes tried too much to try and get into his circle. You wanted Mac to like you, if even just to grab onto some of his charm.
During his time in Iraq, Mac met and fell for a female interpreter at his FOB (Forward Operating Base). He showed me a letter she had written him and she was clearly smitten with him.
Mac talked about going on leave with her and taking it to the next level. He had already gotten in trouble for seeing this girl. He was reprimanded and basically forced to not see her anymore. But, in true Mac form, he never gave up. Mac would sneak off in the darkness and visit with this girl, hiding away from prying eyes and keeping the flame alive.
It was true to his spirit. Mac had a lot of heart and a lot of drive. Mac was the embodiment of a free spirit.
What follows is my journal entry, written the day after Mac’s death. Some of the terms may be confusing, as I didn’t explain acronyms and the like to my own journal. I share it for the accuracy of not only the day as I remember it, but also for the truth in my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the loss of a fellow soldier and a friend.
DECEMBER 21, 2006 22:12 Hours
God, a month has disappeared and I’ve written nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true, as I have been working on my memoir, but much has been lost in my experiences here.
Up until yesterday it was very much like Groundhog Day. My biggest concern was getting itunes to work on my computer with wireless Internet.
Yesterday was the shittiest day so far in this deployment. Yesterday many of my fears were realized and I was left with the knowledge I never wanted. Yesterday I learned what it felt like to lose someone you knew…someone you never expected to die.
I have to start from the beginning. It was supposed to be a day off; a day of classes and down-time. Then came the call down from the LTC that we were going to roll to Jurf. A-co had been hit by an IED.
The call came down that there were 3 wounded (in truth it was more). Then, came the news that a soldier was dead from an electrocution on the site. Apparently, the IED had split some electrical wires and the soldier grabbed an ungrounded pole and was shocked.
SPC Dykman was worked on for an hour to revive, but ultimately died. I didn’t know him personally and couldn’t place a face to the name.
We waited all day to finally leave and left around 1600. We arrived at Jurf and the LTC and CSM did their BDA. PJ and I stood there and chatted in the cold. I ran into Carman and Gilbert and talked to them a little. I put my guys in the towers to give the A-co guys some rest.
Then, another call came in. The Scouts were hit, somewhere near BDE’s AO. PJ ran back and forth for the SIPR updates. SSG Gray had been hit with shrapnel in his arm, but was ok. IED on MSR Tampa.
Then, came the news that someone had died in that explosion. I was relieved it wasn’t someone in the 501st. I asked if PJ knew who it was. He didn’t.
We waited for a few more hours, letting the LTC and CSM do their thing and then, finally around 2130, we left. The ride back was uneventful and we pulled back into the FOB.
I had it in my head to smoke Fagan and Cooper, as I had noticed that the windows in the vehicles were dirty on the way out. Little details that could cost a life.
I called them into the office after everyone had downloaded and began conducting vehicle maintenance. I told them to get down and proceeded to lecture them on why they were pushing. I tried to tell them how the little details made the biggest difference.
Then Mike knocked on the door, irritating me. He motioned for PJ. “Hey, can I talk to you for a sec?” PJ walked out, closing the door behind him. I continued to smoke the team leaders, filling them with the fuel I felt they needed to make sure these deficiencies wouldn’t come about again.
Then, the door opened again. PJ stood there, tears in his eyes.
“Hey…Mac. Mac,” he said, then turned away.
“What? Are you serious?” My chest burned. Coop, in his smart ass way, looks to me, “You see those tears in his eyes? He’s serious.”
My contempt towards Coop was short lived.
“Take care of your soldiers,” I said and sent them on their way.
I was in a state of shock. I walked out to PJ. He was shaken and upset.
“Fuck, I’m so pissed,” he said in anger.
And we stood around the office, just staring. We stared and said nothing, not knowing what to say. I’d never encountered anything like this before. I kept picturing Mac, that smile on his face, always so cool and calm.
I had just seen him a few days before, that same smile on his face. He walked into the office and immediately drew two stick figures butt fucking and drew his and PJ’s name on them.
I thought of the letter he had shown me of the interpreter chick he was falling for over at Kalsu. She was head over heels for him. I thought of him sparring with PJ. Showing me his tribal tattoo and talking about what he was gonna have added to it.
I thought, that this was a man, a good man, a friend, that was now gone. And I pictured the rest of the BDE PSD guys and I knew they were hurting. I knew what a tremendous loss this was to them.
PJ was and is beyond upset over this. They were really great friends and sparring partners. CSM Knight gave him a hug and expressed his concern. LTC Balcavage did the same. Although I was visibly upset, they didn’t attempt this with me. It was awkward.
SSG Trampush was there as well and he had tears in his eyes. And then another SSG (I can’t remember his name) showed up. He was looking for PJ like a man on a mission. He walked up to the office and you could tell all he wanted was confirmation. He looked at PJ and then turned away.
He knew and that was enough. We took the next day off and then the air was RED (meaning Medevac status was RED, which means we go NOWHERE). Eventually, we totaled out to nearly four days off, although each day we had something scheduled.
A fog had rolled in and stopped us in our tracks. It was like a strange omen.
Staff Sergeant Jacob McMillan was born on July 14, 1981 in Louisiana. He joined the Army in August 1999 and attended OSUT and Basic Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Here is the epitaph that was written in Mac’s service, both in-country and back home:
Here is the epitaph that was written in Mac’s service, both in-country and back home:
SSG McMillan was reported to 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry at Camp Ederle, Italy in April 2000, where he served as a SAW gunner, RTO, Rifleman, and M240B Gunner. In April 2002 SSG McMillan was reassigned to 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, Fort Drum, New York, where he served as a Team Leader.
SSG McMillan was reassigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Richardson, Alaska in February 2004, where he served as a Squad Leader in Apache Company. In April 2006 SSG McMillan was reassigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, Alaska, where he served as the Personal Security Detachment Section Leader.
SSG McMillan’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Ranger Tab, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Infantry Badge, and Parachutist Badge.