Special Guards for a Special Family
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Apr. 18, 2003 Everything he has learned about the military during his quarter-century in the West Virginia Army National Guard has made 1st Sgt. Dan Little a friend in need and a friend indeed for the family of former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Little is also a first cousin to Gregory Lynch, Jessica's father, and he has been by the family's side ever since they learned March 23 that the young woman was missing in the war zone.
"Greg and I grew up together," Little said. "We hunted and fished and camped and hiked together when we were kids. I just had to help. I was very concerned about Jessie."
The veteran noncommissioned officer lives a dozen miles from the Lynch family's home in Palestine, W.Va. He has helped explain the Army's procedures and terminology to this ordinary American family that found itself at the center of an extraordinary event during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"It's been a lot counseling. The family has asked me what does this or that really mean. This has been my focus ever since that night," explained Little.
He's a full-time Army Guard aviation technical inspector in Parkersburg, as well as the top sergeant for the 66 members of the 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation's Charlie Company in Wheeling, W.Va.
Little has not been alone. Other members of the West Virginia Army Guard have ridden part or all of the emotional roller coaster with the Lynch family. They were on board for the agonizing days of not knowing if Jessica was alive or dead, for the ecstasy of learning she had been rescued and for the joyous reunion at a military hospital in Germany and the return to the good old USA.
They include Maj. Bill Crane, Maj. Mike Cadle, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dana Kees, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bruce Coleman. They have helped the family through its ordeal since Lynch and other members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company were captured or killed by Iraqi forces after taking a wrong turn in southern Iraq that day.
Crane was the notification officer who delivered the chilling message to the family at 11 p.m. March 23: "The secretary of the Army regrets to inform you that your daughter's whereabouts are unknown and that she was last seen in Kuwait."
Cadle is the West Virginia Guard's public affairs officer who helped the family meet the press that came from across the country and around the world. The media quickly discovered the two-story house where the Lynches live on the western edge of West Virginia and when and where they would be in Germany.
Kees, a Guard recruiter, was the casualty assistance officer who made it his business to find out about any new developments involving Jessica and to tell her father, mother, brother and sister if there was anything or nothing new to report.
Coleman, the West Virginia Army Guard's state command sergeant major, was at Fort Bragg, N.C., at the right time to drive Jessica's brother, Pfc. Gregory Lynch Jr., home to Palestine on emergency leave the day or so after his sister was reported to be missing. The brother enlisted in the Army at the same time his sister did and is a helicopter avionics and electronics technician at Fort Bragg.
Cadle and Little flew to Germany with the family on April 5, four days after a U.S. special operations forces rescued the badly injured Lynch from an Iraqi hospital.
The two Guardsmen returned to this country on April 11, the day before Jessica and her family landed at Andrews Air Force Base and were taken to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Little was still with the family at Walter Reed in mid- April when, he explained, Jessica was bravely going through the difficult process of physical rehabilitation, determined to soon walk again on her own.
Many things have impressed the Guard members who, Cadle explained, were pressed into the demanding duty because there are no active Army installations in West Virginia.
"Jessica's father was very stoic when I told the family she was missing. That made it easier for me," recalled Crane upon making his very first notification after undergoing the training about six months earlier. "Her mother knew something was wrong as soon as she opened the door and saw me.
"As concerned as they were about their daughter, her parents never stopped telling people to remember and pray for and support the other service people who had been killed and wounded, and the prisoners of war," Cadle said. "Her father repeated that message during a hundred interviews. They were overjoyed about the rescue of the other POWs."
"The Guard took the point of the spear at the very beginning, and the National Guard family in this state has been phenomenal. Everyone has asked how they can help," Little said.
"Jessie may have gone into the active Army, but the Guard community has taken her as one of their own," he added. "They have already made it very clear that they are waiting to support her when she comes home."
(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office in Arlington, Va.)