Face of Defense: Soldier Serves Fourth Deployment With Same Unit
By Army Pfc. Michael Schuch
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq, Sept. 12, 2008 A handful of soldiers can say they have served three or more tours in Iraq. Few can say they served those three tours with the same unit.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Richardson provides security during a June 11, 2008, foot patrol. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Michael Schuch, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Richardson of Palm Springs, Fla., has deployed to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team three times. In his nearly 15-year Army career, he has three deployments to Iraq and a deployment with the Iron Brigade to Kosovo in 1999 as part of Task Force Falcon – all with the same unit.
“We did security patrols in Kosovo. We either went out dismounted or mounted in Humvees in a peace-keeping operation for seven months,” Richardson said.
Following his tour in Kosovo, Richardson returned with the Iron Brigade to the brigade’s home in Baumholder, Germany. For the next several years, Richardson trained with the Iron Brigade – ready to be called upon for the next mission. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was only a matter of time.
In March 2003, the time came.
Richardson was a staff sergeant in charge of a section of Bradley fighting vehicles in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. When then-5th Corps Commander Lt. Gen. William Scott Wallace tasked the division for a mechanized infantry company for his headquarters security force, Richardson’s unit became the first unit in 1st Armored Division to leave its garrisons in Germany and deploy to Kuwait.
In the Kuwaiti heat, the soldiers wore charcoal-lined protective suits and overboots for two weeks as a precaution against possible chemical attack, “which was not a pleasant experience,” Richardson said.
“Our mission was to keep a 360-degree perimeter for the 5th Corps Tactical Army Command to ensure the general was not attacked,” he said. “We were bounding up behind the 3rd Infantry Division, which was moving forward so fast. But we had to keep up with them to ensure the general had communications with them. We finally set up at Baghdad International Airport.”
After Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, the Army’s focus shifted to stability operations and securing the country for the Iraqi population. Richardson’s unit went to Camp Muleskinner in Rustimayah and operated around what are now Combat Outposts Cashe South and North. “We figured we would be in Iraq for around a year based on our orders,” Richardson said.
But the division began a 15-month deployment, which was unprecedented at the time. Richardson and his unit began returning to Germany in March 2004. “As the first unit with boots on the ground in Iraq, we were the first to redeploy back to Germany,” Richardson said. But in April 2004, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia began its uprising, and the 1st Armored Division was extended for 120 days of extensive combat.
“We had already redeployed to Baumholder and gone on our 30-day leave,” Richardson recalled. “I was back in the States when I got a phone call to return to Baumholder in order to deploy back to Iraq. I was disappointed, thinking I had survived Iraq after a long tough year of combat, and now I had to return.”
Richardson deployed with Company C as the master gunner at brigade headquarters. He returned to Baumholder in July and to continue training and improving his own skills and those of the soldiers around him.
“When I got on the plane to return to Baumholder, I said to myself that I never wanted to come back to this place,” Richardson said. He was offered an assignment in the United States, having completed more than a full tour in Germany. But rather than starting fresh with new soldiers in a separate unit, Richardson chose to remain an Iron Brigade soldier.
In November 2005, Richardson and his comrades answered their nation’s call to duty yet again and deployed to Iraq.
“When they say to go, you have to go,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘OK this is the last time.’”
That deployment was different from the first. The Iron Brigade deployed as a separate brigade and not with the 1st Armored Division, and as U.S. Central Command’s theater reserve force, remained in Kuwait for several months before its units deployed to Iraq.
Upon finishing his second tour in Iraq, Richardson returned to his family and started to consider his career options. He decided to start working toward becoming a platoon sergeant. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the chance to lead the command security detail for the brigade’s command sergeant major. Richardson accepted the offer, taking on a new role in the Iron Brigade, and in April, Richardson deployed for his third tour in Iraq.
“This deployment is unique in the fact that I was in the forefront in the first deployment as a Bradley section leader,” he said. “The second deployment, I was the master gunner, a part of the theater reserve, for six months and then moved up to Baghdad to finish the deployment. Now, I have a unique challenge in ensuring that the command sergeant major gets where he needs to go.”
As a soldier who has seen the war in Iraq from its very beginning, Richardson said, he has seen tremendous progress in the last five years.
“It has progressively gotten better each time,” he said. “The Iraqi army seems to have gotten the grasp of what to do and is getting more professional.”
Each day in Iraq, Richardson is tasked with route planning, caring for his soldiers’ physical and mental health, performing pre-combat checks and inspecting all gear and equipment. Then, once out on a patrol, he ensures the security of Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Eyer, Iron Brigade’s command sergeant major.
As Richardson’s team maintains the security of the area, he remains no more than an arm’s length away from Eyer, acting as the last line of defense between him and any threats.
“We roll out five to six times a week,” Richardson said. “Sometimes, the hardest part of the job is just trying to keep up with the sergeant major.”
Richardson will remain in Iraq for the duration of this deployment with the Iron Brigade. Upon his return to Baumholder, he said, he plans to request a continuing position with the brigade, though he expects to be sent back to the United States to continue his Army career.
“I would love to stay if they’d have me,” he said. “My wife is German, and she would love to stay in Germany.”
Until then, Richardson is taking it one day at a time, as he has done on his previous deployments.
“I want to get myself and my guys all back home safely,” he said. “I hope I don’t have to come back, but if ordered, I will and complete the mission.”
(Army Pfc. Michael Schuch serves in the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)