Caleb Cage: Thankful for my heroes
Thanksgiving is a special holiday to all of us. On the fourth Thursday of November, and often for the whole month leading up to it, people around the country gather to celebrate the things that are dear to them, their loved ones, opportunities they may have been given and the many other blessings we may have received in the year before.After a special Thanksgiving on Nov. 25, 2004, I added several amazing people to the list of things that I am thankful for, the heroic young men who I was serving with in Iraq that day.On that particular evening, we celebrated the holiday in our small, makeshift dining facility on our little operating base in Baqubah, Iraq, taking as long of a break from our missions and duties as we could. Like many of the officers and senior enlisted leaders in the battalion, I stood in the serving line scooping out potatoes and gravy to our hungry soldiers who passed through the line for their dinner. We were honored to serve dinner to our soldiers that evening as we always were on such occasions, but during my first deployment, after what we had all recently been through as a platoon, I was particularly thankful for the opportunity.That year our celebration of Thanksgiving came 10 days after one of the most trying days we had had in country to date. Nov. 15 marked the end of the month-long observance of Ramadan as well as our battalion’s ninth month patrolling and securing the city. It also coincided with a large-scale and brutal attack that started early in the morning.That morning, insurgents had taken over city neighborhoods and were attacking coalition convoys and patrols making their way through the neighborhoods. Nearly all of the platoons in our battalion were called out into sector, and my platoon was called in to help clear a neighborhood in the northern part of Baqubah. Upon pulling into the neighborhood we were supposed to patrol, we almost immediately came under attack and had to defeat the immediate threat and then secure our new position. It took most of the morning and early afternoon before it was over, but by then various platoons dispatched that morning had successfully secured the northern Baqubah neighborhood and captured countless weapons caches. Less than an hour after returning to our base, several of our platoons were called back out into the southern half of the city to retake a police station that had also been captured by fighters in our city. We worked with Iraqi Security Forces to retake the police facility that evening, and it was well after dark when we finally got back to our operating base.I was always proud of the way my platoon worked together to provide security for the citizens of Iraq and the city we were responsible for, and of course I remain so to this day. On that long day in November, though, I saw real heroism up close from every one of my guys. They were fearless, focused and determined to do what they had to do and to help watch each other’s backs. In doing so, two soldiers in my platoon, Michael Griffin and Milo Quiroz, were wounded by direct fire. They are still here today because of the actions of their brothers and sisters in arms who made sure that they were taken care of all the way home. It is probably not a coincidence that today both Griffin and Quiroz are working hard to serve their fellow veterans in Chicago and Salt Lake City, respectively. I could list the entire platoon’s individual heroics on that day and others here as well, but the list would be too long.Standing there on Thanksgiving 2004 in a plastic apron with a serving spoon 10 days after that difficult day, I couldn’t have been prouder to serve them a part of their dinner. I am sure that I was not alone on that day to be thankful to be there, thankful to be three-quarters of the way through a difficult deployment, and thankful to be surrounded by a room full of great men. I have thought about the members of my platoon many times since that day, and on every Thanksgiving since I have been thankful for the opportunity to serve with my heroes.• Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.