Historic holidays find Crazy Troop thankful for strong community supportThe soldiers of Crazy Troop were undoubtedly a key part of writing America’s final chapter in Iraq. The last Crazy Troop Convoy Escort Team completed its final mission in Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait less than 24 hours before the final American convoy officially ended Operation New Dawn.
By: Sgt. Troy R. Smith from Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, Pine Journal
As this past holiday season approached the Northland, the eyes of the international community descended on the final days of American operations in Iraq. Media reporters from all mediums traveled to several cities housing the last American bases to broadcast stories on the final days of the American effort before becoming history. As part of the effort, politicians were interviewed for their varying opinions on the issue and senior ranking officials were interviewed to remark as to their unit’s role in the closing days of American troops in Iraq.
While the soldiers of Crazy Troop did not receive the media attention, they were undoubtedly a key part of writing America’s final chapter in Iraq. The last Crazy Troop Convoy Escort Team (CET) completed its final mission in Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait less than 24 hours before the final American convoy officially ended Operation New Dawn, transitioning America’s war in Iraq into the annals of American history.
While Crazy Troop did not take the historical footnote as the last convoy out of Iraq, the Cloquet-based soldiers were assigned to command the Brigade’s last CET mission that traveled north of Baghdad. That mission was also the largest mission of the 94th Cavalry’s deployment, encompassing 17 vehicles, more than four times the size of the normal CET mission.
This last Crazy Troop convoy traveled through neighborhoods and areas whose violence once adorned the nightly news in America. These were the same neighborhoods that once erupted into sectarian violence, eventually quelled through the successful U.S. “surge” strategy. In this final night, they were still tense and serious areas as the Cloquet-based soldiers rolled along, protecting their large convoy en route back to Kuwait. The seriousness of the area was compounded by the fact that Camp Victory, the largest American base in Baghdad, had already closed, meaning the Cloquet-based soldiers and their load would have had very few options for a safe haven to maneuver towards, had they fallen to a serious insurgent attack.
On this night, the only help left in Iraq would come from the air, or over three hours away by ground from the south. Fortunately for the Cloquet-based soldiers, the tense looks of war-weary Iraqi locals were the only concern of the night. The Crazy Troop soldiers, themselves weary from the pace of recent operations, crossed over into Kuwait just after 2 a.m. Minnesota time on Dec. 17, ending both their individual and Cloquet’s Crazy Troop’s impact on history during Operation New Dawn.
For many of the troop’s leaders who have served multiple combat tours in Iraq, it was an unreal moment.
“It just seems unreal that the war in Iraq is actually over,” remarked Cloquet native and Staff Sergeant Timothy Schlenvogt, days after commanding this final Crazy Troop mission. Adding to the surreal aspect of the war’s final moments was the suddenness with which America’s operations in Iraq ended.
While the media community repeatedly remarked on the Dec. 31 deadline in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the soldiers secretly knew that the Army planned to deceive the enemy and have all American assets pulled out before Christmas. This plan would then deny the enemy any final plots to cause American casualties. Just about 24 hours after Crazy Troop’s final mission, the final Minnesota Army National Guard convoy crossed into Kuwait around 4 a.m. Minnesota time on Dec. 18. This marked the end of Iraqi operations for all the Minnesota soldiers of the famed “Red Bulls” of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.
As the Cloquet-based soldiers absorbed the moment of their role in this chapter in American history, the holidays seemed to sneak up on them. A Minnesotan cannot be blamed for such an oversight, with the sands and moderate temperatures of Kuwait making a poor excuse for the winter wonderland of a good old fashioned Northland Christmas. For the veterans in the group, it was “another” Christmas in the desert, their past memories helpful to younger soldiers struggling to cope with being far from home during the “most wonderful time of the year.”
For the soldiers of Crazy Troop, the burden of being in the middle of a sandy desert and away from home on Christmas and New Year’s was eased by the overwhelming support the troop received through care packages during the holiday season.
Since Thanksgiving week, the unit had received a steady flow of good, old-fashioned American patriotism as package upon package found its way from the great people of the Northland to the Cloquet-based soldiers in Kuwait. The packages showed the support for their senders and lifted spirits and warmed the hearts of the soldiers who were thankful to have received them.
“I have never seen anything like this” said Private 1st Class Daniel Henagin, a Cloquet resident.
The effort involved scores of businesses, civic groups and patriots from Carlton County, across the Northland, and even greater Minnesota. This “surge” of packages for the Cloquet-based soldiers began with the toiletries and goodies received from Kid’s Corner School Age Daycare of Cloquet. Soon after, the Cloquet-based soldiers found themselves receiving dozens of large boxes from AmericInn Hotels of Proctor and Two Harbors. The unit received so many packages from AmericInn they lost count. These packages were filled to the brim with goods for the troops, including scores of beef sticks from Duluth’s historic Old World Meats. Before these boxes could even be fully distributed came a load of fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory of Duluth. The delicious fudge came as two large boxes each containing 20 pounds of individually wrapped fudge squares. The fudge was a collaborative effort between Rocky Mountain Fudge and the Duluth chapter of Gold Stars Mothers.
The packages kept coming as other organizations took part. One business, with an employee whose brother is deployed with Crazy Troop, held their own event. Allianz Life from the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area only has one soldier connected with Crazy Troop, but it was enough to create a major showing of support. One email asking for permission to put a box in one office quickly spread, and shortly there were enough goods and boxes to send several dozen boxes to the Crazy Troop soldiers. Another well-received effort came from Northland Perkin’s Restaurants, which sent well over 100 metal tins of cookies to Minnesota soldiers in time for the holidays. Crazy Troop was even blessed with a gift from Duluth’s Buffalo Wild Wings, who sent over enough of their famous barbeque sauce to allow the Cloquet-based soldiers to conduct a desert version of the “blazing challenge,” well known at the franchise.
Among all the packages that found their way through the winding Army mail process to the soldiers in Kuwait, the effort from the Best Buy Military Employee Business Network (EBN) stood out. Through this amazing effort, Best Buy and other Minnesota business partners shipped just over 3,300 care packages, one for every Minnesota Guard soldier deployed in combat, which meant one for every Crazy Troop soldier. The packages were filled with food, sets of headphones, newly released movies and games, but the highlight was that each package contained a very nice digital camera for each soldier. Crazy Troop received numerous care packages from local churches and school kids, complete with cards and artwork spreading their Christmas cheer to the Cloquet-based soldiers in the form of wreaths, snowmen and gingerbread houses. Crazy Troop cannot forget various other packages from VFW posts, American Legion posts, and other veterans organizations from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Each of the packages, big and small, was the product of patriotic Minnesotans showing support for their Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers deployed during the holidays, that special time of year when everyone focuses on their families, friends, and those closest to them in their lives – the time of year dedicated to gatherings, celebration, and showing our love for one another through gift giving. Everyone knows what it is like to “miss out” during some aspect of the holidays, whether having to work a late shift or possibly being stuck on business away from home.
That said, very few know the feeling of being in uniform so far from home in a sandy combat zone, thousands of miles from those you care about during the holidays. This feeling is ever more so for those with little children who don’t quite understand why mommy or daddy isn’t there on Christmas morning. To describe the feelings a soldier experiences is difficult, but it is lessened by the presence of their brothers and sisters in arms, their military family, whose presence and camaraderie lifted one another up while so far from home. The care packages brought aid in the same endeavor, thoroughly lifting spirits and warming hearts of soldiers young and old. The care packages made an unbearable time, in an unbearable place, a little bit more bearable.
The men and women of Crazy Troop are ever thankful for all the support they received this past holiday season, and throughout their deployment. The strong community support for the Cloquet-based soldiers is part of what drives them to serve in arms at a time of war – it can be easily said that they wouldn’t have been able to mark their moment in American history without it.