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More than a few folks predicted that after the elections there would be a shift in the tone of coverage of the Iraq war. Whatever the reason, credit the NY Times for publishing this profile of an American hero, Sgt Rowe Stayton.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HEADHUNTER, Iraq - Wearing 60 pounds of body armor over his desert camouflage uniform and cradling a black M-4 rifle, Sgt. Rowe Stayton looks every bit the typical Army infantryman in Iraq.
He is not.
An Air Force Academy graduate and former F-15 fighter pilot, then-Major Stayton left the Air National Guard 17 years ago to run his civilian law practice in Denver and rear his six children. But his life changed not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when he enlisted in the Arkansas Army National Guard in what he says was an act of patriotism.
Now Sergeant Stayton, 53, is leading three other soldiers young enough to be his sons on an infantry fire team that regularly runs combat patrols in the Haifa Street section of Baghdad, one of the riskiest missions in the Iraqi capital. More than a third of the 119 soldiers in his Guard unit, Company C of the First Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, have been awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded in action since they arrived here in April.
"That's one club I don't necessarily want to join," said Sergeant Stayton, in full battle gear one recent afternoon while his platoon acted as a quick-response force to back up another unit on patrol.
Pentagon officials have been expressing fear that the sweeping call-up of tens of thousands of Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers for yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may soon cripple recruiting and retention in America's part-time force. But Sergeant Stayton's story echoes those of a small number of other reservists with prior military service who have answered the nation's call to arms.
Military personnel specialists say that his case is unusual in several other ways too: the long gap since his previous service, his willingness to enlist as an Army sergeant after a career as an Air Force officer and fighter pilot and his willingness to volunteer for infantry duty when the Army is searching for every able-bodied foot soldier to battle the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It all raises the question, "Why?" to which Sergeant Stayton smiles and patiently tries to explain, obviously not for the first time.
"This country has been so good to me," he said. "I just have so many things to be grateful for. It's an honor to be here."
Sergeant Stayton is a self-effacing man who initially declined to be interviewed for this article and agreed only after being assured that his fire-team comrades would be included.
For a high-flying aviator, the life of a muddy-boots ground-pounder has been an adjustment. "It's taught me humility," Sergeant Stayton said. "I'm not at the bottom, but I can sure see it."
Then again, there are not many Army sergeants whose college classmates are now senior generals in Washington and in Japan.
Sergeant Stayton graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1973. He rose quickly through the ranks, first as a T-37 instructor and then as a pilot in the first operational F-15 fighter squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
But he said he became disenchanted with the military. It was during the Carter administration, and he was frustrated with cuts in military spending and capability. He left active duty to attend law school in Denver, but remained in the Air National Guard, commuting to a unit in Des Moines for seven years.
In 1987, he decided to leave the Guard. By then he was a major and more promotions seemed likely. But the cold war was winding down, and he had never been deployed overseas, much less seen combat. His family and law practice beckoned.
When the Persian Gulf crisis broke out in 1990, he looked into volunteering, but the war ended before anything came of that.
It was not until the Sept. 11 attacks that he again felt the calling. This time, he said, he was determined to find a combat unit. An Air Force recruiter told him that he had been out too long and had lost his officer's commission. "I was too old to fly anyway," he said.
On a trip to his summer home in Arkansas in 2002, he stopped at an Army National Guard armory in Arkadelphia, where a recruiter listened to Sergeant Stayton's story and promised him a spot if he passed a physical exam. That was easy for Sergeant Stayton, a stocky, muscular man with cropped graying hair. After nearly a year of bureaucratic snarls during which the Guard lost his records twice, Sergeant Stayton finally took his oath of service in June 2003 and reported for two weeks of annual training.
The deployment has taken its toll on his personal and professional life, as it has for many other reservists. His law partner married, and he had to close his practice. "Clients don't really like their lawyer being in Baghdad," he said. (Nonetheless, he has filed two appellate briefs from here.)
Sergeant Stayton sent his 11-year-old son, James, the only one of his children left at home, to live with the boy's mother. He said he regularly called and sent e-mail messages to his son, but had underestimated how difficult his deployment to a combat zone would be on James. Despite the danger and hard stares he and his unit get from many Iraqis in the streets, Sergeant Stayton said he still believed in America's mission in Iraq. "While out on patrol recently, I had an older woman walk alongside me," he said. "She kept her eyes straight ahead so no one could see she was talking to me, and she kept thanking me for being here."
An amazing story. There's a picture of Sgt Stayton on the Time's page, complete with DCU pilot and jump wings.
I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about a "shift in the tone of coverage."
I switched on the radio to see if I could get some news on Falujah at 5 a.m., catching the first broadcast of NPR, the only national news source available.
I't 5:27 a.m. local and they haven't mentioned Falujah at all. There HAS been a good deal of discussion about the sad (?) passing of the terrorist Arafat. Not a word about our Marines and Soldiers (and Iraqui allies) in Falujah. This non-coverage, while devoting half their time to funeral arrangments for the great Palestinial leader who never saw creation of a state for his people (while robbing them blind and terrorizing much of the world for decades) is not what I consider an "improved tone" of coverage.
Sergeant Slayton is clearly a national hero, among many such heroes.
5:30 a.m. local - NPR is again picking up their coverage of the death of Arafat. Still no mention of Fallujah. Disgusting.
2 emails recd. Acct. cancelled so don't bother.
In response to questions no I'm not Jewish but what difference does that make? I remember the Olympics at Munich.
I know a terrorist when I see one.
I do feel especially bad about cluttering up the comments section about a true American hero like Sgt. Slayton. He's obviously one of our many special men and women in uniform.Posted by SteveO at November 11, 2004 02:14 PM
What a sad state of affairs......I am afraid the media have not changed their bias....and perhaps are even less aware!
FOX, NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC.....I checked them all and Arafat is the lead on all....montage prints of the man and scenes from his life....etc.
Meanwhile, not only is Fallujah ongoing, but also today is Veteran's Day 2004....and on the above sites that is ignored.
No honoring of our heroes....but a massive outpouring for this thug and terrorist.
Happy Veterans Day, Sgt. Slayton. Thanks for doing what you believe in.
And Happy Veterans Day to all the rest of you over there doing what you believe in.
Bless you all.Posted by EagleSpeak at November 11, 2004 04:11 PM
Ditto, i.e., Happy Veterans Day to all who served and are serving our country. Thank you for your sacrifice.Posted by Jim NIchols at November 11, 2004 08:23 PM
Great story about a great person. I have a buddy who is a platoon leader in a sister unit, A Co. 1/153 Inf. so I am thinking of the Arkansas Brigade daily. A tip of the hat to Sergeant Slayton, BK and all the men and women serving.Posted by The Opinionator at November 12, 2004 10:01 PM
Sorry, but this man is as much a fanatic as those Iraqis he's sending to Allah's paradise. He should have remained at home, paying taxes with which young Americans could do the job. And here, in Belgium, we are convinced that the war is about oil and nothing else. Not worth dying for...