In remembrance of a defining night
Sgt. Cedric “Ced” Caldwell’s laugh was hearty and contagious. Rarely solemn, you could always count on him to make you smile, laugh and even criticize you, but do it in a way that made you laugh. He was a very easy person to like, and everyone did.
In Iraq in 2006, he showed me what it was like to be a true hero, to put everything about yourself aside and without a thought of one’s own safety, jump straight in to hell’s fire. He was the gunner of the lead vehicle his job was to defend against any threat that was attempted from the front of the convoy.
The night was dark and moonless when the convoy left logistical support area (LSA) Anaconda to deliver supplies to forward observation base (FOB) Spiecher. One by one the trucks turned on a road they would never forget.
Shortly after the last vehicle called up to the Convoy Commander (CC) that all the vehicles have made the turn, the CC informs us of the latest Intel on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) he had just received.
Before he could finish his over-the-air briefing, worst fears came to light. The lead vehicle was hit by a complex IED.
An ammo can filled with an accelerant and coupled with a small explosive was the first part of the blast. It blew and covered the vehicle in accelerant. Right after, the main blast followed. Like hell opening up and throwing its fury upon the vehicle, the blast knocked the armored vehicle on its side, its momentum causing it to slide on its side down the road. The blast ignited the accelerant and the armor of the vehicle started to melt.
After the vehicle hit and started to slide, Caldwell was knocked unconscious. He came to 15 seconds later to the driver and the Truck Commander (TC) screaming. Semi-conscious and badly injured with chunks of metal in both of his thighs, he drags the TC away from the fiery deathtrap. Still trying to regain his full consciousness, he hears the screams of the driver.
With every muscle he has, he shoves the fear and any self-preserving thoughts out of his mind and runs back and runs back to once again battle the fiery Phoenix that has captured his comrade.
He grabs the driver by the bullet proof vest he was wearing and drags him out. Half of the driver’s body was on fire. Caldwell puts out the fire as fast as he can, but he isn’t out of danger yet.
The rounds in the vehicle start cooking off from the heat of the fire. Caldwell grabs the driver and both of them escape the chaos in a nearby ditch.
The driver starts to mention that that his clothes are uncomfortable and still very hot. So Caldwelltries to unlace the driver’s boots, but many of his laces as well as the fabric have melted fusing different parts of the boot together. He starts to tug on the boot to pull it off and it slides off easily … too easily. The outer layer of skin had melted to the boot and slid off leaving raw open flesh in its place.
Noticing the severity of the driver’s injuries, Caldwell realized that he has to brave the danger once more and get his soldier to the medevac. Lifting him out of the ditch, Caldwell carries the driver to the maintenance vehicle, finally relinquishing the driver to un-injured hands.
He stumbles to the front of the vehicle, finally able to evaluate his own damage. He realizes that it was shock and his own determination to save his comrade that has helped him function at such a high level, until now. He starts to become disoriented.
The CC approaches Caldwell and asks him, “Are you alright? Do you need a medevac?”
Half-conscious Caldwell asks, “How long till we are done?”
“What?” says the CC, confused.
“How far till FOB Spiecher?” says Caldwell nearly falling over.
The CC catches him, “We got a long way. You did good, brother. Let’s get you out of here.”
Another medevac was called and the brave soldiers work was finally done. He was able to rest.
The level of bravery here is unmatched. Sgt Cedric “Ced” Caldwell is a true hero down to his core. He has forever earned my loyalty, my respect and my friendship.