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Military

By Army SSgt. Thomas Greene

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He Wants to Give Something Back
(June 27, 2010)

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Tennessee Army National Guardsman Sgt. 1st Class Mike Weeden of I Troop, (Sweetwater, Tenn.), 2nd Squadron, 278th ACR, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) teaches from notes on the different types of IED's his platoon could encounter during their deployment in Iraq.
Tennessee Army National Guardsman Sgt. 1st Class Mike Weeden of I Troop, (Sweetwater, Tenn.), 2nd Squadron, 278th ACR, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) teaches from notes on the different types of IED's his platoon could encounter during their deployment in Iraq.
 CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION TAJI, Iraq – Sept. 11, 2001, was a day most Americans remember in detail; where they were that morning when they heard the news of a vicious attack that will forever live in their minds.

The initial vagueness of who attacked us and the rising number of victims hung a surreal emotional pall on all of us. It was a monumental day for Americans.

For Sgt. 1st Class Mike Weeden a platoon sergeant with Troop Iron Horse, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, “the attack was a punch in the gut and a wakeup call,” said the former Marine.

Weeden grew up in Orange County, N.Y., farm country. The area lies south of the United States Military Academy at West Point, in a corner where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania come together.

He grew up helping his grandfather on his dairy farm. From a young age through adolescence he progressed upward in the level of difficult tasks and the responsibility of running the farm. By the age of nine, when most kids were playing T-ball, he was operating the farm tractor.

The 38-year-old veteran with a faded New York accent established a
work ethic that taught him to work through difficulty and to conquer challenges.
It undoubtedly prepared him for the U.S. Marine Corps and for multiple deployments to Iraq with the Tennessee Army National Guard.

In his mid teens Weeden and his mother moved to East Tennessee. On graduation from Tellico Plains High School in Tellico, Tenn., he joined the Marines.

As a young Marine he mastered the various small arms and crew served weapons that are the basic tools of the Corps, as well as heavy weapons.

In his first two years as a Marine, Weeden served in a security force guarding special weapons on both land and sea. Afterward, he went to the fleet with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines out of 29 Palms, Calif.

“We traveled a lot. We did a lot of throw the stuff over your back and go,” said Weeden.

Missions took him to Panama, Guam, Okinawa and Norway. He spent three months on border patrol in Arizona and trained for both cold weather and mountain climbing in Bridgeport, Calif.

He learned to use donkeys and pack mules to transport heavy weapons coupled with mountain survival training.

The red headed, ruddy faced sergeant performed “ship to shore” missions at Camp Pendleton, Calif. using hovercraft and “storm the beach” training in Thailand and Hong Kong and along with port calls in Australia.

In ‘92 and ‘93 he trained Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian soldiers following Desert Storm. By ‘95 covert training missions were standard fares including taking air fields in the Philippine Islands while training with Philippine soldiers.

“Most of my training and world situational experience was with the Marine Corps,” he said.

“We were on deployment when Somalia [crisis] hit. We were the first ones to respond to it.”

“We [Marines] evacuated U.S. and Somalia officials and set up a perimeter to stabilize the situation. When our deployment was up we handed it off to another Marine Expeditionary Unit.”
After 911 the former Marine drill instructor and paratrooper tried to rejoin the Marines but were initially denied. The Marines loss was the TNARNG's gain.

“I looked around and at the old unit in Sweetwater, Tenn., not far from where I lived in Athens, Tenn. I joined the unit in July 2002 and have been a part of it since.”

In late 2004, Weeden completed his first deployment to Iraq with the 278th. He was handpicked to be part of 1st Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Mark Harts' personal security detail.

Articulate and soft spoken, Weeden recalled coming through Camp Buehring in Kuwait and getting ready for the trip north into Iraq.

“We came here and added armor to our vehicles. At the time, IED attacks were on the rise and most of our vehicles were soft shelled. We were to convoy into Iraq and we wanted to make sure we were ready. A lot of initiative to add armor came from within our units.”

“Prior to arriving,” he continued, “we were led to believe up armor kits for HMMV's would be here waiting for us.”

Throughout the regiment, soldiers were scavenging at Camp Arifjan, pronounced (air-if-john) and at an army salvage yard here (Kuwait), picking up steel and resources like acetylene tanks for cutting steel.

“A lot of what we did only created a false sense of protection but it eased your mind some that at least you had some additional steel.”

Weeden said Hart used his PSD for all sorts of missions including Quick Reaction Force, a platoon of Soldiers and their equipment prepared to meet any emergency on or off the base.

“We assisted other teams. We escorted the colonel to the other 278th bases north east of Bagdad and along the border with Iran. We took him to meetings in Tikrit and to meet with border guards.”

“We did “snatch and grab” missions of suspected terrorist and we patrolled vast amounts of real estate,” said Weeden.

One mission the veteran vividly recalled was a shootout south of the town of Balad Ruz in a remote canal laced area called Turki village.

On the morning of April 4, 2005, a Military Transition Team, American Soldiers training Iraqi soldiers, led a small company of Iraqi soldiers into an area called Turki, South of the city of Balad Ruz.

The team was looking for a weapons cache based on intelligence from an informant. That afternoon the team ran into a complex attack.

The enemy was dug into the canal system with rocket propelled grenades, several mortars, numerous machine guns and small arms. They had laid out an ambush site with multiple fall-back positions and were engaged and the MITT team was pinned down.

When our QRF arrived we flanked the enemy's left with our-crew served weapons on gun trucks and tried to suppress them. Both U.S. and Iraqi forces had multiple casualties by this point, said Weeden.

Several times during the battle the QRF took so much fire they had to withdraw from the enemy kill zone. The battle continued into the night with Kiowa helicopters providing suppressive fire while Americans conducted eight medevac missions to remove the wounded.

A U.S. Air Force AC 130 Gun Ship was called in to prowl the sky above the battleground, destroying the enemy's vehicles with heavy ordinance and preventing the enemy's escape.

At this point Weeden said the QRF moved forward to engage the enemy. “We took a prisoner who was treated for wounds and evacuated to an American hospital at Balad Air Base, where he refused further treatment and died. This fighter turned out to be an Iraqi policeman who had turned bad.”

“I think when all the bodies were counted, 23 insurgents had been killed including some wounded who escaped in the night but were found dead later in surrounding villages.”

This would be the largest battle any unit of the regiment would fight during the deployment.

When the 278th deployment ended in Nov. ‘05, Weeden stayed in Iraq attached to the 48th Infantry Brigade from the Georgia Army National Guard.

“With the 48th I worked out of FOB Stryker inside the Bagdad International Airport. We would do 12 hours on, 12 hours off. We did route clearance missions with Bradleys. Next we would rotate into QRF”.

He said three towns south of Bagdad were hot and heavy with insurgents. There were lots of fire fights and IEDs as we were trying to push out into remote areas. We were trying to catch bad guys in our up-armored vehicles. “We didn't stand a chance”.

He returned home for three months, and volunteered to go to Ft. Bliss, Texas, and be trained in air defense to prepare for his next assignment.

He deployed back to Iraq in ‘06 and worked in air defense in and around Bagdad.

“Putting the systems in place was the hardest part. Combined with radar from surrounding locations it worked out pretty good.”

“By ‘07 our success rate of being able to track and warn was 85%. We could track small arms and even people hitting golf balls. If an object traveled toward an apex we could track it.”

“We tracked mortars, rockets and even celebratory fire. We got good at distinguishing false threats from real. The system was that good, he said.”

Weeden said he looks forward to his 2010 deployment to Iraq with the 2nd Squadron of the 278th and the U.S. pulling out. “I'm looking forward to seeing the Iraqis finally stepping up and taking control of their country and it means less U.S. personnel on the roads.”

I Troop 1st Sgt. Ronnie Houston of Greeneville, Tenn. said, “Weeden brings so much experience to the table with all his previous deployment experience. He is the real deal, the composite of what a non-commissioned officer should be.”

As for his Iron Horse Troop, he is confident in his platoon and his Troop. The three squad leaders under him are all veterans and he expressed confidence in them as leaders and trainers
“Weeden is thorough; there is no phoniness in him. He won't ask you to do anything he won't do himself,” said Sgt. James Pearce of Spring City, Tenn. and a member of the platoon.

One thing he said he stresses to his subordinates is to try and get them to think like the insurgents, especially as to where they would place roadside bombs or any other method the enemy would use to deliver an explosive to target.

Weeden describes his personal leadership style as hard-nosed and straight to the point.

Weeden said his Troop is tight. The three platoon sergeants are also tight and they work hard to solidify the Army Strong family spirit.

“I can't tell you how many cookouts we had at Camp Shelby during pre mobilization. We cooked chili at the live fire range on a twenty degree day. We made a Wal-Mart run, got what we needed, and as our soldiers came off the firing line they had a hot meal. That's how you create a tight Unit.”

Weeden credits his grandfather who served in the U.S. Army in WWII and again in the Korean War as the father he didn't have growing up. He taught him to work hard, work through difficult things, and refuse to fail.

Weeden plans to stay in the National Guard but when this deployment ends. He said he will put in for a tour to Afghanistan with a National Guard unit, an afterward he wants to attend M2 Bradley Master Gunner School.

The awe and horror of 911 reminded Weeden that he had much to offer and much to give back to his country and he came back in to the TNARNG to teach all he had learned.

He said re-enlisting wasn't an emotional decision. “I learned so much in the Marine Corps and I knew it was my time to give back. It's like a revolving cycle. If you're a father and you have a son you've got to hand off things you learned to him.”

The 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment is under the command of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
By Army SSgt. Thomas Greene
278TH Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard
Copyright 2010

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