A senior Army officer who led Stryker soldiers in Iraq and returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to help launch a new division headquarters died this week in a parachute accident at Fort Bragg, N.C., his friends in the military disclosed over social media Tuesday.
Col. Darron Wright died Monday while serving with Fort Bragg’s XVIII Airborne Corps. Army public affairs offices would not confirm his identity Tuesday, but soldiers who knew him openly grieved on public web sites.
“He was an inspirational officer with contagious enthusiasm, motivation and energy,” Col. John Norris, former commander of Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division wrote on Facebook. “Great soldier, leader, mentor, husband, father and very dear friend.”
At Lewis-McChord, Wright served as Norris’ deputy brigade commander on their tour in Iraq and later as the first chief of staff for the reactivated 7th Infantry Division. Wright leaves behind a wife, Wendy, two sons and a daughter. They lived in DuPont, Wash., before he relocated to Fort Bragg this year.
Wright, a 28-year Army veteran from Mesquite, Texas, memorialized his 2009-10 tour with Col. Norris in his memoir, “Iraq Full Circle.” It’s his take on the war as seen his through his three deployments there at the conflict’s beginning, middle and end.
He told The News Tribune earlier this year that he stayed up every night for a year writing because he wanted to tell his story his way. He filled his office at the division headquarters with Iraqi artifacts and mementos from his tours there.
His book shows the evolution of America’s approach to the war from “shock and awe to the last combat patrol,” depicting a forceful invasion in 2003-04, a bloody civil war in 2005-06 and a sophisticated counterinsurgency strategy in 2009-10.
He characterized the military as unprepared for a complicated insurgency after dictator Saddam Hussein’s fall but persistent in learning from mistakes and ultimately successful.
“As a military, our job is done” in Iraq, he said.
By his last tour, he remembered shaking hands with an Iraqi leader he once blamed for targeting American military service members. It was more important to reconcile those wounds than to tear them open again.
“This dude had so much blood on his hands,” he told The News Tribune. “And here I am shaking his hand, breaking bread. That was awkward for me.”
The 4th Brigade is known as the “last combat brigade” to fight in Iraq because the U.S. military formally shifted its priority from fighting insurgents to advising Iraqi troops when the Lewis-McChord Stryker soldiers left the country in August 2010.
His last Stryker convoy out of Baghdad to the Iraqi border became known as the “last combat patrol.” He lit up a cigar when he crossed into Kuwaiti territory.
“It was a proud day for me and all of us,” he wrote. “I was just glad it was over.”
He was quick to share credit for Army accomplishments in his units. His book includes a five-page appendix listing the names of "heroes" he knew on his deployments.
The last pages of his book show that he was looking forward to winding down his Army career and spending more time with his family. He wrote that he wanted to support Wendy in her military career, watch his eldest son graduate from college, guide his daughter through high school and mentor his youngest son.
“That’s all I can do: ensure that he never takes for granted one breath of precious freedom that so many have fought and died to preserve,” Wright wrote.