Bomb casualties called inspiration to others
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq — A day after two of their own were killed by an insurgent bomb, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment remembered their fallen comrades.
Capt. Timothy I. McGovern, 28, an Indiana native, and Spc. Brandon W. Smitherman, 21, of Conroe, Texas died Wednesday after their Bradley fighting vehicle ran over a buried roadside bomb in Mosul, northern Iraq’s largest city.
Those they left behind remembered McGovern and Smitherman as two exemplary soldiers and an inspiration to others who never hesitated in the face of the enemy.
McGovern took command of Company E on June 30 from Capt. Tim Hudson, 29, of Philadelphia.
Hudson, who retook command of the company on Thursday, said he and McGovern had known each other for several years and were close friends. Hudson said McGovern wanted nothing more than to be a good leader to his men.
“We both chose to go to El Paso and Fort Bliss, and we both came here for the same reason,” Hudson said. “And that was to come out here and command soldiers in combat.”
Hudson said he commanded Company E for 20 months, and when he turned over the unit to McGovern, he knew he was leaving it in good hands.
“I put my heart and soul into this company,” Hudson said. “And after he took over, Echo Company only got better. They found more IEDs and they killed more enemy.”
Hudson remembered having handpicked Smitherman to be his driver because he was such a squared-away young soldier. At least an hour before any mission, Hudson recalled, Smitherman would have the commander’s vehicle in top shape and ready to go.
“You need a smart, motivated and disciplined soldier to be the commander’s driver,” Hudson said. “He was absolutely the right guy for the job. He was completely on the ball.”
First Lt. Michael Holbrook first met McGovern in July 2006, straight out of the basic officer’s course and Sapper school. McGovern and the other officers in the company immediately began to look after him, Holbrook said.
“They took me under their wing like a little brother,” said Holbrook, 25, of Sacramento, Calif. “He told me there was no greater honor than leading American soldiers in combat. I’m going to remember that until the day I hang up my uniform.”
Everyone called Smitherman “Smitty.” Sgt. Keith Sangster, 29, of Stevensville, Mont., recalled the younger soldier as a “kid who never showed his frustrations.”
“He was always happy and smiling and always messing around with people,” Sangster said. “He was also one of the most physically fit people in our company. He loved going to the gym.”
Sgt. Anthony Barbour, 41, of Newark, N.J., worked with Smitherman from January to June of this year. Barbour was a Bradley gunner. Smitherman was the Bradley’s driver. Barbour said he often treated Smitherman as he would his own son.
He recalled what the younger soldier told him when he volunteered to become the company commander’s driver.
“‘I told the first sergeant I wanted more to do,’” Barbour said, quoting Smitherman. “‘So, I’m here to do whatever I need to do, wherever I need to do it.’ Whatever he needed to do, he did it.”
Barbour, who went on to command his own Bradley, was at the scene Wednesday when Smitherman and McGovern died. After seeing the wreckage, Barbour believes Smitherman deliberately put himself in harm’s way.
“He took the brunt of that blast,” Barbour said. “He put himself in harm’s way to keep others from getting hurt. He would do that. That was Smitty.”
Spc. Uriel Saldivar, 39, from Stockton, Calif., recalled Smitherman as a “very nice person and a very dedicated soldier” who was looking forward to returning home so he could help look after his sister’s new baby.
“I hope to meet his parents in the future and tell them what a good job they did raising their kid,” Saldivar said. “It’s pretty bad to have him gone, but I want his family to know that he really cared a lot for them. We’re going to miss him. We need more soldiers like him.”
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