Camp Black Jack honors two fallen soldiers
CAMP BLACK JACK, Iraq — It never gets any easier to say goodbye to fallen soldiers.
“I hope it never does,” Lt. Col. Christopher W. Martin, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 91st Engineer Battalion, said at a memorial Wednesday for Spc. Ervin Caradine Jr. and Pvt. Jeremy L. Drexler, both assigned to 3rd Platoon, Company B.
But Wednesday’s somber ceremony — attended by the 1st Cav’s commander Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the 2nd Brigade commander Col. Michael Formica, and about 200 soldiers — was tempered by reminiscences of two worthy lives, and by a break in the hunt for the pair’s killers.
As part of his remarks, Martin said that Tuesday night, soldiers from Company B arrested five suspects who reportedly had bragged at a mosque about killing U.S. soldiers.
Caradine, 33, of Memphis, Tenn., and Drexler, 23, of Topeka, Kan., died Sunday morning when their patrol was attacked in the Ghazelia section of northwest Baghdad. They were on patrol when hit by a Claymore-type device with about 100 pounds of explosives, packed with ball bearings for maximum killing power, Martin said.
That attack, which also wounded two 91st soldiers and two members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, killed two hard-working, fun-loving men, their comrades said.
“I could go on for hours about Drexler,” said his friend for 14 months, Sgt. Jesse Jackson, 30, of New Jersey, in his eulogy. Drexler was comical and enthusiastic, a guy always up to “Jim Carrey-type antics. He could make you laugh even when you weren’t in the mood,” Jackson said.
“I called him my son, and he always said, ‘Roger that!’ He used to say, ‘Did you forget to give me my allowance, Dad?’ And I’d say, ‘You get it on the 15th of the month!’ ” — soldiers’ payday.
In an interview after the memorial, Jackson added that he hopes Drexler is remembered as a fearless soldier who knew the risks: “He was never afraid. He was never afraid of accomplishing the mission.”
Drexler was one of the hardest working people in the platoon, while Caradine was one of the most fun-loving, said Capt. Mike Rainey, a 91st Engineers company commander.
During their 18-month friendship, Sgt. Damion Lawson of Company C, 91st Engineers said he knew Caradine to be a soldier who liked to do things his way.
“If he were here right now, he’d probably be saying, ‘You’re not doing it right!’” said Lawson, 33, from New York City.
“He’s probably arguing with the Lord above about how things should be done.”
In a post-memorial interview, Lawson added that Caradine was passionate about everything he did. “Everyone loved him,” he said. “Just everyone around him would tell you that.”
Other soldiers and officers described a man with a big smile and a big heart.
Even after 15 rocket-propelled grenade attacks on the company in two days, Caradine was still worried that the children wouldn’t wave to him up in his gunner’s turret, Rainey said.
“He was concerned attacks would tear down the relations the soldiers in my company had worked so hard to build,” Rainey said.
Caradine, a combat engineer, is survived by his wife, Montessia, and four children. Drexler, a combat engineer and sapper, is survived by his parents, Karl and Debra Drexler, of Topeka, Kan., and two brothers.
Rainey said the soldiers’ legacy is that both “loved other soldiers like they loved themselves. And that’s the greatest accomplishment any person can achieve.”