Camp Liberty soldiers hit hard by friends’ deaths
Stars and Stripes August 31, 2006
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — Spc. Kenneth Cross was a tall, lanky 21-year-old soldier who dreamed of getting out of the Army and starting a family with his young bride.
Pfc. Daniel Dolan, 19, loved apple-flavored chewing tobacco and talked incessantly of his snowboarding exploits and what he described as “the only girlfriend I need”: his Subaru STi sports car.
On Sunday, both were killed in a complex, coordinated attack in northwestern Baghdad.
They were members of 3rd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a Fort Lewis, Wash.-based part of the 2nd Infantry Division. According to Army records, Cross was a native of Superior, Wis.; Dolan was from Roy, Utah.
Both were posthumously promoted — Cross to corporal, Dolan to specialist. They were the first casualties for the battalion since it arrived in Iraq in early August to participate in Operation Together Forward, a mission to reduce sectarian violence in Baghdad.
For soldiers in Cross and Dolan’s platoon, the pain was still fresh Wednesday as they spoke of their friends. For some, the pain was more than emotional: seven soldiers were wounded in Sunday’s attack, which included two roadside bombs, several incidences of gunfire, and a mortar attack.
Cross and Dolan’s Stryker vehicle was destroyed by the first roadside bomb. The explosion killed Cross instantly and wounded Dolan, who died hours later at a military hospital in Baghdad.
Their friends struggled Wednesday to describe the two men, with whom they shared two large, crammed, messy tents on Camp Liberty.
“Cross looked like Napoleon Dynamite,” said Spc. Greg Sbaldigi, 20, referring to the awkward, moon-boot wearing character in the film of the same name.
The shorter, red-headed Dolan, he said, “looked like a little leprechaun.”
Dolan, according to his friends, was the goofy one — he once performed a rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot” in front of his platoon — whereas Cross was the laid-back, relaxed one. Both men, friends said, were extremely serious about their jobs: Dolan drove the Stryker and Cross was a vehicle commander.
“They were both very reliable,” said platoon leader 1st Lt. Andy Moffit, 27.
“Cross knew everything about a Stryker there was to know,” said Spc. Greg Miller, 19, adding that Cross would spend his free time reading notoriously boring Army technical manuals.
But he had a lively side, too: Friends recounted a song they wrote for Cross.
“Crossfire,” wailed Sbaldigi, “he’s a danger driver. Crossfire, he’s a woman’s desire.”
Dolan, who was new to the platoon, was teased for his fashion choices and his iPod full of hard rock.
“Dolan was somewhat of a pretty boy,” Miller said. “We always used to make fun of him because he had a pink shirt.”
He also was teased for the fancy gadgets and Under Armour gear he wore with his uniform.
“He went out and spent $400 on his kit,” Sbaldigi said. “We called him Delta Dan.”
Cross was not spared teasing, either.
“The greatest thing about Cross is he’d show up to work with gel in his hair,” said Spc. Michael Head, 20, Cross’ former roommate. “And cologne on, too.”
“He thought it looked good,” Sbaldigi added with a laugh. “Everybody made fun of him for his hair.”
Men in the platoon also fondly remembered Cross’ tattoo, which featured the battalion’s unofficial motto: “Protect the innocent, punish the deserving.”
Just days after the incident, the thought of retribution and punishment loomed large on the men’s minds as they prepared to go on their first mission outside the wire since the incident.
Head, who sustained head injuries in the attack, professed anger and frustration.
“Why us?” he said. “We came here to help. It seems they just get madder.”
When asked what they would have told their buddies if they had the chance, all said they wished for one more chance to tell their friends they loved them. Sbaldigi said he had the opportunity to do so, as he knelt over Dolan at the scene of the attack.
“That’s the last thing I told Dolan before I left him,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “I said, ‘Man, look at me! [Expletive] look at me! I love you, man!’ ”
“I’d have said it to Cross, too,” he added.