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Seeing their experiences documented in a new gallery at the 1st Armored Division Museum took Sgt. David Smith, right, and Lt. Col. Brian McKiernan back to their 15 months in Iraq.

Seeing their experiences documented in a new gallery at the 1st Armored Division Museum took Sgt. David Smith, right, and Lt. Col. Brian McKiernan back to their 15 months in Iraq. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Lt. Col. Brian McKiernan and Sgt. David Smith stared at a photo with a time stamp of 2:08 p.m., but no date — a photo that transported them back to 2003 or 2004. They weren’t sure which.

But they were sure it was a hairy day in Baghdad.

“There was an IED attack on a [Shiite] cleric,” said McKiernan, commander of the 1st Armored Division’s 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, based at Idar-Oberstein.

After 1st AD soldiers arrived at the scene, an insurgent ran up and threw a grenade that rolled under a Humvee, McKiernan said. The blast wounded four of his soldiers.

“That’s Haifa Street,” he said, gesturing to the photo of soldiers and reporters converging on a huge cloud of dust and smoke from the explosion. “There was a bad mosque on this side. This square was the center of gravity. This was the heart of our zone.”

“Looking at this,” Smith said, “you feel like you’re right there.”

If a successful museum evokes strong emotions from those who lived the history it documents, then the new Iraq gallery at the 1st Armored Division Museum in Baumholder is an unqualified success.

About 100 soldiers, officers and German invitees toured the modest one-room addition Wednesday, including Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the departing division commander, who led the 1st AD in Iraq. Dempsey and Steve Ruhnke, the museum curator, cut the ribbon on the new gallery just after 1 p.m.

The Operation Iraqi Freedom gallery marks another chapter in the division’s 65-year history. “And this won’t be the last chapter,” Dempsey said in brief opening remarks. “But we can say this chapter is our chapter. This is your chapter.”

Gallery highlights include elaborate graphics recording the division’s reconstruction projects, rare insurgent uniforms and detailed looks at weapons such as homemade bombs.

The early days of the division’s deployment were relatively calm. But the 1st AD had several bad days, and the exhibit documents the worst: April 29, 2004, when a suicide car bomber killed eight soldiers of the 4-27’s Cobra Battery while they pulled security for an operation. The area containing the museum’s collection of tanks and armored vehicles was renamed Cobra Park on Tuesday, in their memory.

In addition, there are two dioramas. In one, a 1st AD soldier in BDUs wearing night-optical devices, or NODs, questions an Iraqi man in a debris and trash-strewn alley. In another, viewers peak through a hole in wall and see a hooded, AK-47-toting insurgent inside a dark, shabby room.

The debris and dangling wires “capture the atmosphere in which these missions take place, hinting at the problems we had,” Dempsey said. ‘Steve did a remarkable job in a limited space.”

As 1st AD soldiers and officers lined up, the memories flowed.

“Sandstorms,” said one soldier, viewing a photo of a soldier caught in an Iraqi brownout. “I remember those.”

The new gallery “is a great snapshot of what our 15 months was like in Iraq,” McKiernan said. “As I look at this, this is what a lot of soldiers experienced on any given day when we were in Baghdad.

“This is something else.”


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