Soldiers in Iraq mourn captain
BALAD, Iraq — Last Friday, as enemy mortar shells rained down on Forward Operating Base Eagle, Capt. Eric Paliwoda rushed to his mobile trailer to don his gear.
One of nine shells that fell that afternoon sent shrapnel into Paliwoda, snuffing the life out of a company commander described by his troops as a gentle giant who took good care of them.
“He put on a tough persona, but then he’d turn around and tell you a joke,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, 2nd platoon sergeant. “Everybody’s felt a big loss.”
Soldiers from Company B, 4th Engineer Battalion, gathered Wednesday to pay tribute to Paliwoda.
The 1997 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point took command of the company in May. A 28-year-old Connecticut native, Paliwoda was engaged to Wendy Rosen. He is survived by his parents, Alfred and Mary.
He also leaves behind a company of combat engineers who are both saddened by his death and determined to find the enemy fighters responsible for a wave of recent mortar attacks.
The soldiers are getting used to hearing incoming shells.
“You hear a boom, with a sort of crack to it,” said Sgt. Joseph Kokes, 25, of Woodbury, Minn. “If it’s real close, you hear it whistle.”
That afternoon, many soldiers thought the first mortar impact was a controlled detonation of captured explosives, said Cpl. Keoni Escobido, 23, of Honolulu, who was in his trailer playing video games when the attack began.
“When you hear that second blast, you know it’s an attack,” Escobido said. “We grab our gear and run to the tracks.”
Soldiers in Company B are trained to take cover if rounds land close. Then they grab gear, mount vehicles and head out to find their attackers.
During the barrage, flying shrapnel struck Staff Sgt. Todd Moyer as he ran toward his squad, said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith, 37, of Willits, Calif.
Moyer was wounded in the arms and back. He was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he is recovering, Smith said. After the attack, helicopter crews located four Iraqis near where the rounds were fired.
As troops were reeling from the loss, Iraqi insurgents struck again Monday. Thirteen mortar rounds fell on their camp. Working from a local informant, soldiers are holding six more Iraqis who are now being interrogated.
An Iraqi artillery officer is suspected of helping the enemy mortar crews fire effectively, said Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman, commander of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment.
“The last two attacks have been fairly accurate,” Sassaman said, adding that he intends to take out the mortar cell.
Company B is attached to Sassaman’s battalion. Since last April, the company has operated in some of the theater’s toughest areas: Tikrit, Kirkuk, Samarra and Balad. It has done everything from demolishing weapons caches to conducting infantry raids.
This week, Company B engineers were allowed time off from missions as they improve force protection measures around the camp, which they renamed FOB Paliwoda in honor of their fallen commander.
“This has brought everyone closer,” Smith said. “We’ll just keep doing the same things, as a team. We’ll keep going out after them.”
Other 4th ID engineers killed in Iraq
The death of Capt. Eric Paliwoda marks the latest in several casualties among engineers from the 4th Infantry Division.
On Christmas Eve, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb beside Maj. Chris Splinter’s Humvee. Splinter, 42, and Capt. Chris Soelzer, 27, of the 5th Engineer Battalion, were killed in the blast. Sgt. Benjamin Biskie, of Yuma, Ariz., died later of his wounds.
On Dec. 26, Spc. Charles Haight, 23, of the 14th Engineer Battalion, was killed near Ad Duluiyah. He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and a 10-month-old son, Gabriel.
Another 14th Engineer Battalion soldier, Sgt. Kurt Jordan, 25, died Dec. 28 from an unknown health problem. He is survived by his wife, Kim, and two children.
— From staff reports