Unit remembers dedicated soldier who was killed just before his son's birth

Sgt. John Michael Sullivan, photographed on a bus while his unit was in Kuwait in October before being moved to Baghdad.


By LISA BURGESS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 8, 2007

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Baghdad — On Saturday night, Sgt. John Michael Sullivan should have been busy packing his rucksack, getting ready to see his wife and newborn son back in the States.

Instead, Sullivan, 22, was already home. His body arrived in his hometown of Hixon, Tenn., on Friday, according to KKTV 11, a local news channel.

He was killed on Dec. 30 while on a mission with his platoon in Baghdad.

Back in Colorado Springs, the news of his death sent his wife, Michele, into labor the same night.

She gave birth Dec. 31 to a 6-pound, 9-ounce healthy baby boy.

“When God brings a great man back home, he brings another into the world,” Spc. Joachim Francis, a fellow member of the Bravo Battery “Blacksheep” unit, said during a memorial service on Saturday. Both men were with the 17th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo.

Sullivan, a Tennessee native, enlisted in the Army in 2003 as a field artilleryman. His first assignment was at Camp Hovey in South Korea.

Just eight months after getting to the peninsula, Sullivan and the Blacksheep were deployed to Iraq, where he spent a year in Ramadi.

Sullivan was wounded by a roadside bomb during that tour, but decided to skip his Purple Heart ceremony so he could get home as scheduled in August 2005, relatives told the Rocky Mountain (Colo.) News.

Back at the unit’s home base in Fort Carson, Colo., his battery commander, Capt. David Eastburn, chose Sullivan as his driver.

Sullivan, who loved his place on the M119A2 105mm Towed Howitzer, was less than thrilled to be stuck behind the wheel of a Humvee, Eastburn said. But Sullivan took the job, and took good care of his commander.

“That’s the kind of man John was,” Eastburn said. “He might not like the task at hand, but he was going to do it well, and make sure everyone knew they could count on him.”

Sullivan returned with the Blacksheep to Iraq in October, this time to Baghdad. In just three months, he served on more than 50 combat missions as an M240B gunner, driver and rifleman.

The mission that led to Sullivan’s death was at night, in Zafaraniya, a dangerous little neighborhood in southeast Baghdad.

The platoon was hit by two armor-defeating devices by an enemy who fled under the cover of darkness, according to Lt. Col. Wayne Grieme, 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery.

Three soldiers were injured, including Sullivan, Pfc. Chris Heidling and Staff Sgt. Gregory Seymour. Three were rushed to the U.S. base in Rustamiyah, Iraq.

Heidling and Seymour had relatively light wounds. Heidling is back with the Blacksheep on crutches. Seymour is recuperating at the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad and will also return to duty, according to Eastburn.

But Sullivan didn’t make it. He died at Rustamiyah’s aid station.

Back home in Colorado Springs, Sullivan’s wife of just 10 months was days away from her Jan. 10 due date.

The couple had met after Sullivan’s first Iraq deployment and married in April 2006, then repeated the ceremony on July 4, when his parents came to visit.

Sullivan wore tennis shoes to the second party along with a snazzy-looking suit, according to Maj. Jeff Zust, the unit’s chaplain.

The couple planned to name their first child Johnnie Walker, a strong name that would stick in people’s minds, she told KKTV 11.

In Iraq, Sullivan talked about the impending birth with joy.

“He once told me his only wish was to see his unborn son,” Spc. Jeremy Bagwell said during Saturday’s ceremony.

After the child was born, instead of naming him after whiskey, Michele Sullivan named her son after her heart.

She called him John Michael Sullivan, Jr.

Pfc. Philip Bodine, left, 1st Lt. Jonathan Martin, center, and Pfc. Chris Heidling, right, mourn Sgt. John Michael Sullivan during a memorial service Saturday night at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Baghdad, Iraq.