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Screaming Eagles pay last respects to fallen

Screaming Eagles pay last respects to fallen brother
by Pfc. James Matise

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait (Army News Service, March 24, 2003) - The dim dust of the desert settled lightly upon a pair of combat boots this morning. An inverted black rifle stood prone, topped by a camouflage helmet embossed with the black club of the Bastogne Brigade.

A silver set of identification tags hung motionless from the rifle, capturing a glimmer of the morning sun. Upon those tags were etched a name that lay heavy upon the morning haze: Capt. Christopher Seifert, 28 years old, a captain, assistant S2, 1st Brigade headquarters, 101st Airborne Division. The 101st had lost one of its own.

At about 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning, grenade explosions ripped through tents occupied by members of the brigade's headquarters staff. 16 soldiers, most of them officers assigned to the brigade staff, were wounded, according to Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, division commander.

Several soldiers were evacuated to military hospitals, where Seifert later died. Three others underwent surgery, and are in serious but stable condition.

In the midst of making final preparations to move into Iraq, the soldiers of 1st Brigade put the war on hold for a bit this morning at Camp New Jersey, Kuwait, to pay their final respects to the first Screaming Eagle to fall in this campaign.

"I loved Chris Seifert," said Maj. Kyle Warren, brigade S2, Seifert's boss. "He was the awesome soldier that everybody here wanted. He was the soldier you wanted to lead, he was the soldier you wanted to follow."

Seifert was an infantry platoon leader, an Airborne school and Basic Infantryman Course graduate, and later attended the Military Intelligence Advanced Officer's Course. He was a distinguished officer, hard working, and well respected by his superiors and subordinates alike, Warren said.

"He was positive," he said. "He would want us to be at this go ahead and do what we got to do."

The faces on some of the soldiers began to glisten as Warren talked about Seifert's family. His wife, Theresa, and baby boy Benjamin, residents of Clarksville, Tenn., were visiting with relatives in Morrisville, Penn., when they were notified of Chris' death Sunday.

"He had a new baby boy, Benjamin, and anybody would have loved to have a child like that," Warren said. He went on to say when the war is over he will go to talk with Theresa about how she feels and the sacrifice she's made, and he feels confident in her strength to endure.

"When I talk to Terri, I'm sure she'll be the same woman, the great wife that she was when she said that she wanted to be a part of Chris' life," he said. "And I'm sure she'll want to tell her son about his dad. I'm sure she'll want him to be a man like Chris was."

Warren described the emotions churning in his stomach, and how it's good for the soldiers to come together to heal the wounds in their aching hearts.

"The anger of the attack is very real and I want to feel that, and I think we all want to feel that."

A comrade struck down before his time by hostile fire is sobering enough, but what compounds the healing process for the division is the pain of betrayal and disbelief: a fellow soldier of the 101st, attached to a unit at Camp Pennsylvania separate from 1st Brigade, is suspected of carrying out the attack.

"What happened yesterday has affected all of us to some degree, some more than others," said Brigade Chaplain Rodie Lamb, who suffered minor injuries Sunday. "We are trying to figure out why someone from our ranks would commit such acts. Our hearts are troubled, with many unanswered questions."

Lamb read a passage from the Book of John, which reads, "Trust and obey. There is no other way than to trust and obey."

"We do not need to fear or have doubts of faith in uncertain future," Lamb said. "Trust in God and he will give you rest. Remember, we have a rendezvous with destiny."

Col. Frederick B. Hodges, brigade commander, who suffered slight wounds to his arm, stood tall and firm. He told the soldiers how proud he is of how they responded Sunday morning during the attack.

"I saw privates, sergeants and officers responding coolly, efficiently and with speed, as they secured the area, apprehended the attacker, and gained accountability for all of our soldiers, equipment and ammunition," he said. "The circumstances were very difficult, so I could not have been more proud of how each and every one of you responded."

Hodges said Seifert was directly responsible for many integral parts in bringing the brigade to combat readiness since it arrived in Kuwait, and both his skills and personality will be missed.

"I know he's smiling now though, as he sees us prepare to move out on this (ground assault convoy) and start our mission. That's exactly the way he'd want it, and that's the best way we can honor him, by continuing our mission," he said.

Hodges reminded his troops that there will be other hard days ahead, but that they can be endured and will be.

"I am not a cheerleader, but let me tell you this," he said. "There is nothing that can stop a Screaming Eagle."

Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack, brigade command sergeant major, called the soldiers to attention. "Present Arms!" he shouted.

Right hands met foreheads as the soldiers rendered one final courtesy to Capt. Seifert. They stood still, as the brassy tin of the bugle played the somber taps. Three volleys were fired, cracking the relative quietness of the morning.

Officers and enlisted alike exchanged embraces. Soldiers struggled to maintain composure, remaining calm even while tears were spilt for their friend.

Most of the camp has been able to come to terms with grief and shock by now and move on, said Lt. Col. Marcus F. De Oliviera, commander, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment.

Those who were injured in the blast kept their wounds covered and tried not to show any sign of weakness. Most of them showed no sign they were hurt.

"I'm doing okay," Hodges said, rotating his right wrist a bit to show his arm is still functioning. His salute and his handshake are still firm.

The soldiers of Bastogne Brigade left slowly, mustering the raw will to begin a long day's work. They're expected to assemble into a ground assault convoy and prepare to head north for Iraq. Behind them remain Seifert's weapon, his helmet, his boots, and his shining tags, all standing stark against the desert landscape.

(Editor's note: Pfc. James Matise is a journalist with the 101st Airborne Division.)

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