Earlier this week, an officer I served with e-mailed me from Iraq to tell me about a memorial service he attended for Pvt. Jesse Halling of the 401st Military Police Company from Fort Hood. My old unit, the 4th MP Company, sits next to the 401st MP Company on Fort Hood. We used to do PT with the MPs from that unit, or challenge them to contests in sports or marksmanship. My friend's words from the desert really struck me; much more so than accounts of other deaths from the war:
". . . 720th MP BN had an MP killed at a local police station in an RPG & small arms attack. Memorial service was last night. Well done but do not want to do that again. Never seen so many officers, NCOs, & soldiers crying and hugging in my life. The kid was only 19. Way too young. Truly died a hero as he was trying to repel an attack and was in front of others who came out of the MP station to return fire."Today, the Washington Post reports on the gallant actions of Pvt. Jesse Halling, who died while protecting his buddies. What strikes me is that Pvt. Halling acted reflexively to an enormously dangerous situation, despite his youth and inexperience. He was just 19 -- little more than a year out of high school, with only basic training under his belt -- not some crusty old infantry sergeant. Yet he knew instinctively what had to be done, and he did it in the face of enemy fire to save his buddies. Pvt. Halling was truly one of America's finest sons, and I mourn his loss.
Around 2 a.m., the attack started with sporadic but accurate small-arms fire. Pop. Then silence. Then another crack of rifle. Then nothing but dogs howling.The paper reported that Pvt. Halling was posthumously promoted to Private First Class and awarded the Purple Heart. He has also been recommended by his commander for the Silver Star, America's third-highest award for valor under fire. The men in Pvt. Halling's unit have returned to their mission, although they remain shaken by the loss of their comrade.
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"We were at the police station and there was a call to respond and Halling's team went out from the station and immediately started taking small-arms fire," said Staff Sgt. James Ferguson, the leader of Halling's squad.
At first, rifle shots from the Iraqis were focused on the operations center, which was protected by a wall of sand barricades and concertina wire, as well as an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Then the CMOC was targeted. The Iraqi attackers seemed to be drawing the soldiers onto the street. "And it wasn't sporadic anymore," Ferguson said.
Suddenly, the Iraqis fired rocket-propelled grenades, lethal missiles designed to splinter into shrapnel fragments after detonation. Their aim was true, the soldiers said; the assailants knew what they were doing.
As Halling swung out onto the street, "it was a full-out firefight from both sides," Ferguson said. Tracer fire, sound of big guns emptying, lights and screaming.
Halling was the gunner in a three-man team of MPs, meaning he sat up in the turret of the Humvee, while the driver, Pfc. Ronald Glass, and the team leader, Sgt. Angel Cedeño, sat below. Glass said that Halling was hammering away with his .50-caliber machine gun. Big gouges remain along the rooftops hit by Halling's fire.
Just north of the CMOC, Halling was reloading his machine gun and squeezing off rounds from his M-16 rifle. All the while, he was telling Cedeño and Glass where targets were, and also telling them to watch out, to get down, Glass recalled.
Cedeño told the other soldiers later that Halling, by remaining at his post, had saved his life. He never came down from the turret, seeking shelter in the relative protection of the Humvee, as many soldiers might have done.
From one of the roofs, a rocket-propelled grenade struck Halling's Humvee. The round detonated, and a hot chunk of shrapnel tore through Halling's jaw.
Someone was shouting: "He's hit! He's hit!"
It was an ugly, mortal wound. Halling was treated in the field. A soldier from the CMOC said he thought Halling was choking on his own blood from the face wound. He was helicoptered to a hospital but did not make it.
"He never gave up; that's what you should put in the paper," Ferguson said.