Less than a week before he died, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chad Caldwell posted a photo on his Facebook page.
It showed him holding his two young children, with the words: “This is the reason I do what I do.”
The decorated soldier, serving his third combat tour, had told family and friends he probably would make the military his career.
On Wednesday the 24-year-old graduate of Cheney High School was killed when a roadside bomb exploded while he was on patrol in Mosul, Iraq. Several other soldiers were injured, according an Army news release.
For those closest to him, Caldwell’s decision in February to re-enlist in the Army was no surprise.
“He told me that he felt he was good at his job, that he was well-trained, and it was the best way he knew to safeguard his family’s future,” his mother, Carol Caldwell, said Saturday.
Caldwell’s body is being returned to Spokane. A military funeral will take place sometime in the coming week, said his wife, Raechel, 25.
“He told me he wanted to move back to the Northwest eventually,” she said by phone from Maumelle, Ark. She and their two sons, Trevor, 4, and Coen, 2, moved to Arkansas last year to be near her family after Caldwell was reassigned from Fort Polk, La., to Fort Hood in Texas.
Raechel Caldwell said she plans to move her children back to Washington state.
After graduating from Cheney High School in 2001, Caldwell joined the Army in 2002. He served two combat tours, the first in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan. In February 2007 he signed up for a third tour, this time back to Iraq.
His squadron, part of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was assigned to reconnaissance duty in an area north of Baghdad known as an al-Qaida stronghold.
In two weeks Caldwell was due to return to Spokane to enjoy a mid-tour visit with his family and friends, his mother said. His younger brother, Justin, and younger sister, Krista, live in Spokane. His father, Mark Caldwell, lives in Hayden Lake.
One of his passions was skateboarding. His mother said he’d told her in recent weeks he was looking forward to teaching his sons to skateboard.
Carol Caldwell said she never pressed her son to leave the Army. “When he asked my opinion on that, I told him, ‘Whatever choice you make I will back you 100 percent.’ ”
At times he discussed starting a business repairing vehicles or joining law enforcement, she added.
“But then he also told me he was going to stay in the Army and make it a career,” she said.
Raechel and Chad met in high school. Both took part-time jobs with a Spokane telemarketing firm, and that’s when their friendship began, Raechel said. “I was too timid to make calls, so he would make calls for me,” she said. They were married in 2002, just before he was sent to basic training.
While deployed overseas, Caldwell made frequent phone calls and used instant messaging to stay close to his family. The night Trevor was born in Deaconess Medical Center, in January 2004, Caldwell called his wife from Baghdad and heard his son’s first loud cry over a cell phone.
In a story on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a military newspaper talked with Caldwell about his two tours in that country. In that March article in Stars and Stripes, Caldwell said his impressions, in 2004, after combat assignments in Baghdad, Kut and Najaf, was that the U.S. Army would remove most of its troops by 2007.
But by 2008 he had changed his mind. The article quoted him saying: “My kids will probably serve over here.”
Caldwell earned two Army Commendation Medals, for saving the life of a pregnant woman found under a pile of bodies after the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in 2003, and for saving the life of his lieutenant colonel caught in gunfire.
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