On his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2003, Staff Sgt. Chad Caldwell received two Army Commendation Medals for distinguished service to his country.
His friend and fellow soldier, Staff Sgt. Cullie Torsell, didn’t see Caldwell pull a pregnant woman out the rubble of a bomb blast at the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad, which earned Caldwell his first medal. Torsell was on the other side of the building at the time.
But he remembers well the day Caldwell saved the life of Lt. Col. Mark E. Calvert while serving with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq. Two Commendation Medals were awarded for heroism that day, one to Caldwell and the other to Torsell.
On Saturday, Torsell, now with the 11th Armored Cavalry, based in Fort Irwin, Calif., attended memorial services for Caldwell, a Cheney native who was killed by a roadside bomb while on his third tour of duty in Mosul, Iraq, on April 30.
Torsell recounted the firefight with an economy of language, characteristic of men to whom deeds matter more than words.
Calvert was pinned down by automatic weapons fire from the enemy on the rooftops. Caldwell jumped out of his vehicle and returned fire with his assault rifle, diverting the enemy’s attention from the officer and giving Torsell enough time to get the .50-caliber machine gun “on line.”
Torsell opened fire just as Caldwell’s rifle jammed.
“I guess I can relax now,” Caldwell told his buddy.
“We forced the enemy to dislodge from the rooftops,” Torsell said.
Back then, Caldwell still believed the war in Iraq would end quickly.
Earlier this month, Caldwell told a reporter for the Stars and Stripes, the independent military news source, that he had given up any hope of a quick resolution to the conflict, now entering its sixth year.
“My kids will probably serve over here,” Caldwell told Stars and Stripes.
He expressed the same sentiment to his mother, Carol Caldwell.
“It was his goal to get things done so that wouldn’t have to happen, and to secure a future for his family,” she said.
Her son, who was 24, was buried Saturday at Spokane Memorial Gardens with military honors. Dozens of flags flapped under a steel-gray sky. Rifles fired a salute. A bugle sounded taps.
With more than 200 family and friends in attendance, Maj. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton III, representing the chief of staff and the secretary of the Army, presented flags to Caldwell’s mother, of Spokane; his father, Mark Caldwell, of Hayden Lake, Idaho; and his widow, Rachael Caldwell, of Maumelle, Ark.; “on behalf of a grateful nation.”
In attendance were three members of Caldwell’s regiment, the 3rd Armored Cavalry, based at Fort Hood, Texas, including Chaplain Maj. Paul Dirksmeyer, who presided over services at Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home on North Monroe.
Of Caldwell, Dirksmeyer said, “It is because he was such an extraordinary person that he became such an extraordinary soldier.”
Rachael Caldwell’s father, Jamie Stell, of Arkansas, said his son-in-law was a devoted husband and father to his two sons, Trevor, 4, and Coen, 2, one of whom asked whether his father was skateboarding with God.
“He spent every moment with them as if it were his last,” Stell said.
Caldwell’s coffin was escorted by 3rd Armored Cavalry Staff Sgt. Brian Watson from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Fairchild Air Force Base on Friday. Saturday’s funeral procession to the cemetery was escorted by the Washington State Patrol and accompanied by 56 motorcyclists led by the Inland Northwest Chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders.
The Spokane Veterans Honor Guard was in attendance, and a bagpiper from the Angus Scott Pipe Band, of Spokane, played “Amazing Grace.”
As of Saturday, 4,074 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to the Associated Press.
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