Skip to comments.Hunting missing troops in Iraq
Posted on 10/14/2007 6:00:41 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
BAGHDAD PROVINCE, Iraq -- From a makeshift office at Patrol Base Dragon, Capt. Shane Finn prepares for an air assault mission across the Euphrates River. "Everything, every conversation with locals and sheiks, is about gathering intel to get the soldiers home," said Finn, 31, of the Army's 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum. He's referring to two men from his unit who have been missing since May 12, when it's believed they were captured by al-Qaeda.
Working from a base converted from an abandoned Russian power plant in southern Baghdad Province, Finn's unit is planning to raid the house of a suspected al-Qaeda leader whose capture military commanders hope could lead to the missing Americans.
Getting the soldiers back is a high priority for the brigade, which is scheduled to return home in November. Finn, who is wrapping up his second deployment to Iraq, has family in the Capital Region.
Finn's office is a sparsely furnished room made of plywood, adorned with maps of this Sunni-dominated rural area. On Finn's desk are stacks of counter-insurgency books and a couple of computer monitors with a screen-saver of his wife, Gina, and their dog, Scout.
In the corner is a small cot where he sleeps for a few hours through booming artillery fire, the pounding thump of helicopter rotors and the whine of power tools being used to convert the plant into something habitable for the soldiers and their equipment.
"He's an extremely talented officer, one of our stronger captains," Maj. Robert Griggs said. "He knows when to fight and when to talk. That's the key to success."
Finn -- whose brother and sister-in-law, Ryan and Megan Finn, live in Albany -- always wanted to be a soldier. Growing up in Clinton, Oneida County, his curiosity was first piqued by his grandfather, who served during World War II on Iwo Jima. Finn got his first military uniform at age 2 and a GI Joe action figure with every accessory soon afterward.
At 21, with a history degree from Providence College in Rhode Island, Finn joined the Army as a second lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He met his wife, Gina, in Austin and the couple married in September 2001. A year later, after a tour in Korea, Finn, by then a captain, deployed with the 10th Mountain Division to Iraq, where he helped develop operations for the brigade.
He is currently a company commander, responsible for the lives of 130 soldiers. When he deployed for a second time, in 2006, he knew what to expect, his wife said.
"He knew when he deployed that he would lose guys," his wife said. "That was the hardest thing he knew he'd have to deal with."
Among those lost in battle were Spc. Ryan Bishop, 32, who was killed by a roadside bomb. Six days later, Cpl. Ray Bevel, 22, died when he stepped on a booby trap. A month later, four U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi soldier were killed in an al-Qaeda ambush.
Spc. Alex Jimenez, Pvt. Byron Fouty and Pfc. Joseph Anzack were captured. Anzack was later found dead. And before Finn had time to come to terms with these losses, his close friend Sgt. Nathan Barnes, 23, was killed.
Barnes, a radio operator, was about to return fire at insurgents who opened up as the soldiers' helicopter landed during a raid.
"For 19 months, he was walking next to me with the radio, cracking jokes," said Finn, who said he held the dying Barnes moments after he was shot. "Part of me died when he died."
Responsibility has matured Finn. He said the losses made him more tolerant, less impulsive and less apt to judge.
He uses fear to stay alert and considers every day "a good day over here when you don't lose a soldier." The former altar boy and lapsed Catholic who said he now has his "own thing going on with God" always wears his scapular and his grandfather's St. Christopher medal in combat. With only e-mail and two 20-minute phone calls a week, his wife can offer little comfort. Still, she does what she can by being positive and taking care of herself so her husband can focus on his job and those under his command.
"He needs (work) to be his first priority because I want him to come home alive," Gina Finn said.
When the soldiers first arrived in southern Baghdad Province, Finn led his company on a combat push through roads riddled with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and booby-trapped houses. Finn said many of the locals, looking for a way to provide for their families, had been paid by al-Qaeda to plant the bombs.
But there were also reasons to be optimistic.
Local sheiks -- apparently impressed by the progress made by tribes that had fought off al-Qaeda in Anbar Province -- began to report weapons caches and insurgents to the U.S. troops and within months organized themselves as a security force, re-establishing local government and reopening markets.
Finn estimates he spends 80 percent of his time trying to form alliances with former enemies to bring them back into the process. He jokes that there won't be a "Finn's Guide to Counter-Insurgency" on the bookshelves anytime soon, but he has produced results by deftly switching between combat and politics.
He says his commitment to a stable Iraq is unwavering and focusing on the big picture helps him make sense of the loss of lives. He doesn't believe any one patrol is worth the life of one of his soldiers, but, added up, the overall mission is worth it.
Finn said his commitment to the fight against terrorism began on Sept. 11, 2001, when his cousin, firefighter George Cain, was killed at the World Trade Center.
"I don't know about WMDs and Iraq and 9/11, but bad people are here today and U.S. security is in danger," he said. "I don't want to see IEDs on I-95 and if we don't stop al-Qaeda's influence in the Middle East, we will."
He said he wants to one day see a functioning local government in Iraq and a thriving economy. But he realizes both will take time.
Finn says he would stay in Iraq if he didn't have Gina. While he's deployed he's focused on helping the Iraqis get rid of al-Qaeda and back on their feet. Recently, he met with three Sunni sheiks to work on local problems like water filtration and medical care.
The next day, he led a platoon on a 2 a.m. air assault of an al-Qaeda leader's house, followed by a grueling 20-hour search operation in 120 heat into a tribal area west of the Euphrates.
The al-Qaeda leader they were looking for disappeared before the helicopters landed, but Finn found a local sheik and uncovered intelligence that may help find the missing Jimenez and Fouty.
Work to get all the missing troops back, including the one in my tag line.
What happened to the tag line?
Anyway remember Matt Maupin too.
NBC news showed scores of terrorists (murderers of Iraqis
and Americans) in jails. They are heroes to NBC (who gave
them their own puff piece).
Decimate them. Each day. Until all taken are returned.
Tag line reinstatement. I don’t know where it went. I did not remove it, it has been there for the last couple of years and then poof it was gone
Sorry. I borrowed it for a few minutes while you weren’t looking. I’ll brng it back tomorrow.