Paul Raggio | Ordinary Americans, Amazing Deeds

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Ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things: We have an obligation and duty to remember them!

It was a gorgeous spring day. The smell of bacon, biscuits and coffee were in the morning air. Men stirred, causing equipment to clang. Commands were barked out. Soldiers, still tired from the long march the day before, were slowly assembling with their muskets and pistols and securing ball ammunition and powder. 

The officers were huddled going over battle plans. Plans that were fairly straightforward…move to contact, hold key terrain at all costs, find and exploit the enemy’s seams, then close on the enemy and if ammunition runs out, fix bayonets, charge and engage in hand-to-hand combat to secure the day’s objectives. The sergeants were bucking their troops up and maneuvering them into position. The officers and sergeants knew what was coming but blocked the images from their minds. Images and sounds imprinted and lived over and over, until that’s all they experienced whether asleep or awake. They felt deep down that this battle was the turning point in the war.

Soldiers, anxious and uncertain of their fate, responded lethargically to the sergeants’ commands. Their minds drifted to family, friends and home, joys of past and dreams of future. They blocked out any thoughts about what was in front of them. Instead they eyed their battle buddies who served as their constellation of courage and pride, knowing their life depended on the performance of those around them. The waiting was the hardest part. You could hear and see distant movement. You constantly looked for cover and did what you could to conceal yourself. Men often searched for and found God in moments like this, asking why He had forsaken them, then surrendering to His will.

The cannons’ booms rang out, iron tubes spitting out round after round of canister shot. A relatively new and highly lethal ammunition that spewed hundreds of pieces of small lead and iron balls through the air, ripping their intended human targets to shreds. Attrition warfare for the last hundreds of years was how battles were won…kill or maim more of the enemy than what the enemy could kill of you. This is what the officers and sergeants knew, that soon the green pasture would be littered with dead, bodies frozen in time, dreams crushed, and the horrific sounds and images of war imprinted on their memories, forever.

Memorial Day saw its beginnings shortly after the end of the Civil War. The war ended in spring 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history. About 5.5 million troops served in the Civil War, of whom 620,000 perished on our nation’s soil. Numbers so large, it’s hard for us to imagine such death today. Too often we lose sight of the importance of this day. It’s dubbed the official start of the summer season by many. Memorial Day sales are constantly streamed in media weeks before and after this solemn day. For a soldier, airman, seaman, Marine, or coast guardsman, one of our greatest fears is dying for our country and being forgotten. A death, freely given to protect our country’s liberties and freedoms. Ordinary Americans, doing extraordinary things; we have an obligation and duty to remember them.  

Kim Orlando was his name. He was my operations officer when I commanded the 16th Military Police Brigade, Airborne, the only paratrooper MP brigade in the Army. He enlisted in the Army as a military policeman in 1982 and was commissioned at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1986. He served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and thereafter rose quickly to the rank of lieutenant colonel. 

Kim was the best of the best and was selected to lead the 716th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, into battle in Iraq. The battalion comprised no fewer than 400 soldiers, and Kim made it a point to learn the name of each one. His soldiers and his family were paramount to Kim. When not on duty, he spent as much time as possible with his wife, Sherry, and his two teenage sons, Gregory and Jason.

It happened on Oct. 16, 2003. Kim was killed in Karbala, Iraq, while attempting to negotiate with armed men who were congregating on a road near a mosque after curfew. As a military police battalion commander, he understood the dangers of military operations in urban terrain. He knew where the most danger potentially would be on the night of Oct. 16, and that was where he was. As ground forces often have to do, he was eyeball-to-eyeball with bad people, displaying the unrelenting determination and absolute resolve of the American soldier and this country’s commitment to the global war on terrorism. The firefight was brutal and intense. As of that date, Kim had the distinction of being the highest-ranking Army officer killed in hostile fire in Iraq. 

Lt. Col. Kim Orlando was laid to rest where he had told his wife he always wanted to be buried, among the rows and rows of soldiers interred at the Veterans’ National Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. In typical 101st Airborne Division fashion, the Screaming Eagles pulled out all the plugs at his funeral to honor a great soldier, leader, husband and father of two. Comrades, just as I do, remembered Kim as never hesitating to lead his soldiers personally, upfront, whether on a 5-mile run in below-freezing temperatures, jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft with troops in tow, or on patrols in the streets of Karbala. Kim, 43, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Kim truly was an ordinary American doing extraordinary things. We have an obligation and duty to remember him!

There are thousands of accounts such as this that cross the four centuries of wars our country has fought. We know the soldiers, airmen, seamen, marines, and coastguardsmen. They’re our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends…and fellow countrymen. These fallen warriors truly represent the demographics of our country, all races, all genders, all ethnicities, all religions, and all defenders of our nation and the democratic values our great republic stands for. 

We have an obligation and duty to remember the sacrifice these ordinary Americans made, doing extraordinary things. So when our nation’s flag is raised or taps is played, and we sing the national anthem or recite the pledge of allegiance while rendering a salute or with palm over heart, we must remember those who gave their life to preserve ours while living in this great country, the United States of America. The price they paid in blood, spilled for our freedom, must never be forgotten! 

Paul Raggio is a Valencia resident.

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