STOCKTON, IL, USA U.S. Army SGT, COMPANY B, 1ST BATTALION, 30TH INFANTRY, 2 BCT, FORT STEWART, GA ARAB JABOUR, IRAQ 08/11/2007
Delivered on the floor of the United States Senate
Dear Senator Durbin: My name is Benjamin Kim, and I am assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division as an infantry officer. By the time you receive this letter it will have been a number of weeks since you came to Iraq and visited my unit. If you recall, you came to Patrol Base Murray in southeast Baghdad near a village called Arab Jabour, and you met some soldiers from Illinois serving here. One of these soldiers was a man named SGT Andrew Lancaster, and he was a squad leader in my platoon. He was killed in action on 11 August 2007, and as I write this letter, he and the bodies of four other soldiers who died with him that day are being prepared for transportation back to the United States.
The purpose of this letter is not to seek any political action. Nor is it to recount the grizzly details that resulted in the untimely deaths of five of my finest soldiers and subordinate leaders. I do not seek to achieve anything, except perhaps to communicate to you my boundless respect for the men who serve with me in this remote corner of the world. I will probably never meet you, and I shall make no plans to do so, but I find it oddly therapeutic to write to a man of your station and rank in an earnest and sincere manner. Whether you personally read this letter or not is irrelevant; as I write this I am finding temporary reprieve from my sorrow.
Andrew Lancaster was the iconic “Man of the Midwest.” He was a pragmatist and he valued common sense and integrity as two of the most important traits a leader should have. He was straightforward with everything he said, and he was never afraid to speak his mind on issues that mattered to him. And yet, despite any of the pressures and frustrations that encumber a leader in combat, he kept his head cool and his professionalism was always above reproach.
He relentlessly pursued our elusive enemy with an intellect that any general would envy. There were countless times where he and I, and other leaders of the platoon, would discuss various tactics and methods we should apply in our mission, and more often than not we found ourselves listening attentively to his analysis of the situation.
He was also compassionate. In one instance, he spearheaded a platoon-level effort to capture a man who we suspected to be an IED emplacer and a high ranking insurgent in our area of operations. When we finally caught him, the insurgent knew he’d be going away for a long time. Caster, as we called him, gave him a final opportunity to kiss his family goodbye.
He was a soldier of the highest caliber, and yet his humility offered a pleasing contrast to his confidence in his own abilities. For all the times he furthered the interests of our platoon, I wanted to nominate him for a bronze star with a V-Device. His response was always the same—“I don’t really care about awards. I just want all of us to go home alive and intact when these 15 months end.” He was posthumously awarded his bronze star along with a purple heart; nevertheless, how ironic it is that the true heroes never want to claim themselves as such. In his personal life, “Caster was strongly devoted to his family. He would always sing high praises for his wife and high school sweetheart, Tabbatha; whose outstanding cooking he would attribute both woefully and wistfully the weight gain he experienced a month before deployment. He loved her tremendously, and whenever we weren’t “talking shop” her name was his constant refrain.
He would also speak reverently of his brother. We would listen to his stories about growing up in small town Illinois and laugh with him about all the trouble he and his brother would get into. When he came to my platoon, he welcomed young soldiers who were far from their families to his home frequently, be it for Thanksgiving dinner or for a few beers or a football game. He made our platoon his family, and we will always cherish that bond. I don’t know what I planned to accomplish by writing this. All I know is that this man was like a brother to me, and I feel like I have to memorialize him somehow. He taught me a lot of things that I need to know about being a good platoon leader, and even now his legacy lives on in the soldiers he once led and the outstanding ways in which they conduct themselves.
I hope that I have given you a somewhat accurate picture of the man we loved, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there are no words eloquent enough to describe him. Nevertheless, I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this. Keep fighting the good fight, and we here will do the same.
Senator Durbin continues – In a few minutes, Mr. President, we will start debating the Defense appropriations bill. It is a critically important bill. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I know a lot of the discussion about this bill will be about numbers. This little statement that I have made on the floor, reading into the record the letter of Lieutenant Kim about his fallen sergeant, really takes this discussion and debate way beyond numbers. It reminds us of 3,800 brave soldiers, such as Andy Lancaster, who have given their lives for America, soldiers whose lives continue to be lost every single day that we continue this war.
I stand today in tribute not just to Sergeant Lancaster but to all the men and women who continue to serve us with such honor and dignity. I hope all of us who value and cherish the contributions they make will remember them in our hearts and our prayers and our votes.