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The Dallas Morning News

June 27, 2004, Sunday

Mourning one of their own had to wait for soldiers in firefight


BYLINE: By Ed Timms LENGTH: 967 words BAGHDAD, Iraq _ There was little time to grieve early Saturday, as insurgents pummeled a U.S. patrol in Baghdad's al-Sheik Maruf neighborhood with homemade bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic fire. Soldiers of C "Crazy Wolf" Company pushed back hard, pursuing their attackers in a running gun battle. But one of their own fell early in the fight. Spc. Jeremy Heines, 23, of New Orleans, an affable young man who dreamed of opening a bar and starting a family _ and never grew tired of talking about the wife he adored _ died when a rocket-propelled grenade punched through the windshield of his Humvee. In an instant, their lives changed. All that they would say to Spc. Heines had been said. All that they would experience with him was in the past. But the grieving had to wait until later in the day. "When you're out there on a mission, you don't have time to worry about it then," said Spc. Andrew Busing, 20, of Fairbury, Neb. "You've got to hold your grieving back." After things calm down, Spc. Busing said: "Then you start thinking, the guy who got hit, he's just not there anymore. You start thinking about all the people he left behind, how it's going to affect them." The mission had begun quietly. Soldiers with the unit, part of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, had set up "traffic control points" in the al-Sheik Maruf neighborhood in hopes of catching insurgents trying to bring weapons into the area. After receiving a report that men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s were at a certain location, soldiers were dispatched to investigate. Two Bradley Fighting Vehicles moved forward, along with the Humvee driven by Spc. Heines. Under attack Suddenly, explosives detonated, and insurgents opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. None of the vehicles were harmed by the improvised explosive devices. At least three RPGs streaked harmlessly by the soldiers, but one found its mark, slamming into the up-armored Humvee's thick windshield. The impact knocked the helmet off the Humvee's gunner, Pfc. Gregory Dejuan Williams, 23, of Louisville, Ky., and his weapon ended up on the ground. Pfc. Williams, however, was not injured. Nor was the third soldier in the Humvee, 1st Lt. Fred Saxton, 35, of Akron, Ohio, who commands C Company's 2nd Platoon. He radioed one last report _ "We're hit" _ and then got out. "I was yelling, 'Heines, come on! Let's go," 1st Lt. Saxton recalled later Saturday. "He wasn't coming, so we knew that he was hurt." A spiderweb of cracks blocked the view into the smoldering Humvee. Pfc. Williams moved to the driver's side of the vehicle. "He opened the door and started yelling, 'Sir, he's gone! He's dead,' said 1st Lt. Saxton, who grabbed a portable radio from the vehicle and continued issuing instructions to his soldiers. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, other soldiers also came into contact with insurgents. Capt. Scott Holden, 39, of Killeen, who commands C Company, said the attack by the insurgents involved a level of planning and coordination that his soldiers had not encountered before.

1st Lt. Saxton said the attackers also didn't just shoot and run, but "were sticking." "I felt like we were fighting soldiers," he said. But when the fighting had played out, U.S. soldiers had inflicted several casualties. Spc. Heines was the only U.S. casualty. On Saturday, his fellow soldiers tried to cope with the loss. Spc. Heines was widely seen as the guy who never let problems get him down. And that irrepressible spirit rubbed off on others. "I never really saw him in a bad mood," said Pfc. Williams. "He always would put a smile on your face. You could be having your worst day, and he would just say, 'Look on the bright side' or make a joke _ and you would be out of that bad mood in just a second." Spc. Heines' wife, Kristine, also is a soldier with the 1st Cavalry Division and is serving in Iraq. "He was the most outspoken guy I've every met about loving his wife," said Spc. Christopher "Angel" Jesseman, 26, of Sanbornton, N.H. Buddies sometimes called the young soldier "Ketchup," a play on his last name. And that was what local Iraqi children knew him by. His new friends Spc. Busing said that when they were on gate duty, Iraqi children would always come looking for Spc. Heines. And he loved to spend time with them. "If they were hungry, he'd always be the first one to go grab them an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat), even if he wasn't supposed to," Spc. Busing said. Not everything in the Army came easy to Spc. Heines. Pfc. Jonathan Ferrer, 20, of Dallas, said that when he first met him in basic training, he almost washed out because he couldn't do push-ups. "They gave him a choice: He could go home, or get better," Pfc. Ferrer said. "I remember him telling me he didn't want to go home like that to his family." Every night, before they went to sleep, Spc. Heines worked on his push-ups. And he made it through the training. Very soon, the soldiers who served with Spc. Heines will go on more patrols. And they expect that they will be fighting insurgents again very soon. "What else is there to do?" said Spc. Jonathan Page, 21, of The Woodlands, near Houston. "If we just give up right now because someone died, it's a total victory for them." For many of them, what they do isn't so much about foreign policy, it's about each other. And Spc. Heines' death is a reminder of what they have to lose. "We just want to walk out of here," Spc. William Leslie, 24, of Sarasota, Fla., said. "When we go out there, we want to come back and we want to make sure everybody else comes back."