Iraq or Bust
by 1LT Joseph Linhart, Echo Troop Fire Support Officer
In 1968, Jerry Williamson and Eric Newton deployed to Vietnam for a one year tour. Their mission—wage a protracted war against a guerrilla element bent on destroying a fledging democracy. Operating in around the III Corps area near Saigon, both men were Tank Commanders in M-48s.
Williamson served as a Specialist-5, or “Spec 5,” in Delta Company, 1-11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Newton was a Sergeant in Kilo Troop, 3-11. Williamson went on to pursue several careers as a policeman, private investigator, and a therapist. He is now retired. Newton became a contractor, a job he still holds today.
October 6th, 2005 (FOB Kalsu, Iraq)- Vietnam Veteran Jerry Williamson (center) shares combat experiences with SPC Brian Noaker (l) and 1LT Joseph Linhart (r).
Both men served in Vietnam with distinction in the same job in sister battalions, but both men never met, not until about a month ago. A meeting that never took place in one foreign land finally became actualized in another, where a new generation of Soldiers is again fighting to bring peace and democracy to a war-torn country.
Members of the 11th ACR Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia Association, Williamson and Newton both felt the urge to visit Iraq, to reconnect with the unit that they last fought with over 35 years ago when the two men were just young Soldiers. By gaining support from the present chain of command, the two men came to Iraq together to see the Soldiers who continue to carry on the Blackhorse tradition.
During their seven day stay, Williamson and Newton were allowed unprecedented access to Task Force 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. From living in a forwarding operating base to going out on counter-insurgency patrols, the Vietnam Vets were able to witness the full spectrum of operations that the 11th ACR Soldiers have been conducting in their deployment to Iraq.
October 4th, 2005 (Hak, Iraq)- 1LT Joseph Linhart (left) and SPC Jharean Martinez (Gunner) from Task Force Eaglehorse pose with Jerry Williamson (center) and Eric Newton (right), Vietnam War Veterans from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment who visited Task Force 2-11 last week.
Task Force 2-11 ACR , operating out of FOB Kalsu approximately 30 miles south of Baghdad, took Williamson and Newton out on patrols where they were able to participate in a raid and witness the clearance of an improvised explosive device. They were also able to sit in on several staff meetings, allowing the Vets to see both the planning and execution sides of the Task Force’s missions.
Towards the end of their visit, Williamson sat down for an interview. He did note the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq. However, he insisted that while today’s Soldiers have better technology available to them compared to his counterparts, the jobs of the Soldiers of today have also increased in complexity. Soldiers now have to act more like policeman and must walk an even finer line between fighting an insurgency and winning hearts and minds.
Still, Williamson did not express any concern about the state of the Army or its current mission. In fact, both men were impressed with the competence and professionalism of all the Soldiers they met. The two veterans were adamant that the Army needs to be allowed to finish their mission in Iraq.
Williamson and Newton hope to produce a documentary about their stay in theater. Newton actually carried a camcorder everywhere the two men went. Yet, a documentary was really secondary to their primary goal in coming to Iraq—to visit the Soldiers and cheer them on.
For the Soldiers of Task Force Eaglehorse, the visit by the Vietnam Vets certainly proved to be morale boost. For Williamson and Newton though, it was a chance to rediscover the bonds of brotherhood that were forged in a war years ago but still exist today. Actually, when asked whether the two would follow the Regiment if they were to deploy overseas again, they simply replied with a smile, “You bet!”