On September 20th 2005, I boarded a flight to Kuwait with the final destination being Iraq. Since no commercial flights take civilians into Iraq, Kuwait is the point of entry for civilians. The purpose of this trip was to gather historical information on the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment for a future documentary movie. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, also known as the 11th ACR for short, was the U.S. Army’s premier training unit while at Fort Irwin, California. Another objective of my trip was to check on our troops morale and well being and provide mentoring as a veteran with previous combat experience with the 11th ACR in Vietnam.
I was fortunate to have another combat veteran accompany me, Gerald Williamson, who also served with the Blackhorse in Vietnam with D Company. Jerry had tried to get permission to visit the troops earlier but was unsuccessful in getting approval from the military. Jerry’s wish was fulfilled only when the movie producers cameraman got a case of regret as the date for the trip neared and he continued to see the news of car bombing and other acts of terrorism.
For those who receive photos with this article, please take note that media representatives are not permitted to carry weapons. The weapons Jerry and I are posed with in the photos were strictly for familiarization and to get the feel of the equipment the soldiers carried. The idea being to blend in with the troops so as not to become a celebrity target.
The 11th ACR’s mission in the Mojave Desert in California was to train other army fighting forces in desert warfare, and that’s just what it did for the last ten years. Week after week of simulated battles on the scorching desert floor gave the soldiers of the 11th ACR the experience no other fighting force in the world had ever received. Those standards became the yardstick other units used to gauge their own effectiveness and has made the soldiers of the 11th ACR the best in the world.
The 11th ACR wasn’t always a training unit. In the early 1900’s the cavalrymen defended our borders here at home and chased Poncho Villa’s men back in Mexico after they raided and killed civilians inside our border. Because most rode black horses, they became know as the Blackhorse Regiment. As a tank outfit they fought in the historic Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Vietnam was also on the list of defining moments for the troopers who were now riding with the Blackhorse on heavy metal behemoths of war such as tanks and Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles. Their awesome firepower brought fear into the hearts of the enemy. It was in Vietnam that most of the units’ battle streamers were awarded along with numerous citations for valor and three Medals of Honor.
After Vietnam it was deployed to Germany to patrol the borders it had once patrolled on horseback immediately after WW II. When the Cold War ended, it was recalled to become the teacher of other Army units known as the Opposing Force.
The 11th ACR has been serving our nation since 1901 when it began as a horse cavalry regiment. These men began serving on horses, but as technology changed and revolutionized the world, the men, and women of the 11th Armored Cavalry adapted and put that technology to use defending our nation.
I originally thought that we were not allowing enough time to really get into some action in the three weeks we would be in country. Was I wrong! Within 14 hours of arrival in Baghdad with the 1st of the 11th ACR, we were hitting the streets conducting night raids on homes of suspected terrorists. On day four we were photographing the second largest weapons cache since their arrival in January. After a grueling non stop schedule we finally thought we were about to catch our breath on a civic action mission to pass out school supplies jointly with the Iraqi army. As we waited to link up with our Iraqi counterparts, Troop B, 11ACR was approaching our location about a half mile down the road when the last HMMWV was hit by a suicide bomber who rammed the HMMWV with his car, then detonated it.
This is Part 1 in a series of accounts of a three week ride with the Blackhorse by two former members of the Blackhorse that served in Vietnam.
Public Affairs Officer
Thunder Run Quarterly
A Publication of the 11th Armored Cavalry
Veterans of Vietnam & Cambodia