By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
... Wasn't known for much scramblin'
Nor for much hustlin'
But mustered up just enough gust to score and win
And it ain't takin' much to lurin' him in
Pull up his coattails with shoulders room and board in the trench
He been through hardships
He seen hard s_t
So many homies lost, hell, why they makin' friends?
He figure only thing that's for sure up in the devil's den
Everybody want out this end ...
"Trapped in the Ghetto," May 2006
FORT HOOD Pfc. Joe L. Baines was a person motivated by challenges in his own life who continued to inspire others even after he was killed Dec. 16.
The 19-year-old grew up in a rough neighborhood in New Jersey, his friend, Staff Sgt. Salaam Alnur said Thursday afternoon at a memorial service for 15 1st Cavalry Division soldiers who were killed in Iraq in December. Five First Team soldiers were honored at a joint ceremony with the 4th Infantry Division last month.
It's the kind of difficult life that Baines sang about in "Trapped in the Ghetto," a song he and Alnur recorded together the same day they met. In it, the young infantryman talks about being trapped in the ghetto and making enough money to get out. He sings about drugs and prostitution and it being "time for my people to stop."
The two met when Baines first came to Fort Hood. He saw a DJ unloading equipment and asked if he could help.
Alnur said Thursday that his friend, who he considered a little brother, made a decision to get out of the ghetto the same summer he got shot in the leg after defending his sister from a group of guys.
He applied to and was accepted to Harvard University, Alnur said, but instead chose to enlist in the Army in hopes of providing a better life for his mother, sister, two brothers, stepbrothers and two stepsisters.
He joined in late October 2005 and deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division one year later. Two months after that, Baines was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in Taji, Iraq, according to the Defense Department. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
This isn't the first friend of Alnur's to be killed in Iraq. It's always terrible to lose buddies, Alnur said, but especially Baines.
Alnur knew Baines' family, they knew his. The private first class lived with Baines and his son. Alnur said he enjoyed his "little brother" and will even miss their arguments and Baines stealing his razors and cologne. When Baines deployed to Iraq, Alnur sadly noted that it was quieter around the house.
But Alnur, a soldier in the 2nd Chemical Battalion, 13th Sustainment Command, wasn't the only one Baines' life touched. Inspired by the fallen soldier, one of his brothers applied to and was accepted to Rutgers University.
The 15 soldiers honored at the memorial ceremony were as individual as snowflakes, said Col. Larry Phelps, 1st Cavalry rear commander. They came from across the country and contributed to their families and their country, he added. The memorial was an opportunity to celebrate their uniqueness and contributions.
For the families, hearing other soldiers speak of their comrades helps them to know that "we know those troopers like they know those troopers," Phelps said.
Staff Sgt. Jeannette Dunn was a vehicle mechanic with the 15th Sustainment Brigade. The 44-year-old was a no-nonsense noncommissioned officer who pushed her soldiers hard but with heart, said Capt. Stephanie Harris.
Pfc. Theodore Mitchell West, 23, took on soldiers' morale as his personal mission, said Maj. Tommy Clement. In letters home, "Coty," who was so named because of his cotton-white hair, asked his family to send care packages to his fellow soldiers. His family responded, but before the first care package could arrive, "Coty" was on his way back to the United States, Clement said. West served with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy W. Mulhair never let anyone get away with doing anything less than the right thing, said Capt. Adam Forrest. The 35-year-old was one of the most motivated soldiers the captain had ever met and always had a way of making others smile even when everything was going wrong. Mulhair was a senior cavalry scout for 1st Platoon, Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade.
Pfc. Troy D. Cooper, 21, was a Texan from Amarillo. He attended Amarillo and Frank Phillips colleges before enlisting to be a field artillery cannon crew member in January 2006. Cooper was a soldier in Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade.
Spc. Kenneth W. Haines of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, was raised from the age of 12 by his foster father, Kirk McMillan. The 25-year-old enlisted as a fire support specialist in September 2000, and served as a combat observation lasing team member during his six years in the Army.
Sgt. Jay R. Gauthreaux, 26, was born and raised in Louisiana and joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school. He trained as a signal support systems specialist and was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade. This was his second deployment to Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Kristofer R. Ciraso, 26, joined the Army in 2001 after serving in the Maine National Guard for 18 months. He was a soldier in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade. He was a Bradley fighting vehicle gunner and mounted section leader. This was his second tour to Iraq.
Spc. Nicholas P. Steinbacher was a "PT stud," said Sgt. Craig Silden. The 22-year-old also excelled in football, and gave up continuing with Special Forces training to deploy to Iraq with his unit, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade. The infantryman died two days after his birthday.
Pfc. Seth M. Stanton, 19, a cavalry scout from Colorado, was a Humvee and Bradley driver for 1st Platoon, Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade.
Spc. Matthew J. Stanley, 22, was a humble soldier who worked hard and played just as hard, said Staff Sgt. Antonio Martinez. "If you know Matt, think of him without smiling and you find you can't," he said. Stanton, who served with 1st Platoon, Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, was the kind of guy "you had a beer with and the guy you laughed all night with," Martinez said.
Staff Sgt. David R. L. Staats, 30, originally enlisted in the Army in March 1997 and left in 2003. He re-entered active duty in June 2005 with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade and later moved to Charlie Troop, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade. He tried to sell cars when he left in 2003, but he was too nice and too honest to make any money in the business, said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Gilliam.
Staff Sgt. Brian L. Mintzlaff, 34, was a "go-to noncommissioned officer," said 1st Lt. Dan Seiter. He drove an "old Honda Accord" and "souped up" the sound system because he "had a taste for the finer things in life," Seiter joked. The fire support specialist once purchased a car for one of his soldiers because he didn't have a vehicle. Mintzlaff served with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade.
Spc. Robert J. Volker had a passion for the outdoors that included camping, said Sgt. 1st Class Blaine Dowell. "RJ" was a dismounted combat engineer who was also trained as a collision and auto body repairer. He was also passionate about skateboarding, which may have attributed to his toughness. After getting his first tattoo, Volker was asked if it hurt, Dowell said. "No," Volker replied, with a tear in his eye. Volker served with Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade.
Cpl. John P. Barta, 25, would have made the rank of sergeant major, said Sgt. Reed May. Barta, who served with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, was "one of the best soldiers I ever had," May said. The tank loader and gunner was mentally and physically tough; May was impressed with him from the first day they met, he said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org