By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD In Illinois, grieving parents are remembering a son who wanted to go to college and played soldier as a boy.
Back at Fort Hood for two weeks of rest and recuperation leave, some 1st Cavalry Division soldiers are contemplating a mission patrolling one of Baghdads most notorious roads without a valued team player, leader and friend.
He was a man of few words, who they knew as a fitness buff with a zeal for smoking other peoples cigarettes and a fondness for music most of them wouldnt let their children listen to and the inability to recognize a good tune when he heard one.
He was a good person, I mean, a real good person, said Sgt. Philip Stockard, a fellow team leader about Sgt. Jack T. Hennessy, a 21-year-old team leader and sniper for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, who was killed Oct. 1 by small-arms fire when his checkpoint came under fire. Im going to miss him back in Iraq.
Describing Hennessy as a phenomenal leader, phenomenal person, Capt. Ryan Chalupsky said it was hard to talk about his death.
Its a tough loss. Its terrible to lose a soldier period. Then to lose such a leader at such a young age, it hurts, said Chalupsky, the executive officer for Charlie Company.
Sergeant Hennessy was the NCO you wanted as your junior NCO. He was always there to set the standard and make sure the standard was enforced, Chalupsky said. He was a watch me leader. From that, he just commanded respect without saying a word. Every time hed make a movement, they (the soldiers) would mimic that.
Fresh from basic training, Hennessy arrived at Fort Hood in 2002. He quickly made his mark on 2nd Platoon with his straight talk, zest for living and ability to ace the Armys physical fitness test.
He got here as a (private first class). He was a young guy, knew his job really well, said Spc. Christopher Jesseman, who was sent home from Iraq after being injured by a grenade in August. He would quote this, do that. He was gifted. He qualified with every weapon he could get his hands on.
Married and living off post, Jesseman took the younger, single Hennessy under his wing.
He was a new guy right out of basic and hadnt done anything, Jesseman said.
The consummate fitness buff, Hennessy impressed Staff Sgt. Joseph Grabiec with his energy.
He was always going 100 miles per hour, said Grabiec, Hennessys squad leader.
He was very proud of his family. He talked about his dad all the time, Grabiec said. He showed a lot of respect. He was very proud of his father.
Hennessy looked forward to returning to his parents, Bernie and Cindy Hennessy, in Illinois. College was among his post-Army plans, although he wasnt sure what his major was going to be, Jesseman said.
In the meantime, Iraq beckoned. Hennessys battalion shipped out in March with the 1st Cavalry.
Jesseman was now a member of Hennessys team and working for his former peer.
We didnt always get along, but there wasnt anyone in a firefight wed rather have, Jesseman said. Wed go from being at each others throats to smoking and joking together. Once the officers cleared out, the ranks were dropped. He was Jack.
The promotions had came fast for Hennessy during his two years at Fort Hood. Once in Iraq, his officers were pleased to see him slip easily into his leadership role on the tough streets of Baghdad.
He showed he had what it took to lead men in a very complex environment, said 1st Lt. Fred Saxton, Hennessys platoon leader. I recognized he is young, but he still had the instincts needed.
Saxtons faith in Hennessy was quickly realized after the platoon reached the Iraqi capital and was tasked with safeguarding what has become Baghdads notorious Haifa Street.
On its first patrol in Sadr City, Baghdads sprawling Shiite slum, the platoon was ambushed. It was April 4. On the ground for a matter of weeks, the division suffered its worst casualties. Seven soldiers from two battalions died that day and another 49 were wounded. An eighth soldier died in clashes the next day.
We got through that ambush because of Jack, Saxton said. His weapon jammed. He picked up his second weapon, an M-16 (automatic rifle) and told us where they (the insurgents) were at.
On occasion, Saxton said Hennessys inexperience showed. But he took the criticism well and even leveled a few volleys of his own, especially after one public exchange.
I chewed him out for a tactical error, Saxton said. He said, Sir, damn it, Im sorry. It wont happen again. He walked away. Then he came back and said, Sir, if you ever bust me out in front of my men again, Im going to bust your a.
It was a moment of truth for Saxton.
I appreciated that, he said. He took it but was man enough to say you (messed) up, too. We were both wrong.
That was Jack, Saxton added. You got what you got. There wasnt a whole bunch of sparkles, a whole bunch of whistles. It was all block and tackle.
Sitting outside his home Friday in the shade of his carport, Saxton shifted in his seat.
A few months ago, Id have been in tears, he said about Hennessys loss. Now, you become so hardened. ... Now, I have to find another sniper.
Jesseman crouched down against the wall of the carport, his head bowed for a moment. He shifted his ball cap back and forth before looking up again.
Im better off having been led by him, Jesseman said.
He was an infantryman, Saxton said. He was an American at a level of American people just dont understand with a love of country people just dont understand, a love for God and country at a level people just dont understand. You cant ask for anything else of a man defending your country.
From me and the men of Charlie 1-9, to Jacks family, with deepest regrets, they will always be in our prayers, Saxton added. It was an absolute honor to serve with our fallen comrade.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at firstname.lastname@example.org