Veteran tells of Iraqi Freedom role

Published 6:07 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lions Club and community members were humbled Tuesday at theorganization’s weekly meeting by tales of true patriotism andheroism from a decorated military officer.

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond spoke to a crowdabout memorable moments during his involvement in Operation IraqiFreedom, occurrences following the terrorist attack of 9/11, andhow 32 years of military service helped shape his life.

“That’s why guys like me serve our country, it’s because we loveour country,” he said after reciting “God Bless America.” “It’s assimple as that.”

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Hammond has a dozen decorations and badges for his militaryservice, has fought overseas and has commanded thousands of troops,but behind the stars and stripes is a Golden Eagle.

Earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Special Educationfrom the University of Southern Mississippi, Hammond also playedquarterback for the Golden Eagles and currently serves as theschool’s associate athletic director.

“Everything good in my life came from Southern Miss,” hesaid.

Commanding the room as if he were on the battlefield, Hammondbegan to tell a story of his involvement in Iraq.

In the Battle of Sadr City, located outside Baghdad, Hammond led28,000 troops in what he considered a battle necessary to win thewar in Iraq.

He said Sadr City was home to 25 million Shia extremists. Hementioned that the battle was initially going well until extremistsbegan to discover the identities of local allies and would murdertheir families, which caused the fighting to stall.

“That’s the type of war we’re fighting,” said Hammond.

When the fight seemed to loom in the balance, he said he wasunsure of what to do. Unable to rally his local allies, Hammondsaid he allowed Maj. Mark Rosenburg to step in.

“One kid, one young man said, ‘I can make a difference,'” saidHammond.

In the end, the Battle of Sadr City ended within 48 hours and738 enemies killed. However, the man Hammond considers who changedthe course of things in Iraq died leaving Baghdad by a roadsidebombing.

“Mark Rosenburgs are out there giving their lives every day,”said Hammond. “He’s a hero, but they’re all heroes.”

After reflecting on the past, Hammond gave his thoughts on thecurrent state of affairs after the recent killing of Osama binLaden, leader of Al Qaeda. He said while we rejoice here in theU.S., enemies are not partaking in the celebration.

“The bad guys are (saying), ‘That’s what we expected you tofeel,'” he said.

However, he said he does not think there will be any retaliationby enemy forces. He said a second attack would be comparable to theattack on Pearl Harbor, which caused all of America to be called toaction.

“I don’t think it would do Al Qaeda or anyone any good toreplicate a 9/11,” said Hammond.

After sharing a few stories and background information, anaudience member asked Hammond about his experiences with 9/11.

“That was a tough day and that was my induction to Al Qaeda,”said Hammond.

Hammond was working in the Pentagon the day the terroristsattacked and said it was where he watched the aircrafts strike theWorld Trade Center. Soon after, he said he went downstairs toreceive communications on a secure line when a plane crashed intohis office, killing the people working there.

“It was like a Coke can had been crunched and the roof was onfire,” Hammond said of the destruction.

While the terrorists would consider the attacks a success,Hammond said it was their mistake.

“What happened? We let the dogs out,” he said. “We’re coming toget you.”

With less than 1 percent of the country serving in the militarytoday, Hammond asked audience members to pray for those fightingand their families.

“They’re good kids, they’re great kids,” said Hammond. “Theydon’t ask for anything.”