After being in Baghdad for a few months, it started to feel easy. Routine. We'd clear hundreds upon hundreds of houses and walk a few miles collectively and go in for the night to sleep. And do it all over again the next day. Glancing up at the fortress of Sadr City was a normal day at the office. Strolling through Arab Jabour could only be described as boring. Apart from a few firefights and the downing of a Blackwater helicopter, Baghdad was a bust.
We had suffered two deaths in ten months, both in other companies. I didn't know them except for their names. In that regard we were luckier than most other units. I thought to myself often, this isn't bad. We're going to make it out of here okay.
It was still routine in March 2007, but we were in Baqubah instead of Baghdad. On March 14 we started searching through abandoned houses and dirt lots. Two Army combat journalists were with us to cover the story of Strykers in Diyala for the first time since the war began. We searched through one house and were preparing to move to another next door. It had a padlock on the other side. I shed my backpack and climbed over to cut the lock. I was just about there when my squad leader called to me, "Fuck it, fuck the lock. We gotta mount back up." I jumped back over the gate and sprinted back into the Stryker to join our three other vehicles.
The only picture taken that day
What followed in the next several minutes shattered the belief that we'd be okay, when Cooter, his faced covered in dust and grime, said to me "Chevy was killed on impact."
Brian Chevalier was one of the newer guys. He came to the platoon right before we did our training in California in February of 2006. He was quieter than most, a Georgian father of a little girl he was raising with his mother. His late introduction to the platoon made him the driver, the less coveted position in a squad. Almost immediately he earned the nickname of Chevy, a shorter version of his last name.
It was hard to tell how clever he really was. Introverted and sporting a southern drawl, he was brighter than most perceived. I fancied myself as one of the best debaters in the platoon, as debates and arguments were frequent in tight living quarters. But he could always poke holes in my positions when I faced off against him.
He was a lover of poker. He rarely won but always was willing to play. In the barracks and in Mosul, games of Texas Hold 'Em were almost as common as debates. Once, Chevy and I were facing off in a massive pot. I held a King of Diamonds with five diamonds out there. The board read 3-4-Ace-10-7. I had the best flush with my king. Chevy had an impossibly wide grin on his face the whole time. When the seven came out, he shouted, "Ohhh, shit!" Once he collected himself, he pushed all his chips in. He couldn't stop smiling and his face grew red hot. He put his hand to his mouth and bit his thumbnail, showing overwhelming nervousness. Seeing his not so subtle poker face, I folded the King-high flush. He rolled over 5-6 of diamonds, revealing the straight flush. I couldn't believe it.
The only solace I found was that Chevy was killed instantly when the IED exploded beneath him. He went like he lived: quietly. His impact on us was not as muted. Every single person that knew him cried at his memorial service. Our emotions were bottled up after he was killed; we had no time to grieve in between missions. For two hours, we reflected on his loss. And we went back out into the night.
This Friday, the remaining members of second platoon will get together on the anniversary of his death to celebrate his life.
The memorial commissioned for those lost in both deployments of 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2003-2004 and 2006-2007
We miss you, Chevy.