Name: Mikey Piro
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Lindenhurst, NY
It has been eight years since SGT Jacob Simpson, my friend, former crew
member, and Soldier died in Tal’Afar, Iraq. My memory is not so good
anymore. There is a murky haze around the details, so when I jump
around in this post or if you remember it differently, please forgive me.
When I first came home I would have described what I was doing in the
third person. It would have had a deluge of Army-specific terms like
“avenue of approach” or BOLO (Be On the LOokout). I would have described
these events tactically and clinically. It is easy to summarize events,
even events that are horrific, when you avoid the emotions. As time
has passed those terms are mothballed, but the feelings remain fresh. I
write about my feelings a bunch but I have never verbalized this day
eight years ago until today. It is too hard.
Up and Down
I was patrolling blocks away when “CONTACT!” burst over the radio.
That word, in that intonation, spikes your adrenaline. If you are
outside the wire, it means FIGHT. If you are not near the fight, it
means GO TO THE FIGHT.
It seemed like only moments before that high turned into a pit of
despair. The highs and lows always seem to affect me still. This and
other events linger as reasons. The voice on the radio, alarmed and
excited seconds before, now reported to us with the solemn words that dropped
“He’s dead. Simpson’s dead.”
Why? Where? What?
The updates rolled in and my troop deflated. The enemy disappeared
back into the population. The attack was so quick our response bore no
We were providing security for Iraqis trying to receive treatment at
the local hospital. There were gruesome reports of mistreatment along
sectarian lines. Our presence stabilized a city resource and brought
relative normalcy to a town where the mayor’s son had been killed and booby-trapped not months before.
None of that sh!t mattered now.
The next few days are a blur. I remember wanting to cry at the Hero Flight but being so angry that I wouldn’t. That rage fueled us all for a
while, but these days mine has given way more to sorrow. A Bradley
Fighting Vehicle brought his body back to camp. As the track plodded
along slowly towards the tarmac, the reality set in. Our Troopers
bravely escorted him into the plane, painting an all too familiar picture
of a Soldier draped in a flag en route to his final resting place.
My Commander and First Sergeant had the impossible task of eulogizing
Jacob at the farewell ceremony. They nailed it. The images of boots,
rifle, bayonet, Stetson and dog tags still give me pause. We crossed
in front of it, gave our last salute, gently touched the dog tags and
walked away hoping that those ritualized acts could seal the wound. They didn’t.
The day after the attack I remember talking with our Regimental
Commander and telling him the good stories about Simpson. There were
only good stories about Simpson.
This is what I remember.
I met Specialist Jacob Simpson the first day I arrived at my troop. I
had a different Combat patch (4ID), a Combat Infantry Badge, and a
screaming high and tight. I didn’t look, smell or act like a scout and
Jacob could see that, so he started pinging me with questions. He had
the look of a squared-away Soldier and was extremely attentive to my
replies, so I immediately took note and liked him.
I had the further good fortune of getting Jacob on loan during
gunnery before our deployment. Even though he was not officially
assigned, he took his job with a seriousness that impressed me. It
would have been easy to slack off or do the minimum. He did the
We had jumped around but settled outside of the dry-fire range one
day. We had all of our crap just strewn in the back and it was annoying
him. He wasn’t able to do his job as well, so he took out a wrench and
started mounting straps on the outside of the track. Then he hung our
stuff out there. He didn’t do it to win points, he did it so he was
able to do his job better. He took initiative and just did it. Moreover, he did it with a smile. A little rock n roll on the radio, a
little sun on his face, and this Specialist was happy to contribute in
When it was our turn to shoot our Gunnery, he put us in a position to
excel by counting rounds and keeping track of the firing scenarios. We
could come in second in our Troop in large part from the teamwork he
When he earned his Stripes I saw the pride and determination enter
his face. Ready or not he displayed what all of our great NCOs showed
us before and during that deployment: the NCO corps is the backbone of
the Army. He was a professional and wanted to earn the respect of his
peers, superiors and subordinates alike. He had great tough NCOs above
him and while the learning curve was steep, he rose to the occasion.
When the Troop shuffled the roster and he received his team members
he continued the excitement and initiative that I witnessed months
earlier. They followed him around and knew he was the big brother type who was going to show them the ropes. He moved with urgency and when he
got excited he would stand on his tiptoes.
He wanted to go to Selection for the Special Forces. I had a number
of friends that completed selection and I had been through a few other
schools, so if he ever caught me with down time he peppered me with
questions. I was happy to answer. I knew with time and more experience
he would be a fine SF Soldier.
He was taken this day eight years ago. He was taken too soon. He died in service to this nation defending the defenseless.
As my commander eloquently pointed out at his eulogy, he is a hero and we will always miss him.
Until we meet again, my friend.