Larry Stilwell, nicknamed Crop Duster, died after this truck that he was driving hit a roadside bomb between Camp Anaconda and Camp TQ in Iraq.
Larry Stilwell, nicknamed Crop Duster, died after this truck that he was driving hit a roadside bomb between Camp Anaconda and Camp TQ in Iraq. David Meredith
The view through a truck windshield of a military Humvee providing escort security, just outside the gates of Camp TQ, northwest of Baghdad.
The view through a truck windshield of a military Humvee providing escort security, just outside the gates of Camp TQ, northwest of Baghdad. David Meredith
David Meredith is a 37-year-old truck driver from Leavenworth, Kan. He drove for KBR in Iraq from September 2004 to September 2005. His first 10 months in Iraq were incident-free. In the following essay he describes how, in his 11th month there, an ordinary day ended in a deadly attack on his convoy.
August 11, 2005, started out like any other day in Camp Al Taqaddum [Camp TQ, northwest of Baghdad]. It was my second mission as Kerry "Carolina" Miller's bobtail driver. ["Bobtails," or trucks without trailers, accompany a convoy in case another truck breaks down so that that vehicle's trailer needs can continue the journey.]
Carolina had his TSTI [safety] mission briefing at 1500Hrs (3:00 p.m.). I went over to the MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation program] to get ice for all of the drivers that wanted or needed ice.
There were some minor differences in how we staged for this mission. We were to all bobtail over to the Army side of TQ to hook up to our trailers, then meet with the 3rd Infantry Division (3rd ID) to escort us to Camp Corregidor that evening. As all of our drivers lined up, I pulled up beside each truck to get the driver's call signs so I wouldn't be using anybody's real name over the radio. We had 11 trucks and my bobtail set to go on this mission. As I pulled up beside each truck and got the driver's call signs, I couldn't tell you what any of the other drivers told me other than their call signs.
But I remember rolling up beside Larry Stilwell's truck and asking him what his call sign was. His response was, "Well, they call me Crop Duster, but for this mission, you can call me the man driving the piece-of-s—- truck." We both got a good laugh out of his comment. I rolled on down the line, getting everybody's call sign. Then I called each truck out and we rolled over to the other yard and picked up our trailers.
When we got over to the other yard, we discovered we were transporting old, run-down pre-fabricated buildings. Everybody backed up to a trailer, hooked up and proceeded to secure their load. A few extra straps here and there were needed, but everything was quickly secured and ready to go. We pulled over to the designated area by the Army and lined up. It was then that we discovered we were being escorted over to Corregidor by the 3rd ID. They had three Bradley tanks and one Abrams tank to escort us. I was excited about this prospect as I had seen numerous pictures of the 3rd ID in action and felt honored to have them escorting us over. Many of the other drivers were skeptical about having tanks escort us. I remember an Army captain telling the soldiers, "give them hell out there if you have any problems." We followed our escorts out the back gate of Camp TQ with a tank about every fourth vehicle, moving along at a fairly good rate of speed for tanks.
We were about 15 kilometers from our destination when the first IED (Improvised Explosive Device) went off. Three more would go off before we reached our destination. Fortunately nobody got hurt and we arrived with all of our trucks.
A first sergeant with the 3rd ID met us at the staging area and told us how grateful they were to see us, because nobody else would come to this camp anymore. We were also informed that we would be staying the night in this camp because they couldn't unload anything after dark. We inspected all of the trucks for damage from the IEDs and I took photographs of the damage that was done.
John Aclin's (Blue Ridge) truck was probably hit the hardest that day and we would not know for about another week how close to death he came. Our CC's (convoy commander's) truck, Carolina and his driver, Lucky Seven, had two IEDs go off simultaneously, one on each side of the truck.
The one that went off on the passenger side was a moderate failure because it was supposed to detonate, and splash burning oil all over the side of the truck. Fortunately the oil did not ignite like it was suppose to. After I took the photographs of the damage, I went to work fixing the severed air line on John's truck with the help of William Vaughn (Wrangler). After fixing the air line and everybody joking about how close those IEDs were to our trucks, we unloaded a majority of the trucks before it got dark, ate some dinner and then relaxed a little bit. A few of the drivers went to the Army's version of an MWR, a few wandered around and some crawled up in their trucks and went to sleep, which I eventually did.
August 12, 2005, I woke up late in the morning and the drivers were already unloading the remaining trucks. Some of the drivers were able to eat breakfast, and even sit down and watch a little TV after our work was done. There was a flat tire on Blue Ridge's truck, five of us changed it, and had it done in no time.
In the early afternoon (1300Hrs.), the Army called for us to stage up and prepare to depart Corregidor. Once again, I called the drivers out in order to depart Corregidor. We rolled out their gate at 1330Hrs. We had just left the gate when Carolina calls on the radio for everybody to move to the right because there was a dead chicken in the road; I am sure that everybody else was fighting back the urge to make derogatory remarks about this last warning.
We got 12 kilometers away from Corregidor when the first IED went off by Sparks' truck — a very bad area, the center median looked like it had just been plowed up, there was fresh dirt everywhere, and IEDs could be anywhere in this center median. Carolina called back to ask if everyone was all right. Sparks responded that it had gone off next to his truck.
About five seconds later, another IED went off next to Crop Duster's truck. His truck slowly rolled to the left and came to a stop. Crop Duster — Larry Stilwell — was hit. The back half of the convoy came to a stop, meaning we were now all sitting ducks.
There was a lot of chaos on the radio as everybody tried to identify who's truck got hit.
Finally it was determined whose truck it was. "Cautious," who was in the truck behind Crop Duster, got out of his truck, ran up to Larry's truck and reported to Carolina that Larry was dead.
When I heard this, I rolled my truck up onto the center median, passing the stopped trucks to get up there to Larry's truck. I then moved over to the right hand side of the road and passed his truck. I hopped out, called to Carolina, told him to get the rear element (a Bradley tank) up there, that we were taking small arms fire (AK 47) from the left side of the road.
The passenger side door was open, the side toolbox door was open, the windshield had been blown out of the truck and laid on the road across the street from Larry's truck. The entire contents of his truck were scattered all over the road.
I ran over to Larry's truck and was not prepared for what I saw when I climbed up in his truck. There was nothing left of him but his right arm that laid on the center console of the truck.
Carolina called back and said, "I don't care who gets his body out of that truck, but we are not leaving him."
I had the unfortunate duty of reporting back to Carolina that there was nothing left of Crop Duster to pull from the truck. I was told later by Lucky Seven that at that point Carolina turned a ghost white and just sat there in complete shock.
Nobody could believe that this was really happening. I stepped back in shock, stood there as rounds (bullets) flew everywhere.
A Bradley tank rolled up, two soldiers came out of the back end and yelled for me to get in my truck and position it behind the tank as a shield. Mick (Spec Ops) came from somewhere and climbed in the passenger side of my truck. He appeared to be stunned by everything going on around us and what he saw as well.
Mick had also looked up in Larry's truck and kept repeating, "he's gone, nothing but hamburger."
The Bradley tank fired off round after round into a field to the left of the road we were on. One of the foot soldiers made his way around to the passenger side of my truck. Mick opened his door. The soldier told us what we already knew but tried to offer some comfort by telling us that it happened so fast that Larry never knew what hit him. He offered his condolences.
I sat there filled with anger and sorrow. I didn't know how to react, what to say or even what to think. This was my first experience with a violent death.
We sat there for 45 minutes as the two soldiers and the tank returned fire into the field. Carolina was in contact with our trans ops [KBR transportation operations] team at TQ. They informed Carolina that help was on the way. We all thought that this meant we were going to get air support. Instead one more Abrams tank showed up to join the fight.
Finally, the gunner in the Bradley turned around and yelled over to me that the Abrams tank was there to escort us out of the kill zone. Once the tank was in position, I looked over at the soldiers on the ground. One of them had tears in his eyes. He turned to me and saluted as I called to the drivers in the four trucks behind me.
I told the drivers that we were going to have to leave the "hard ball" (the pavement) to get around Larry's trailer, and for them to follow behind me and to stay in my tire tracks. Once everybody was back on the road, I called to Carolina that we would be rejoining the rest of the convoy shortly and we were rolling again. Carolina asked me to fall back to my position in the convoy, so I had the drivers pass me, and took my position.
Once we joined the front half of the convoy, we proceeded to slowly roll out of this area. We got another kilometer or two down the road when another IED went off next to Mick's truck, shattering his windshield.
At this point I was praying to God, begging him to safely deliver us from this hell. I feared for my life and the lives of my drivers, and I wondered if I would ever see my wife and kids again.
After that last IED went off, the remainder of that trip was quiet. When we finally reached the back gate of TQ, I called up to Carolina and informed him we were all inside the wire, and I broke down and wept hard. I beat my hands on the steering wheel, screamed out and cried all the way to the fuel point.
I feel like up to that point, (11 months in Iraq) I had been living a fool's dream. I never imagined that I would lose somebody on one of my missions, and I really took it personally — it was my second bobtail mission and one of my drivers had been killed.
Larry "Crop Duster" Stilwell left a son and two daughters. He was scheduled to go on R&R about five days after that mission and had told his daughters that when he came home, he wouldn't be coming back to Iraq.
A week later when John Aclin's truck was inspected, the mechanics discovered that a piece of shrapnel, the size of a chalkboard eraser, had come thru the back of the cab and stuck in the bottom of the driver's seat cushion.