This is a repost of an Article I put on Celestial Lands every year on December 6th. It was 5 years ago today that my friend Travis was killed in the Anbar province of Iraq. This year, the book on his life was published (see below) I wear his memory bracelet through November and December. Rest in Peace, Trav.
On December 6th, 2006, a friend, military partner, former roommate, and man I owe my life to was killed by an improvised explosive device in Ramadi, Iraq. His name was Travis Patriquin, and he and I served in the 7th Special Forces Group as enlisted and support soldiers (he as intelligence-communications, I as an intelligence collector-analyst). Travis and I deployed to Latin America several times together, we were awarded medals together, we spent months in each other’s company. We even shared a barracks room for over a year, before I made Sergeant.
I left the unit, and eventually left the Army. Travis stayed in, because serving as a soldier was his calling in life. He later became an officer, an infantryman, and a Civil Affairs officer. Some in the U.S. Military credit our “winning” strategy in Iraq (known as the Awakening) to an idea that originated with Travis… the idea to shift how we as a military force relate to the people of Iraq, and to the militia forces in Iraq. That is the theme of an upcoming biography about his life, written by William Doyle titled “A Soldier’s Dream”.
Some credit a slideshow that Travis put together detailing his ideas for how to bring peace to Iraq as the beginning of the “Awakening” movement. So much so that police stations in Iraq have been named after him. More credit goes to Travis’ team, with their incredible language skills (something he was just discovering about himself when we were roommates) and the way they met with local tribal leaders and began building relationships and trust with them.
As the years went by, Travis and I lost contact. We did trade an email from time to time, and I last saw him in 1999 as he was driving through East Tennessee. But I had spoken of him often enough that when my wife saw on the news one night that he had been killed, she recognized the name and came to get me. I had just received notification of my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and an Army Chaplain Candidate, but I had not yet taken the oath. Coming together as they did, Travis’ death and my commissioning will be forever linked for me.
There are many stories of the time that Travis and I spent together that I would love to share, but many of them are from operations which still have security classifications attached to them. There are two very personal stories I would like to share however.
One night, the SOT-A teams that Travis and I served on were conducting a radio-communications exercise on some military camp in the middle of no-where western North Carolina. It was late at night, and each of us was alone on different hilltops doing regular radio checks with one another. It was boring. I remember I was trying to read a sci-fi novel under a camouflage blanket with a flashlight when I heard Travis’ voice come over the radio…
“God? God this is Travis over… Do you read?”
Now remember, we were 19 years old. I remember tracking my friend’s thoughts as if they were my own. Travis had probably been up late, looking at the stars, and thinking the kinds of deep thoughts that were his way. Looking at the heavens, he had gotten to thinking about God, and thinking how wonderful it would be if he could just pick up is radio and place a call. And then he got to wondering if maybe no one had ever tried. Maybe God was just waiting on someone to place a radio-check with him.
So, Travis decided to try… typical Travis… never one to shy away from an idea because it seemed “obviously wrong” or “silly” until he’d tried it.
Now, in typical David (as in smart-ass) fashion, I had no choice but to respond… I picked up my radio, and in a deep voice said…
“TRAVIS, THIS IS GOD… GO AHEAD”
I heard a somewhat tremulous and disbelieving voice come back over the airwaves…
“God, this is Travis… uhhh… wait one… break”
It was at that point that our Sergeant First Class’ voice came over the radio…
“Would You Two *&$#heads quit &$#@ing around on the comms, Now!”
When we came off those hills the following morning, Travis walked up to me and hit me, in the shoulder, hard. I mean, it bruised even… Travis was never afraid to tell me when I was being an idiot… and that leads me to the second story I want to tell.
Due to a lot of reasons, I was promoted to Sergeant early, perhaps even a little sooner than I should have been. I was young, and I was very proud of myself. That pride was moving toward egotism. We had another soldier in our small unit named Chris. Chris had been in the Army far longer than I, had been senior to me for the entire time I had served with him… and I was promoted to Sergeant before he was. Chris had a family to support, he was a Desert Storm veteran, and he was an excellent soldier… I was just in a job that typically got promoted faster, and I had been in the right place at the right time a few times. And so, I was now a Sergeant and Chris was still a Corporal.
Travis, now also junior to me, had the courage to take me aside and help me to see my promotion from Chris’ viewpoint. He helped me to see how hurt Chris felt, and how my pride at my new stripes was building up a resentment that would eventually come between the friendship Chris and I had. Travis challenged me to find a way to keep that from happening, to be the Sergeant, and still honor Chris’ years of experience, his excellent skills and leadership, and to acknowledge the complexity of why I was now senior.
In essence, Travis, though my junior in seniority, taught me in that moment about three lessons in leadership. The example of that moment shaped who I became as a Sergeant, and indeed as a person in the years that came.
There are many other things I owe Travis Patriquin for… as I said, I would not be here today were it not for him. Those stories cannot yet be told… but I am so pleased that William Doyle is telling as much of the life story of this amazing man as can be told. If Travis’ daughters ever read this, please know that your father meant the world to me… and that I am so sorry he was not able to see you grow up. I wish the world had given him that time with you, for all that he gave to the world.
Yours in faith,
Sergeant David Pyle
MID, 2BN, 7SFG(A)
Ft. Bragg, NC
Chaplain (1LT) David Pyle
A Friend of Travis Patriquin
Rest in peace, Trav…