AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 8/30/2004 11:35:00 AM ----- BODY:

Crossing Paths

Spc. Peter Maynard wears a black leather bracelet on his left wrist. Its engraved silver letters read, in part, "SPC. AARON SISSEL, 2133rd TC, KIA 29NOV03." Spc. Sissel, a man Maynard befriended while serving in Iraq, was killed when his supply convoy was ambushed last November on its way between two bases near the Iraqi town of Haditha. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, bullets and rocket-propelled grenades pounded the convoy, disabling three of its vehicles. Miscommunications followed that resulted in the convoy being pinned under enemy fire for close to four hours with nothing but air support, Maynard says. "Normally (the insurgents) just set off IEDs, fire a few rounds and run, because they're scared to death of us," Maynard says, while sipping a beer in his mother's back yard in Lowell. "But these guys--it was just a huge ambush. One by one, people kept getting picked off." Sissel, of Iowa, was one of the first hit by enemy fire. He bled to death waiting for reinforcements. "It's hard to accept his death," Maynard says, while family and friends argue politics over Chinese food in a tent set up behind him for his welcome-home party. His friend and fellow soldier from the 94th Military Police Battalion, Sgt. Bruce Nobles, nods in agreement. Nobles, who is clearly a veteran of interviews as well as combat, quietly walked away when Maynard began telling the story of Sissel's death, but returned shortly after the story finished to back up his buddy. Maynard is 24. Nobles is 23. Both have recently returned from an experience--500 days of service in Iraq--that their peers can't imagine.
Yesterday, in order to write the above story, I spent the afternoon driving around the ramshackle streets of Lowell until I got to a two-family home with a "WELCOME HOME" banner strung up over the porch. I walked the overgrown path to the backyard, walked up and shook the hand of a man my own age, and another man a year younger than I, both of whom were at least decades more mature. I talked to a soldier's mother about how she can finally stop listening to how many doors close on cars stopping on her street at night, wondering if the vehicle is carrying a chaplain and a soldier come to bring her news. I talked to a twenty-two-year-old bride--twenty-two!--who has actually physically been with her twenty-three-year-old husband for just two of the five years their relationship has lasted. When I walked out of that back yard again, in many tiny ways, I was not the same person. "Sheez, you work hahhd f'ya dollah," said a neighbor, watching me leave with a full notebook after sitting and talking with the soldiers and their families for three straight hours. Not at all.