As protesters demonstrated against the war in Iraq this weekend, marking the first anniversary of the invasion, a Payson High School graduate talked about his experiences in the war.
Dave Luckett, a 1984 graduate of PHS, spent 371 days in Iraq. He was part of the first U.S. forces to move in from Kuwait. He even heard the first cannon blasts that signaled the invasion had started.
He started his tour as a platoon sergeant with the 1st Platoon 101st Military Police Company 101st Air Borne Division, by the time he left he was a 1st Sgt. with the 716th Military Police Battalion.
"I have 93 soldiers under me now," Luckett said. "I'm in charge of all the support soldiers and staff which support the maneuver companies. When I left we had three companies (we supported), when I first started there were seven."
Luckett's Iraqi tour took him to Mosul and Alhilla, the area of the Babylon ruins.
"We brought a lot of the top people in," he said. He and his men also prevented a major attack on the U.S. headquarters.
"We were manning a tactical checkpoint and a truck tried to avoid it," he said. "Three of my soldiers ran it down and found 100 rockets destined for an attack on Division Headquarters. They probably saved lives and equipment."
Luckett said their Commanding General thanked those soldiers and him for their actions. The soldiers were awarded Army Accommodation Medals and Luckett was given the Bronze Star.
While in Iraq, Luckett encountered Geraldo Rivera twice, and even had a picture taken with him, but when asked what he thought about the man, he said he had no opinion.
As for the news coverage on the war, "It's just like a game," he said of how broadcast journalists portray the conflict. "To me, on the ground, what is shown is a little graphic," Luckett said. "I wouldn't want my kids watching that. It's bad enough me being over there, but to have them see it on TV is worse. They need to do more editing."
He said the insurgents are needlessly targeting innocent citizens. "But until the people to step up, it's going to continue."
Luckett said the condition of the country was appalling when they arrived. Saddam Hussein had let the country deteriorate. "He diverted whole water systems from those he didn't like," Luckett said.
"We need to get the infrastructure running. As long as we can show them the benefits of having us there (we'll be OK) ... but we can't be everywhere (to protect civilians)."
Still, he believes by working to improve the infrastructure of the country, the U.S. is giving most of the people of Iraq something to look forward to. "When they unify under their country's flag they have all the elements to be prosperous," Luckett said, and pointed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as examples. "They're starting to trade with Turkey and when that is elevated to real commerce (they'll be on their way). Right now they are still having to deal with bandits on the road. They hold them up and take everything they have."
Luckett has been in the service for 16 years, joining up after a semester at Scottsdale Community College and studying to be a mechanic at the Phoenix Institute of Technology. He joined in Feb. 1988 and trained at Fort Benning, Ga. In addition to his tour in Iraq, he was also part of Operation Just Cause in Panama and did two months in Kosovo.
He has two children, Krystle, 15, and Travis, 14, both attend Gilbert High School. He no longer has family in Payson, just very good friends in the Keith family. He has family in Utah and plans to visit them before reporting back to duty April 14 at Fort Campbell, Ky. For now, he will be staying stateside.
As for his men and those he served with in the 101st Airborne Division, "We are probably the most decorated military police unit in the world. It really is a band of brothers. It's a tight-knit family. There is no hesitation, from the quartermaster to the infantry on the ground to stand up for one another ... When in doubt, whip it out. I'd rather be tried by 12 than carried out by six ... Ten years from now, I will still be able to remember their names and know their faces."