Friday, February 16, 2007

Eric Ross remembered

CORINTH - More than anything, Staff Sgt. Eric Ross was a dedicated family man, a soldier and a proud American.

Ross, 26, was in his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed Friday during combat operations in Baqoubah, a city northeast of Baghdad in Iraq's Sunni Triangle.

Assigned to B Company, 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, of the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, Ross was the leader for a platoon of eight men.

"The first time he was over there, I watched the news every day. This time, I couldn’t do it," Eric’s father, Doug Poor, said in an interview Monday afternoon in his home.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias for months around Baqoubah.

"He told me he was going to be safer this tour because they don’t blow up squads as much as infantry," Poor said. "So much for that theory."

Sitting in his dining room Monday afternoon, Doug Poor and his ex-wife, Rhonda Bickmore of Kenduskeag, shared memories of their son.

Scattered on the table were sheets of paper with handwritten notes that soon would be transformed into their son’s obituary, along with photos of a childhood gone by.

There were occasions when young Eric went to hunting camp with his dad.

"We did have some good times at hunting camp — when I could get him out of bed in the morning," Poor said.

Then the boy from Glenburn who went to Orono High School and liked to play video games and make photographs grew into a married soldier with two children and a third on the way.

"His kids are the world to him," Eric’s wife, Allison Ross, said Monday by telephone. She and the children were planning to leave Texas for Maine today. She is expecting the couple’s third child in May.

Allison and Eric were married just before Eric deployed for his second tour of duty last September. She called her father-in-law Monday afternoon from Fort Hood, Texas, located between San Antonio and Dallas, where Eric was stationed and the couple was living.

"He’s very, very extremely family-oriented," Bickmore said.

Eric enjoyed taking his two children, Trever, 7, and Megan, 4, to a water park in Texas, hanging out on Sunday afternoons watching movies, and visiting his Army friend Brad and his family in San Antonio.

"He missed family. He missed being home," Bickmore said.

The best he could be

The last time the mother spoke with her son was Feb. 4, a Sunday.

"He was so committed to doing the job he was committed to do," she said.

"He took great pride in his squad," Poor added.

Eric’s friend Brad called Poor on Monday morning. He told the grieving father that Eric "was not the type that would stand back and tell his men to go in."

Brad, who was injured during a previous tour of duty with Ross, explained that in the heat of battle, protocol isn’t always followed to a T.

"That was his heart, to make sure they were taken care of," Bickmore said. "He had this very sensitive side."

Ross wanted "to be the best soldier that he could be for his country," Bickmore said.

With military influences on both sides of his family, he joined the service at age 20.

His 21st birthday was celebrated at basic training — the same place he was during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

After his first tour in Iraq, Eric received orders to report to Georgia, where he was supposed to instruct firearms sessions for new Army privates.

"He wasn’t supposed to go the second time," Poor said. "They canceled his orders and said, ‘You’re going back.’"

"He didn’t really want to go back," Bickmore said. "He wanted to stay with his family."

But Ross felt a sense of duty and went overseas to defend what he believed in so strongly.

"He saw some really horrible stuff," Bickmore said. "Iraqis spit and throw rocks at soldiers."

The day Eric was killed, the plan was supposed to follow protocol: The Iraqi forces being trained by the Americans were to enter the building first, followed by U.S. troops.

"This time, the Iraqis refused to go," Poor said.

Ross’ squad entered, but the building was booby-trapped. A bomb went off and three U.S. soldiers were killed. Another four were sent to Germany for medical treatment, while others were bandaged and returned to duty.

‘A lot more horrible’

Ross’ parents said they believe Americans receive an appropriate portion of the reality of the Iraq war through the media.

"But it’s a lot more horrible than what we’re told," Poor said. "We read about it and see it in the media, but our soldiers are right there, stepping over bodies."

"There’s just so many families that are going to be robbed of their kids," Bickmore said, adding that it’s more dangerous in Iraq now than during her son’s first tour.

"It just isn’t working," she said. "Their own people are even killing each other.

"Not only are they battling the mind-set over there or things going on, they’re battling things that they’re seeing and smelling."

"And trying to stay alive," Poor added.

Eric told his mom he recently was assigned to guard a Black Hawk helicopter that had been shot down.

"He said you could smell death," Bickmore said.

She learned of her son’s death Friday when her daughter called with the news. Ross’ friend Brad had contacted the family.

Poor arrived home after receiving a page from his ex-wife and found a military vehicle in his driveway.

"I knew," Poor said.

For the sacrifices he made for his country, Ross always will be an American hero. Overcome by his son’s death, it was difficult for Poor to talk about his feelings for his son, so instead he wrote on a small piece of paper:

"His wife told me that she talked to him before this mission, and he made her promise that if anything happened to him, she was to tell me that I was his hero, which is ironic, because he was my hero and I was very proud of him."

From the Daily News

Related Link:
Eric Ross killed in explosion during breaching operations