U.S. Army Capt. Calvin Kroeger talks about his one year combat tour in Iraq with Bravo Company 20th Engineers 1st Calvary Division as he speaks to ROTC students Wednesday at Clovis High School. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Tova Fruchtman: Freedom newspapers
TUCUMCARI — Students’ eyes were fixed on the Army captain in his desert fatigues as he described a bomb exploding near his Humvee on the streets of Baghdad. Capt. Calvin Kroeger said his driver and gunner were seriously wounded and he was hit by some shrapnel.
Kroeger, who returned from a year-long stint in Iraq about three weeks ago, had come to Tucumcari High School Friday to meet about 100 students who wrote to him while he was overseas. The 1995 Clovis High graduate said the letters were key to keeping his hope alive in a war-torn country.
“The letters helped me find my peace of mind,” Kroeger said. “The letters showed me the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew I had to make it back home.”
Tucumcari teacher Glenda Sours is the grandmother of Kroeger’s son and she asked her students to write Kroeger and his fellow soldiers after he sent her an e-mail describing how drab and dreary everything was in Iraq.
“I think the letter writing has made the reality of war and the freedom of the Iraqi people a reality for the students,” Sours said. “Our soldiers have fought but we have also built schools and given shoes to poor children.”
Kroeger was commander of Bravo Company, 20th Engineers, of the First Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood. He said he and his soldiers faced danger daily but also helped rebuild Baghdad.
“We built 19 schools and gave 50,000 pairs of shoes to children,” Kroeger said. “We’d build a school one day and then go search houses for contraband the next day.”
Kroeger’s company found many types of guns, explosives and contraband cash in houses.
“At one time I had $250,000 in U.S. money in my hands,” Kroeger said. Kroeger, who spoke to an ROTC class in Clovis on Wednesday, often wondered if he would make it back home alive.
“It depended on the day,” said Kroeger, who was in the Clovis High ROTC for three years and later graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute and West Point. “Some days were worse than others.”
Ryan Jaynes, Charlie Morgan and Leigh-Anna Lauriault said they sent cards and letters of encouragement.
“I felt I was giving him a little more hope by writing a letter,” Lauriault said. Jaynes said Kroeger inspired him.
“It made me feel like if he was out there doing that then I could too,” Jaynes said. “It made me feel like I’d like to follow in his footsteps.”
Morgan said a card he sent made him feel part of the effort overseas.
“I felt a great deal of pride,” Morgan said. “I wrote thanks for fighting for us.”
Kroeger said he’s glad to be back home and to be able to brush his teeth without reaching for a bottle of water to rinse out his mouth.
“It’s nice to have running water,” he said. “I like the idea of possibly returning to Iraq, but I don’t have a strong desire to do so.”
Six soldiers from Kroeger’s company died in Iraq.
He will report to Fort Benning, Ga., when he finishes his leave.