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The Hometown Heroes of Tower 22

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely,
  • National Guard Bureau

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - The Guardsmen hailed from hometowns across America, but when they found themselves deployed to a remote desert outpost in the no man’s land where the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet, they built a strong family — and when their base, Tower 22, was attacked in January, they say those bonds saved lives.

“When the drone hit, it didn’t matter component, task force, branch, civilian or service member: We were Americans and allies, the people of Tower 22,” one officer would write in her journal after the attack.

National Guardsmen are stationed at Tower 22 to support U.S., coalition and partner-nation efforts to maintain stability in a region percolating with renewed volatility.

Thousands of Guardsmen are deployed across the Middle East, contributing to a larger U.S. Central Command posture to ensure the defeat of ISIS as part of Operation Inherent Resolve and to build partner capacity to promote regional self-reliance and increase security as part of Operation Spartan Shield.

In the early hours of Jan. 28, a one-way uncrewed aerial system descended on Tower 22, carrying a munition of malicious intent. When it struck, three service members were killed, many more were injured, and personnel of all ranks, backgrounds and job specialties were thrust into action.

It is a date seared into the collective memory of those who were there.

An Army captain with the California National Guard heard a strange noise from inside his living quarters.

“I was woken up with what sounded like a low rumble,” he said, “very low and very distinctive. My whole room started vibrating and I thought, ‘That’s not normal.’

“A split second later — impact.”

He was the deputy base commander at the time of the attack and described Tower 22 — simply “Tower” to Soldiers — as a dynamic base with a busy operational tempo, mainly used as a logistics and support hub.

Since October, U.S. service members and U.S. and coalition facilities have been attacked almost 200 times in Iraq and Syria. The attack on Tower 22 is the first to kill U.S. service members and is also the first attack in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

On that fateful morning, it wasn’t long before the realization set in that some of the injuries were serious and worse.

“Now, mind you, it was still 5:35, 5:38, 5:40 in the morning,” the captain said. “So, there’s no daylight. There are small fires, small electrical fires coming from the remaining fuel.”

Despite the darkness, he said the carnage was evident. The risk of more strikes was plausible. Still, troops reacted.

“They went right to their training immediately, disregarded their own wounds and went right to work,” he said. “We had started good triaging.”

An Army major serving as the battalion surgeon with the Arizona National Guard was at Tower 22 on her first deployment. Back home, she is an emergency room physician. She felt inspired by her husband’s service and decided to serve, too, commissioning in 2021. Once she arrived at Tower 22, she drew on her experience to begin mass casualty response training drills.

“We ran one exercise several days before the attack,” she said. “That scenario was at night. It intentionally had minimal medical staffing, which proved invaluable. Every iteration refined our processes and was useful.

“It’s in my nature to have those difficult conversations and address those hard-to-talk-about scenarios,” she said. “We couldn’t have prepared for everything, but we had a standard established.”

The National Guard’s most senior officer, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, and top enlisted member, Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, visited Guardsmen deployed across the Middle East last week, including many who were at Tower 22 on Jan. 28.

They acknowledged the ingenuity, valor and professionalism of those who responded to the attack.

“They had done everything they could to prepare themselves,” said Hokanson, the National Guard Bureau chief. “And so, when that horrible time did come, they defaulted to their training. What they did in response after the attack to mitigate the damage and the injuries was extremely powerful. As a result, many lives were saved.”

The major writes in her journal daily to capture what she learned and preserve the story of Tower 22. She shared one entry she wrote in the immediate aftermath of the attack: “When the drone hit, it didn’t matter component, task force, branch, civilian or service member: we were Americans and allies, the people of Tower 22.”

An Army specialist serving as a radar maintainer and operator with the Kentucky Guard said the scene was chaotic at first. He was sleeping in his quarters, about 15 meters from the impact site when he was stirred by his roommate yelling his name. The two ran into the nearest bunker, shouting, “Take Cover!” to nearby comrades.

About 45 seconds passed, and the specialist left the bunker to take his position in the nearby base defense operations center, or BDOC, to assess the situation and help in any way he could.

“The best place I could be of use was the BDOC to make sure there was not a second [drone] heading for Tower,” he said.

Hokanson presented the Purple Heart to the specialist and a unit supply specialist for wounds they sustained in the attack.

The CNGB also pinned the Combat Action Badge on two Soldiers and the Combat Medic Badge on the major and her team of medics for their valiant actions on Jan. 28.

“I am honored to wear the CMB for the rest of my career,” the major said. “It will serve as a reminder of our actions and the stories of those we could not save. It will always tie me to the Soldiers and Airmen of Tower 22, and for that, I am grateful.”

The major and her team weren’t the only heroes of Tower 22.

Air Force pararescuemen with an Air Guard rescue squadron were instrumental in coordinating the evacuation of severely injured troops to a higher echelon of care, which the captain said occurred within minutes. The battalion chaplain was one of the first Soldiers who rushed to the impact zone. He helped carry and load the remains of those killed on a litter for onward movement.

The captain credits the tight-knit culture at Tower 22 for the response, recovery and continuation of operations.

“We had built a strong family at Tower,” he said. “We were really big on taking care of each other like family.

“The way that everyone responded and carried ourselves,” he said, “from the Guard Soldiers, the Reservists, to the active-duty folks, our civilian contractors, and our Jordanian host nation contractors. That family and culture is what kept us together.”

Hokanson lauded the efforts of Army engineers to quickly harden and protect the base. He told every Guardsman he spoke with how proud he was of them.

“When you go to an outpost like that, this is why people join the military,” he said. “You are serving our nation on the farthest frontiers. You’re out in some of the most complex and dangerous areas that we have. You are doing what you were trained to do and you’re doing incredible work.”

If drone attacks are to be the unfortunate weapon of our future, the major said, “We must acknowledge what we learned here.”

“We owe it to others to show our battered faces and share our hidden wounds,” she said. “People will claim we are heroes, and perhaps we are. But those of us who arrived, who pulled bodies from wreckage and flames and carried comrades onward, will simply say we were doing our jobs: service to our fellow Americans.”

The three Army Reserve Soldiers killed in the attack were Sgt. William Jerome Rivers of Carrollton, Georgia, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders of Waycross, Georgia, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett of Savannah, Georgia. All three were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, Fort Moore, Georgia.


Note: The names of the service members interviewed for this story are withheld for operational security.