SGT TOMMY RIEMAN: AMERICA'S ARMY REAL HERO
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant Tommy Rieman distinguished himself by acts of conspicuous gallantry and courage under fire...
"I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE G.I. JOE"
Tommy Rieman recounts that from a young age, role models had a profound influence on his interest in joining the Army. Three of his uncles served in the Army. One served in Special Forces and two served as recruiters.
As a kid I always wanted to be GI Joe, and as a teenager, I either wanted to play college football or join the Army.
By the time he was a junior in high school, Rieman was captain of the football team, playing both quarterback and free safety. He recounts that after high school he had several options to play football for small colleges. However, for Rieman, college football lacked the allure of Soldiering. Today he recalls
I wanted to join the Army because I wanted to serve my country - because I felt thankful for the opportunities I had been given as an American.
"THEY TESTED ME AND PUSHED ME TO MY MAX"
So, after graduating from high school, Rieman pursued his aspirations and joined the Army. He recalls that
Basic training was a complete culture shock. At the time, it seemed as if they turned my world upside down but they tested me and pushed me to my max.
Rieman thrived on these tests and dominated the challenges presented in basic and advanced infantry training - earning him the right to wear the blue shoulder cord of an Infantry Soldier. Not being one to rest on his accomplishments, Rieman pushed well beyond the comfort zone he had known before joining the Army. He volunteered for Airborne School at Fort Benning Georgia. Determination and desire saw Rieman through ground week, tower week and jump week. Following his fifth qualifying parachute drop, Rieman pinned on the silver jump wings of an Army parachutist and secured the opportunity to serve in the Army's elite 82d Airborne Division. Seizing this opportunity, Rieman became an expert in airborne operations and continued to hone his skills as an infantryman and his expertise as a "light fighter".
In 1990, Army operations to quell ethnic strife in former Yugoslavia were gaining momentum. Rieman saw participation in these humanitarian operations as an opportunity to apply his expertise while helping to bring peace to the region. As such, he volunteered for service in Kosovo as part of Operation Noble Freedom.
Rieman's role in bringing peace and stability to Kosovo inspired him to exercise his option to reenlist in the Army for an assignment to Germany. With this new posting, he joined Echo Company, 51st Long Range Surveillance (LRS). As a member of this specialized unit, Rieman enjoyed opportunities to undertake Special Forces training with Belgian Commandos and to forge bonds of trust and comradeship with fellow Soldiers - infantrymen with whom he would soon enter combat in Iraq.
"OUR HEARTS POUNDING AND ADRENALINE PUMPING"
Particularly proud of his service in Long Range Surveillance, today Rieman explains that in LRS
Your goal is not to be seen ... to blend in with your environment. You go in behind enemy lines to act as the commander's eyes. You report to higher headquarters and let them know about enemy activity.
This brief mission statement also explains why, in early 2003, Rieman and his fellow LRS Soldiers were charged with scouting the way for ground operations to liberate Iraq.
At the direction of the ground force commander, Echo Company, 51st LRS entered Iraq well ahead of armored units poised to spearhead Operation Iraqi Freedom. Infiltrating by air and ground, Rieman and his fellow reconnaissance experts established a surveillance position more than 400 kilometers deep within Iraq. There, they began the critical work of providing combat intelligence upon which Army commanders would rely in their advance to Baghdad. Rieman recalls
We carried 125 to 145lb. rucks (backpacks) for about 12 kilometers, with our hearts pounding, and adrenaline pumping. We had to move undetected to our surveillance site, dig in, continue to pull security and get eyes on our mission area, all before daylight.
Throughout their first night deep in Iraq, Soldiers of Echo, 51st LRS built out their surveillance site, establishing communications with higher headquarters, digging in and positioning key weapons. By daybreak, the team had plenty to report with numerous hostile personnel and vehicles occupying what appeared to be an enemy staging area immediately to their front. When these hostile forces began moving in the direction of U.S. Army units advancing from Kuwait, the LRS unit called down U.S. air strikes. Rieman recalls the air strikes were "bone jarring and the impacts rattled every part of your body,"
By the close of their third day deep within enemy territory, members of Echo, 51st LRS welcomed the arrival of Army units striking north from Kuwait. Over these three days, Rieman and his team mates provided U.S. forces early warning and intelligence on enemy forces rushing south to counter the U.S. advance. Though enemy troops moved throughout their zone of operation and within meters of their positions, members of Echo, 51st LRS remained concealed - providing a steady stream of vital intelligence. Lieutenant General Wallace, who directed ground operations, recognized Soldiers of Echo, 51st LRS for their actions. General Wallace awarded Rieman with the Army Commendation Medal for valor for his efforts. Today, Rieman is proud to note that
We were the first LRS team to go that far into enemy territory. We were also the first conventional Infantry element on the ground in that part of Iraq... it was pretty intense.
Within months, Rieman and his fellow Soldiers would surmount even greater challenges in a fight for their lives.
"WE WERE GONNA GO IN AND CHECK IT OUT"
Though coalition forces quickly ended Iraqi rule by the tyrannical Saddam Hussein regime, cells of regime loyalists represented an ongoing threat to Iraq's nascent democracy and to liberating forces. Efforts to counter these regimen loyalists called for superb intelligence and the services of units such as Echo, 51st LRS. As a result, following the liberation of Iraq, Rieman and his fellow surveillance experts operated throughout the Baghdad area, keeping "eyes on" suspected Saddam loyalists and their operating areas. On December 3, 2003 he and eight fellow Soldiers were on such a mission south of Baghdad. Rieman recalls that
Basically our mission was to go in and pull surveillance on a regime loyalist's home. Our commander suspected that Saddam loyalists were storing weapons and conducting meetings there. So, our unit organized 8 Soldiers to go out in three vehicles - two cargo HMMWVs and one gun truck. We were gonna go in and check it out, just pull surveillance for a couple of hours, see if they were meeting that night, and if there was any kind of suspicious activity we were to report.
"THE THING I REMEMBER MOST IS THE SOUND OF THE EXPLOSION"
The team planned to approach the surveillance area via a main road and cache their vehicles in a field short of the target. At that point, part of the team would remain with the vehicles and the others would approach the target on foot to conduct surveillance operations. If necessary, the Soldiers with the vehicles would move forward to provide suppressing fire to cover the egress of the surveillance team. Rieman recounts
En route, we made enemy contact. Initially, we were hit with three RPGs and 3 roadside bombs. They basically went off simultaneously, everything was so quick. The thing I remember most was the sound of the explosion.
The first and second RPGs missed, straddling Rieman's HMMWV. However, fragments from one of the exploding IEDs struck Rieman and a fellow Soldier. After the IED blast Rieman positioned himself within the HMMWV to shield the Soldier operating the 50-cal machine gun in the roof turret ring. While shielding the gunner's lower body, Rieman began to return fire with his rifle and 40mm grenade launcher. During the firefight, Rieman took enemy fire, sustaining a severe bullet wound in his chest and a bullet wound in the arm. Though gravely injured, Rieman returned fire, fending off the enemy attack until his unit was safely out of the enemy kill zone. Rieman advised his team to proceed to a side road, about one kilometer away. Once off the main road, Rieman checked on his men and set up a casualty collection point for the wounded.
After setting up a defensive perimeter so that Army helos could evacuate the wounded, Rieman positioned himself between the enemy force and his fellow Soldiers. At this point, Rieman again came under heavy fire from enemy forces. Rieman returned a high volume of small arms and 40mm grenade launcher fire while directing supporting machine gun fire - ultimately silencing the enemy weapons. Throughout the action, Rieman repeatedly refused medical attention. Instead he coordinated support from his higher headquarters and assisted in moving injured Soldiers to safety until an extraction force arrived, secured the area, and his team leader ordered him to "stand down".
Following his return to the United States in 2004, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star for
...acts of conspicuous gallantry and courage under fire while serving as an Assistant Team Leader in Echo, 51st Infantry Long Range Surveillance Company
Rieman counts his receipt of the Silver Star as one of his proudest moments.
"BROTHERS FOR LIFE"
Today Rieman notes that
Each individual Soldier brings so much to the table for the Army. That's why it's a great organization. When you tie in 6 guys or a company, or whatever, and have that bond, that closeness, that changes you. You're brothers for life.
Rieman continues to stay in close contact with his brothers for life.
My team leader from my old LRS team is the godfather of my son... Rob is out of the Army working in Massachusetts, Billy is deployed with the 101st, and Bruce retired and is living in Arizona. I probably talk to these guys about once every two weeks.
He also observes
I have done more than most people do in a lifetime. I have met some of the greatest people and done the proudest job a man could do. The Army has shown me there is nothing that I can't do.
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