By Pfc. Shea Butler, USA
Iraq, Nov. 15, 2006 – Before heading into Baghdad, soldiers here put on layer after layer of protective gear. There's the Army combat uniform first, then an outer tactical vest, and finally, they top it off with an Army combat helmet. All that gear is great for physical safety, but sometimes it takes more to make soldiers feel at ease.
It's in the depths of their pockets where you find soldiers' "lucky charms," the items that make them smile, remind them of home and never leave their side.
"Twinkie the Kid" is a trinket children use to carry snack cakes with their school lunches. That was until Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow, the 1st Cavalry Division's senior noncommissioned officer, got one. Now, it's his lucky charm.
"My wife sent me Twinkie the Kid during Operation Iraqi Freedom I as a joke, and it hasn't left my side since," the Townsend, Mont., native said. Twinkie the Kid has developed many Cav-like characteristics since spending so much time with Johndrow. He even got a new name: "Cav Kid."
Cav Kid blends in with the rest of his battle buddies. His apparel includes a Stetson hat and cowboy boots.
"The Stetson isn't authorized in theater -- yet -- but we let it slide for the Cav Kid," Johndrow said.
After three deployments and many missions all over Iraq, the Cav Kid has definitely earned his spurs, Johndrow said. He has battle scrapes to prove it, and he even has his own place in Johndrow's Humvee. The Cav Kid doesn't leave the wire without protection, though. He has a small plastic gun that he carries for effect.
"He is more than just a lucky charm. He is my wingman," said Johndrow.
The toy also serves as a sentimental reminder to Johndrow of his wife, Vickie, back home. He said it makes him smile when he looks at it. It also helps keep him connected back home. "I send my wife pictures of the Cav Kid and I, and it makes her smile," he said.
Johndrow said his wife even purchased a "Ms. Cav Kid." She sends pictures of the adventures they go on together. Having a little token of home helps the division's top NCO get through each day.
"No matter how bad your day is, you can look at the Cav Kid, and he's always smiling," Johndrow said. "You can't help but smile, too."
The First Team's command sergeant major isn't alone when it comes to carrying tokens from home.
For Staff Sgt. Brian Grinshaw, it's a golden wedding ring that fits tightly around his right ring finger that brings him comfort.
"My dad gave it to me when I was 21. I promised to never take it off, and I haven't," said Grinshaw, an Oklahoma City native with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Cavalry Division. "It was my dad's wedding ring from when he was married to my mom."
The ring has traveled with Grinshaw to Kosovo, and now to Iraq for a second time. "I plan on passing this ring on to my son to keep the tradition alive," he said.
For Capt. Elizabeth Witowski, a Pittsburgh native also from HHC, 1st Cavalry Division, a St. Christopher medal that once belonged to her great grandmother is her good-luck charm. She keeps it tucked away in an earplug case connected to her protective vest.
She said her father gave it to her for luck on her first deployment, and she has kept it with her ever since.
"It seems once something gets you through one deployment, you have to bring it on the next," she said.
If you look deep in the pockets of Lt. Col. Eric Winkie, HHC, 1st Cavalry Division, you will find a crucifix blessed by a chaplain during Desert Storm. The crucifix has traveled with him through Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Kuwait and now back to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"All of my kids have touched it, and I don't leave home without it," he said.
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