U.S. Army – War on Terror
When one man is killed in combat, it isn’t just a man who dies. It is a son, a husband, a father, an uncle, a friend, a fellow soldier, and sometimes a leader who puts the safety and welfare of others in front of his own.
Lt. Col. Mike McLaughlin was all of those people. Early in the morning on January 5, 2005, in Ramadi, Iraq, he was with a crowd of 300 Iraqis who had responded to an Iraqi police recruiting drive. He was following the first priority of a military officer: Accomplish the mission.
At 7:02, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives. When shrapnel struck the back of Mike’s head, a soldier went to check him out. “I’m okay,” he said. “Go help the others.”
In that, he fulfilled a leader’s second priority: Look out for the welfare of your men.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t okay. He died from the wound.
The responses of those who knew him reveal what was lost to the world.
“Mike was a leader in word, deed, and action,” said friend and fellow soldier Lt. Col. Grey D. Berrier II. “He was a charismatic leader that always led from the front, and was the consummate professional.”
“Mike died doing his job the only way he knew how — out in front, with great enthusiasm and courage,” said Col. John L Gronski, commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “He was a very close friend. My heart and my prayers go out to his family.”
Tammy McLaughlin lost her husband. Their two daughters, Ericha and Erin, lost their father.
In a speech she gave at a Veteran’s Day ceremony, his niece Paige related some of her most precious memories. “When my sister and I were really little, we went to a beach house with him. He gave us licorice for breakfast.” She remembered him as a “man that would laugh at anything, one that would make anyone his best friend just by saying hello.”
Apparently Mike said hello to a lot of people. His niece Chloe remembers his funeral. “I saw so many people that I didn’t even know. I didn’t realize how many people were his friends.”
Chloe was six when her uncle died, and ten when she wrote this insightful conclusion: “I’m proud of the veterans that have served in our beautiful free country and I am very proud of my uncle Mike. The next time you see a veteran please say thank you.”