TIKRIT, Iraq — The officers and men of Task Force 1-18 marched heavily across
the gravel, a platoon at a time, to salute smartly the empty helmets, boots and
rifles of the company commander they loved and the soldier who made them laugh.
Capt. John "Hans" Kurth, 31, of Columbus, Wis., and his driver, Spc. Jason
Ford, 21, of Bowie, Md., died early Saturday when their Humvee — part of a
three-vehicle Company B convoy patrolling near the 1st Infantry Division's new
headquarters in Tikrit — was struck by a makeshift roadside bomb.
Two days later, the men of their unit gathered to mourn them at Forward
Operating Base Omaha, Task Force 1-18's headquarters in Tikrit. Their war had
lasted barely a week.
"These two men fell in a split second, on the dark streets of this city,"
said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair, the battalion commander. "Separated by rank,
lifestyles, and a decade of time, they were joined by the common bond of
serving our nation."
During and after the service, his friends remembered Kurth as a charismatic,
fun-loving leader, loyal to a fault — and a voracious eater of hot chicken
"He was the kind of guy who was instantly admired and respected," said Capt.
Todd Grissom of Task Force 1-18. "He was loyal beyond any doubt."
Kurth was commissioned after graduating from West Point in 1995, and had
served with the 82nd Airborne Division before joining the 1st ID in Germany.
Until assuming his company command, Kurth worked on the staff of Lt. Col. David
Hubner, commander of the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, based along with the 1-18
Infantry in Schweinfurt.
"He was the prototypical officer: a real brainiac but physically fit, and he
had a great sense of humor," Hubner said. "He had the charisma of a natural
Spc. Emery Cabrera, 24, of Managua, Nicaragua, had been slated to become
Kurth's driver until a change in plans attached him to Task Force 1-77 just
before the unit left for the Middle East. He, too, liked Kurth.
"People in his company loved him," Cabrera said. "Sometimes officers can be
stuck-up, but not him. He'd talk to me. That's how I got to know him."
Ford's boisterous personality made him a good match as Kurth's driver and
personal assistant. Friends said he loved music, sports, clothes and his
PlayStation 2 video games. On weekends, he went clubbing with his buddies.
"He always wanted to make sure everybody got home safe," said his friend, Spc.
Guy Rowell, during the ceremony. "He has been sort of a guardian angel to this
Cpl. Michael Ralston, 21, of Douglasville, Ga., met Ford two years ago, when
both were brand-new privates. They played together on a flag football team.
"He was the all-star of the team — very athletic, a very outgoing type of
guy," Ralston said. "He always kept the morale up."
Kurth and Ford were the second and third Big Red One soldiers killed since
the division arrived in Iraq earlier this month to take control of the area
north of Baghdad. A roadside bomb killed Sgt. 1st Class Richard Gottfried, 42,
of the Kitzingen-based 1st Division Support Command last week during a convoy
ride north from Kuwait.
The trio of violent killings has driven home the reality of combat to 1st ID
soldiers who have never faced death before.
"It's a big reality check," Ralston said, "especially when somebody from your
unit dies ... someone you knew, someone you trained with."
Capt. Henry Delacruz of Task Force 1-77 is a company commander who knew Kurth
well. He, too, must travel frequently in convoy patrols.
"Before, I didn't think about [getting killed]," he said. "Now, I think about
it all the time."
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