Face of Defense: Paratrooper Learns the Ropes in Baghdad

By Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor,

USA Special to American Forces Press Service  

Jan. 22, 2008 – As a fresh-out-of-basic training addition to a company of paratroopers who have already been in combat for 13 months, Army Pfc. Kyle Canamore is finding out that he still has a lot to learn. Helping his new platoon search a house recently, Canamore found it an effort just to keep up.

Everything sped up into a blur as he charged up and down stairs and in and out of rooms, his mind racing to make split-second adjustments, look for hidden danger areas, and cover every angle with his M249 squad automatic weapon. In a room on the second floor, he paused for a moment, the sweat running down his face, but there was no time to rest.  “Canamore. Hey, Canamore!” shouted his team leader, Spc. Bryce Bourland, who was busy searching through a closet. “You think I’m talking because it lowers my cholesterol? Get over here and look through these drawers!”  

Canamore drew a breath and snapped back into action.  As the newest member of 2nd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, Canamore, 19, is in a tough position. After basic training and airborne school, Canamore figured he’d have time to train with his new unit before he deployed. Instead, he received orders sending him straight to Iraq.

Seemingly overnight, he found himself at a combat outpost in Baghdad, eating field rations with the battle-hardened veterans of Company B. As a SAW gunner, he goes out three or four times a day on patrols, where the learning curve has been steep.  “It’s a lot of pressure, because you really want to do well and make a good impression,” said Canamore, a Pekin, Ill., native. “Every time I make a mistake, I make a mental check and try to improve that,” he said.  

Canamore said he’s always looking for advice from the more experienced soldiers in his unit, especially the noncommissioned officers.  “You ask them anything, any time, and they usually know the answer,” he said.  That’s the way it has always been, said Staff Sgt. William Weinburgh, of Wrentham, Mass., a squad leader with 2nd Platoon.

While drill sergeants teach raw recruits the basics, it’s up to the team leaders and squad leaders at their assigned units to push new soldiers like Canamore to the next level, Weinburgh said.  “New guys are going to be a reflection of you,” he said. “Either you set them up for success or you set them up for failure.”  In a combat environment, it becomes even more important to make sure new troops know their jobs, Weinburgh said. “There’s no safety net out here,” he said.  

Bourland, Canamore’s team leader, said he definitely feels the weight of that responsibility. He has two new soldiers on his team, both with young children back home. Bourland said it’s up to him to make sure those kids see their dads again. If he is tough on his team, it is for that reason, he said.  “It’s for a purpose. It’s so they understand what it takes, so they can go home and see their wife or their daughter,” said Bourland, a Fairfax, Va., native.  

Out in sector, Bourland is constantly telling his new guys what to do, where to go, and what to look for. Occasionally, he has to use some undiplomatic language to make sure his point gets across. But even when he is on the receiving end of one of Bourland’s verbal smackdowns, Canamore said, he appreciates his team leader’s gift for language.  “It can be pretty funny,” he said. “Of course, I’m not going to laugh,” he quickly added.  Bourland said he’ll do whatever it takes to get through to his new soldiers.  “You have to find ways of reaching them,” he said.  

One of his methods is a variation on the power of positive thinking. Like a motivational guru, Bourland often suggests warrior or sports role models for Canamore to follow, always finishing with the Zen exclamation, “Be that!”  “Be Brian Urlacher!” Bourland shouted as Canamore struggled to move a heavy gate out of the way on one patrol, evoking the name of the Chicago Bears’ star linebacker. “Brian Urlacher, be that!”  

For the most part, Canamore said, he just keeps his mouth shut and his eyes and ears open. He said he is trying to absorb as much knowledge as he can, as quickly as he can.  “It’s a lot of information, and you can never get enough of it,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like you can’t win, but you just have to suck it up.”  Still, he’s learning new things every day, and someday, he said, he’ll be in a position to pass that knowledge on.  “Hopefully I’ll be showing the new guys everything I’m being taught now,” he said.  

(Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor serves in public affairs with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)


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