Private Robert J. Dixon: Ordinary Soldier, American Hero

During the all-too-brief time that I was fortunate enough to spend embedded with the 1-4 Cavalry in Baghdad, I met a number of truly great men. One of these was Robert Dixon, a 27-year-old Private First Class from Minneapolis with just over twenty months in the army. Private Dixon, like so many of the other young men in the Quarter Cav, was on his first combat deployment of any kind, having departed from Fort Riley, Kansas in February of 2007.

The first few months of this deployment have had their share of successes for the newly formed unit.  But the cost has been high: the Quarter Cav has also suffered some devastating losses. Within the span of a week in April three men were lost in separate incidents - one to a sniper, and two to individual Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

That second IED took a terrible toll on the second platoon of Quarter Cav's Alpha troop. Striking the Platoon Sergeant's vehicle, the blast not only killed one soldier, but it wounded two others so severely that they had to be medically evacuated from the area, and eventually from the country. Sergeant First Class Gannon Edgy, the Troop's senior scout, was the only man to walk away from the wreckage, with his physical health intact, but his crew decimated.  

Private Dixon was one of the soldiers who stepped up to fill the large void left by the loss of the Platoon Sergeant's crew, helping his teammates pick up the slack and serving with distinction until only days ago. 

On the morning of Sunday, May 6, second platoon was conducting a Relief in Place Transfer of Authority (RIPTOA) patrol with an element of the Stryker brigade which is in the process taking over responsibility for the area of Baghdad - East Rashid - currently managed by the Quarter Cav. While showing the new unit around the AO, the senior scout vehicle was struck by an array of four Explosively Formed Projectiles (or "EFPs," a form of IED which comes directly from Iran), and, tragically, Private First Class Robert Dixon lost his life as a result of the blasts. He left behind a loving wife who is now a widow, and two young sons, Logan and Michael, both of whom must now face their journey from youth to adulthood without their father. Words cannot convey the loss that they must feel, for, though they will always know that their husband and father was a hero, such knowledge does little to provide comfort in the immediate aftermath of a loved one's death. 

Likewise, we can only hope and pray that when Daniel and Eileen Dixon think of their son Robert, which they will always do with a sorrow that none but a parent can know, they will dwell not on the life that was lost, but on those who were affected by their son's life - and that they focus not on the act that took his life, but on the manner in which he lived that life for the twenty-seven years he had. 

A "natural leader" who "understood what it means to serve," according to 1-4 Cav commanding officer Lt. Colonel James Crider, Private Dixon was posthumously promoted to Specialist, and awarded the Bronze Star Medal. Beyond the immediate family left behind is the extended, surrogate family of those in the 1-4 Cav, with whom he had shed blood, sweat, and tears both at home and at war since the unit's inception in 2006. The men he fought alongside since arriving in Iraq in February have lost yet another friend and comrade, and the psychological toll on these men of losing more friends and brothers can only mount higher. However, "there isn't much time for mourning," a second platoon soldier said, adding that the unit was "immediately back out on the road." Such is the life of a soldier at war - no choice is given but "to get back in the saddle," as the warrior told me, "as quickly as possible." 

"We have a choice," said LTC Crider in his comments at Dixon's memorial service Friday. "We can either allow our hearts to grow dark or we can refuse to be defeated and use these experiences to make us unshakable."

I have no doubt which choice these brave warriors will make.

The men of the Quarter Cav will move on once again, never forgetting their "beloved friend," as his Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Koky Sisoura, referred to him, who was "extremely loyal" and "had a smile and a laugh to remember" - but also never wavering in their duty and in their dedication to the mission and to each other.

That mission, now more than ever, includes fighting an aggressive and deadly Iranian force within the borders of Iraq. This incident highlights that fact, as EFPs like as those that killed Dixon are being used with increasing frequency (69 times in April alone, according to Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, Multinational Corps commander in Iraq). Given this, more must very clearly be done, in the interest of protecting our soldiers, to turn the swelling tide of Iranian involvement in this war, regardless of the political implications such action might have. As Colonel Michael Everett of MNF-I's Strategic Effects office told me in person less than a month ago, "If you take [Iran] out of the equation [in Iraq]...we could probably reduce our casualties almost in half." Such knowledge necessitates some type of action for the sake of our soldiers, lest even more young men like Private Dixon be lost at the hands of a nation which we will not currently allow ourselves to admit is at war with us. 

Robert J. Dixon won't be receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq. He didn't go down in a hail of bullets or a blaze of glory, saving the lives of multiple soldiers and civilians in the process. The government won't name a building after him; his final resting place won't be at Arlington National Cemetery. Do not let this lack of glamour cause you to pay less attention to his case, though, or to think that he was any less of a hero than those whose final acts have received much more press. Dixon simply did what was asked of him, and what he wanted to do. That task happened to be living on the edge, putting his life on the line for an ideal (and for the people at home), and operating under conditions so dangerous, and so intense, that to function as he and his comrades have, one must have an inner heroism which 99% of the population will never have nor understand.

Robert Dixon was one of the men standing guard on freedom's frontier. His cause was just, his loss is painful, and he must be remembered for what he did, as well as for what others were able to do because of his dedication.

It is of the utmost importance that we at home remember Robert Dixon, and the sacrifice of men like him, and that we constantly reflect on the fact that America's uniformed services are full of men and women who would willingly give their lives for their comrades, as well as for every man, woman, and child at home.

America's armed forces are made up entirely of volunteers who knew the risks of service when they joined, and who willingly embrace those risks and their accompanying responsibilities every day, both to protect their homeland and to protect each other while working for the greater good of accomplishing their various missions throughout the world. This Memorial Day, between the cookouts, the baseball games, and the time with family, take a moment to thank a friend, family member, or total stranger who has served (or is serving) this country - for, while they will never seek the praise or thanks of their fellow man, all will appreciate the gratitude. It is our solemn duty to honor those who have kept us safe and free for the past 230-plus years. America has stood strong for those years largely because of men like Robert Dixon, his comrades, his forbears and those who will come after him, and it is because of men like them that we shall remain so.

Jeff Emanuel is a Leadership Fellow with the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security and a director of conservative weblog .