The Reluctant Hero
Colonel James Hickey was in the news about six months ago. He led the Brigade that ran Saddam to ground. You might have remembered the story.
Colonel in Saddam raid stays focused on mission
By Alphonso Van Marsh - CNN
Sunday, December 28, 2003 Posted: 2:03 PM EST (1903 GMT)
TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- In the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's capture, the commander of the dramatic raid, U.S. Army Col. James Hickey, has become a reluctant media celebrity.
On a recent return to the farm near Tikrit where Saddam was found December 13, news photographers fawned over the 42-year-old leader of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, a steely-eyed colonel from Chicago, Illinois.
"It's a little bit embarrassing," Hickey says of the attention.
Images of the military leader congratulating his troops and celebrating moments after the arrest were broadcast around the world.
"I collected [my troops] together," Hickey says. "I told the soldiers what we had done and the significance of what we had accomplished, not only in terms of the mission here, but also in Army history."
The Virginia Military Institute and Johns Hopkins University-educated colonel has a reputation for talking tough.
"I am a little old-fashioned in doing things in an Army way," Hickey says. "I'm a stickler for detail. I expect equipment and weapons to be maintained to a high standard, for soldiers to perform their duties in a soldierly manner, and I'm clear about communicating that to them."
Not only does he not mince words in English, but he also speaks Russian, French and German. Hickey's communication skills helped him learn to work with local leaders in Iraq. Much of his area of control, including Saddam's ancestral homeland of Tikrit, lies within Salah El Din province.
The Salah El Din provincial governor recently gave Hickey an Arabian falcon as a sign of respect. Hickey says the bird, named Sky Raider, has become somewhat of a mascot at his home base, Forward Operating Base Raider. "We have to exercise him every day and feed him at least a pigeon or dove a day -- he's quite a character," he says...
Col. Hickey is from my hometown, Chicago, and has come here to a hero's welcome. For those of you not from Chicago, a "hero's welcome" is an amazing event because Chicago just doesn't have the same respect for the Military that is in the South or rural America...
In this case, the local media has picked up the story of Col. Hickey, thanks in part to the PR machine of Mayor Daley. Col Hickey will lead the Memorial Day Parade here on Saturday. Unfortunately, I won't get to see it as I'll be in St. Louis visiting the In-Laws and celebrating an anniversary.
He's also the Grand Marshall of the Memorial Day Parade in Naperville, Illinois, on Monday.
Here's part of the local story:
Colonel gets a whirlwind homecomingThere's a lot more to the story and I'll try to post an update once I've gotten my hands on some material about Col. Hickey that was written by Robin Moore.
By James Janega
What he represented stunned the City Council into silence.
Aldermen rose quietly as Army Col. James Hickey, the native son whose brigade helped catch Saddam Hussein last December, stepped up to accept Chicago's Medal of Merit.
Hussein's capture was a highlight in the war in Iraq. Because of that, the 12 days Hickey is spending in Chicago is part family reunion, part Army public relations tour.
The official part began Wednesday, when Hickey was recognized by the City Council. It hits its peak Saturday, when Hickey will serve as grand marshal of Chicago's Memorial Day parade downtown. Hickey and his wife, Maureen, are looking forward to a vacation after that.
"It's overwhelming," Hickey said of the attention.
In one morning, four people asked him what it was like to be a hero.
"That's your word," he said.
Nevertheless, Mayor Richard Daley praised him solemnly Wednesday, saying he represented the "spirit and soul" of Chicago.
"We are proud to call him a Chicagoan and, of course, to welcome him home," Daley said.
Hickey, the son of working-class Irish immigrants, grew up in southwest suburban Hickory Hills. He lives in Texas.
Even so, the mayor laid the city's heavy bronze medal around Hickey's neck, where it dangled on a wide blue and white ribbon over the colonel's dress greens, among a quilt of older military decorations.
Since last summer, Hickey, 43, has served as commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade. Known as the "Raider Brigade," Hickey's team had been hunting Hussein in and around Tikrit.
He said he would accept the medal on behalf of his soldiers, who returned to their base in Killeen, Texas, two months ago.
"When I return," Hickey said, "I'll be able to say that the people of Chicago are with them."
He was about to find out it wasn't just a metaphor...