Babbitt's parents overwhelmed by Dog Company's show of emotion

Travis Babbitt
by Adam Yanelli - Managing editor
Posted: Thursday, Feb 24, 2005 - 08:42:57 am CST

Many people in Uvalde did not personally know U.S. Army Spc. Travis Babbitt, who was killed in action in Iraq last November.

But those who tuned their television sets Tuesday night to the PBS news documentary FRONTLINE probably think they know him a little better.

FRONTLINE, produced by WGBH Boston and aired nationwide on PBS, aired the episode "A Company of Soldiers," which went beyond the daily headlines from the war in Iraq and documented the day-to-day realities of life-and-death military missions of Dog Company.

Director Tom Roberts said the soldiers of Dog Company take their jobs seriously.

"These men and women in Dog Company grasp the realities of their position and the complexity of the problems they face," he said.

"And they're a very tough group. This is not an army hiding timidly behind their fortifications. They fight hard in the streets."

Barnaby and Kathy Hernandez, Babbitt's parents, said they were overwhelmed after watching how much love and admiration Babbitt's fellow soldiers showed for their fallen comrade.

"I know that his whole unit is still trying to deal with his loss," Barnaby said after watching the show. "As his parents, my respect, admiration and pride is not only for Travis but for all of the soldiers and what their families are going through back home."

Kathy said the program aired less than two weeks before Babbitt would have celebrated his 25th birthday March 4.

Filming for the episode began three days after the Fallujah campaign was launched in November 2004.

There was a surge in violence as an insurgent group, thought to have come from Ramadi, launched a series of ambushes and attacks in Dog Company's sector.

The campaign of violence began when two huge car bombs exploded at Christian churches in South Baghdad.

The unit responded immediately but found both churches virtually destroyed.

As they returned to base, they were ambushed and came under attack from gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.

They fired back, forcing the insurgents to flee, but in the process a civilian was hit by a ricochet and fatally wounded.

The next day, the situation escalated further.

A Dog Company patrol was ambushed and in the fighting, Babbitt was hit.

Despite being mortally wounded, he managed to return fire before collapsing, killing several insurgents and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers in the process.

The documentary showed how close soldiers become when they are fighting side by side as Dog Company members openly cried at the news of Babbitt's tragic death.

After watching the program, Kathy Hernandez said that she was moved by how deeply her son's fellow soldiers felt about him, and how they showed their emotions so openly.

"Knowing that all of his buddies have that one common thing - the trust, love and respect that only a person in that situation can truly understand," she said.

She and her husband said the documentary answered many questions they had about their son's day-to-day activities, and they were pleased to see that more is going on in Iraq besides fighting.

"I was glad to see all of the good things that are going on there," Barnaby said. "They're building YMCA's and women's centers, and schools and parks. Sometimes we have to look past the RPGs and car bombs to realize that some good will come out of all this."

Kathy added that she hoped every American watched the program to get a better understanding of how dedicated the troops are.

"I hope everybody watched it to see what a hard job these guys have to do," she said. "Travis isn't the only one that made the ultimate sacrifice. It just continues to amaze me how strong all of these young soldiers are."

Babbitt becomes first Uvalde casualty in Iraq conflict

Posted: November 11, 2004

LASTING MEMORY - Specialist Fourth Class Travis Babbitt poses with a group of children while serving in Iraq.
by Margaret Palermo - Staff writer

It's been one month to the day since Travis Babbitt returned to duty in Iraq after a two-week furlough with his family in Uvalde. Now he's coming home for good.

Babbitt, 24, died Tuesday morning in Iraq where he was a tank crewman with the U.S. Army's First Cavalry Division.

There will be a service for him at 9:15 a.m. today at the Uvalde High School auditorium during the Veterans Day ceremony.

Barnaby Hernandez, Babbitt's step-father, speaking on a mobile phone from Fort Hood, said most of the family is in Fort Hood right now filling out paperwork and learning what happened.

"We talked to the military. There's nothing we can do until the body is flown in from Iraq," said Hernandez, "We're thinking Sunday."

He said Rushing-Estes-Knowles Funeral Home would handle the services in Sabinal.

Hernandez said Babbitt's death has been very hard on the family. "I'm trying to hold out here. It's very hard. It's something we didn't expect," he said.

"We just talked to him on Sunday and he sounded very happy, making plans for March when he was to come home," said Hernandez. "Unfortunately, this happened."

Hernandez said the family had talked to Babbitt's commanding officer to find out what happened. "Travis was leading a group on one of his missions and they were ambushed and shrapnel struck him from a mortar, went in his left shoulder, exited his back, and pierced his heart," he said.

He said another young man was also wounded in the action, but was expected to be all right. "One of his buddies actually shot and killed the insurgent who fired upon him. He wasn't going to let him die in vain," said Hernandez.

"My son died doing exactly what he wanted to do. He is very, very missed by his family and his wife and three kids," Hernandez concluded.

While home on leave at the end of September, Babbitt visited The Leader-News to talk about his experiences in Iraq.

He said he was proud of having won his spurs with his division, explaining that it took 50 combat missions to earn the honor. "With the spurs, when you wear them, if they're facing up, that means you're married and if they're facing down, you're single," he said.

Babbitt went to Iraq March 9. He returned Oct. 11 following a two-week leave to visit his wife, Anita, son, Diego, and daughters Unique and Serenity.

His mother started a drive shortly after Babbitt initially left to collect necessities for soldiers serving in Iraq. She did this after Babbitt told her soldiers in Iraq were unable to get items such as sunscreen, toothpaste and foot powder.

Babbitt graduated from Uvalde High School in 1998 and was planning to make the Army a career. He had been in the Army four years and had re-enlisted for six years just before his death.

Julie Visel, part of a military support group that includes Babbitt's mother, said her son, 2nd Lt. Tom Visel, is also stationed in Baghdad with the First Cavalry Division right now. She said the two young men were in different units and rarely in the same area at the same time.

"Our hearts go out to the family and all the families who have loved ones over there," said Visel. She said she believes Babbitt's is the first combat death from Uvalde due to this war.

"We have over 30 people in Iraq and Afghanistan from Uvalde and the surrounding area," she said.

Visel said the support group for families of local military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan meets at 6 p.m. every Monday at First United Methodist Church.

Hundreds turn out for Babbitt funeral service

Posted 11/22/04

MILITARY HONORS - U.S. Army pallbearers (clockwise, from top) prepare to fold the flag Friday in front of St. Patrick's Church in Sabinal during funeral services for Specialist Travis Babbitt as Babbitt's mom, Kathy Hernandez, grieves with her husband Barnaby Hernandez. Babbitt's widow, Anita Babbitt, receives the flag from Babbitt's coffin from an Army captain. (Staff photos by Margaret Palermo)
by Margaret Palermo - Staff writer

Hundreds of mourners holding United States flags lined the Sabinal street leading to St. Patrick's Catholic Church when area residents said a final goodbye Friday morning to Army Specialist Travis Babbitt, Uvalde's first soldier killed in Iraq.

Babbitt was killed in combat in Iraq Nov. 9.

Among the mourners at the funeral Mass that began at 11 a.m. were his wife and three small children, mother and stepfather.

Following the Mass, in a ceremony held outside the church, Major General Jack Gardner, commander of U.S. Army South, presented the grieving widow, Anita Babbitt, with the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal in recognition of Babbitt's heroism.

Babbitt, a 1998 graduate of Uvalde High School who had planned a career in the U.S. Army, had already earned the Global War on Terrorism Medal as a result of being in the Army at the time of the war in Iraq.

He earned the Bronze Star for heroism during conflict and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal for serving in a combat zone during time of war.

He earned the Purple Heart for being wounded.

Gardner also presented Babbitt's widow with the flag which draped Babbitt's coffin.

Babbitt's mother, Kathy Hernandez, was presented with a second U.S. flag of the same type.

"Travis Babbitt represented the best characteristics of America," said Gardner in a brief interview following the funeral. All the things we value and believe in stand on the shoulders of those like Travis Babbitt."

Speaking for the family, Gardner said Mrs. Babbitt said the soldier's children were his pride and joy.

"His mother said Travis would tell everyone to remember the soldiers who are still in Iraq," said Gardner.

Babbitt was a tank crewman with the U.S. Army's First Cavalry Division.

Barnaby Hernandez, Babbitt's stepfather, said the young soldier was leading a group on a mission when they were ambushed.

A piece of shrapnel from a mortar struck Babbitt, went in his left shoulder, exited his back and pierced his heart.

Hernandez said one of the other men on the same patrol shot and killed the insurgent who killed Babbitt.

Joe Hernandez, Babbitt's uncle, was one of a group of about 50 to 75 motorcyclists who rode their bikes past the church in tribute to the young soldier.

He said members of about three different clubs, as well as bikers who don't belong to clubs, joined the procession.

The mother of a Sabinal soldier currently serving in Iraq organized a group of individuals holding flags along both sides of the street leading from the funeral home.

Babbitt had been in Iraq since March 6 and came home on leave in October.

He had returned to duty Oct. 11 after a two-week furlough.


Uvalde soldier proud of spurs earned in Iraq
Posted: Monday, Oct 04, 2004 - 10:29:53 am CDT

by Margaret Palermo - Staff writer

"It's an old First Cavalry Division tradition," he explained Thursday during a visit to The Leader-News.

"You earn those by going on 50 combat missions, being shot at and blown up," he laughed.

"With the spurs, when you wear them, if they're facing up, that means you're married and if they're facing down, you're single."

He said the tradition started when married men needed a safe place to put their wedding bands when they were working dangerous jobs.

Babbitt is the son of Kathy Hernandez and was her motivation behind starting a drive to send care packages to Uvalde soldiers serving in Iraq.

"Everybody that gets packages over there, they love it," said Babbitt, "especially when they get the little things you can't get over there, like a piece of candy or something."

When Babbitt first went to Iraq March 9, he told his mother that soldiers were unable to get such things as foot powder, toothpaste, sunscreen and other necessities for a desert climate. That was when Hernandez began her campaign to put together packages for the soldiers, a campaign still going strong today.

"We all appreciate it," said Babbitt. "There's some times you don't get a chance to go buy razors or foot powder or things you need. We're on missions all the time."

Babbitt is a member of a tank crew. He graduated from Uvalde High School in 1998 and is planning to make the Army his career.

"I've been in four years Feb. 16 and just re-enlisted for six years," he said.

During his time in Iraq, he said the heat has been intense. "It's hot. The hottest temperature I remember seeing is 136."

Making it worse is the fact that soldiers all have to wear Operative Tactical Vests, bulletproof vests with Kevlar and ceramic plates to reduce fatalities.

Not everything is soldier stuff, however. Babbitt said his team builds projects to help people around Baghdad, where he is stationed.

"The team I'm on is a government team. We go out and check on projects we have around town. We just opened a sports complex, a big field we turned into a soccer field and built a little concession stand with seating around it," he said.

He said his team used a house that used to belong to Saddam Hussein's wife to build a community center and a house belonging to Hussein's daughters to build a house for women.

"We're going around looking for more areas, open land to build apartment complexes and stuff like that for them," he said.

But it is a wartime situation in Iraq.

"We do our regular raids," he said. "We've found weapons caches. A 500-pound bomb hit our truck."

Babbitt said that when he first arrived in Iraq, he and his team had to manufacture their own armor and metal doors for their vehicles. "About a month ago, we got kits to armor our trucks. The kits came with air conditioning, so now we have air conditioning."

He said the air conditioning works well at night, but not as well in the daytime. "You have to angle it to hit you, but you don't do it because the wind is blowing in your ear and you can't hear anything," he said.

The key to staying alive in Iraq is staying alert, he said. "The places you least expect, those are the place you're always scanning," he said. "Most of the people who get hurt over there is because they're not paying attention."

He said one truck lost two soldiers to a bomb on a bridge. "If they would have been scanning the bridges and everything, I think they would have seen it and stopped," he said.

"We've only had one truck where anybody got seriously hurt, only one person who passed away in our battalion," he said.

Babbitt said going to Iraq has changed his life dramatically, especially with his family. Babbitt and his wife, Anita, have one son, Diego, and two daughters, Unique and Serenity.

"I look at them totally different," he said.

He said seeing how the Iraqis live has made a big impact on him.

"They live totally different," he said, "with clothes I wouldn't even consider putting on my kids. I see feces all over the road. I couldn't live with my kids like that."

The base where Babbitt is stationed, Camp Ferrin-Huggins, is named for two of the first military policemen killed in combat in the area.

He said he has formed a special bond with his team. "The people I go on mission with, my team, I couldn't give those friends up for anything," he said. "You never understand unless you've been there, getting shot at and knowing your life is in their hands and their life is in you hands."

Oddly enough, Babbitt said, some people his team has tried to help are afraid to accept help.

"We went to this area like an old bus station with little apartments all around and an open space. A lot of people are scared Saddam is still around and they push us away."

Babbitt will be going back to Iraq Oct. 11.