“We Took A Pretty Good Bloody Nose When We Got To Ramadi!”   LTC Mike Squires, West Point/Ranger, United States Army (ret.)  

One memory held by then-Captain, now United States Army Lieutenant-Colonel Michael T. Squires, early in his first Middle East combat tour (2003).  “Sadly, those stateside training deficiencies quickly came back to haunt us, once on the ground and in combat in Iraq.  Now, I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but somewhere between two-to-six weeks into our time of showing up into theater in Ramadi, the NCO’s kind of collectively woke up and realized, hey, I am an NCO, I am being empowered, I am needed, I have a role here, and with that realization, they picked up their game,” recalled Squires. “And when that happened, the whole unit turned around.  From that point, we were running on all cylinders.  Once we hit that mark, and, again, it was probably more like six-weeks, then I finally felt comfortable concluding that, hey, I’m on a good team now!” he said.

Looking back to a much younger time in his life, perhaps eighth or ninth grade, Mike Squires had an inkling that military service might be in his future.  While several members of his extended family had served (Marines, Navy, Air Force), that really wasn’t what initiated his military thoughts.  As he recalled, “I don’t know if it was the ‘Be All You Can Be’ TV ads, or maybe the Gulf War, but certainly the connection with being part of a team that was bigger than yourself, and doing something for your country, so it was kind of a two-fold thought.”

A start of an idea, perhaps, but nothing that really took hold.  That would come later.  As a High School student, while attending a Boys State Conference, Squires met, and was impressed with, a Cadet from the United States Military Academy, who was there as part of a summer assignment. From that conversation, the idea of combining service to the nation with a quality college education came into much sharper focus.  Following that chance meeting, knowing very little about West Point, he began researching it, along with the offerings of the other branch academies, given the varied service of family members.  And after a lot of digging, and careful consideration, he reached the conclusion that “since this comes with a five-year commitment post-graduation, and I’d way rather do that commitment in the Army than in any of the other services.”

Decision made, now all he had to do was get in!  Squires sought out the Congressman from his residential district in Cleveland.  And after a series of applications and interviews, he fulfilled his first career-path goal, earning an  appointment, and admission, to West Point (1994).  And thankful he was for both, since, with his heart now set on attending the Academy, he freely admits he had no ‘Plan B.’

The transition from high school to West Point, while no doubt a challenge for most first-year students, was effectively seamless for Squires.  He went from an early breakfast-school-athletics-dinner-studies-late to bed schedule at home, to basically the same routine, though doubtless more rigorous, at the Academy.  “I was much more prepared for West Point, than I originally thought I would be, because of my very structured time through high school,” he recalled.  Regardless, as would be expected of all dedicated students at this demanding level, the West Point experience did provide a lasting impact.  “It took time, a good four years, for it all to sink in. The enormity of the task, the responsibility, and profession of arms, all of that took a while to really take hold.  It led me to realize that, hey, this isn’t just about college. This is about a much larger, more important task.  Even if you were the lowest officer or private in the Army, this experience proves just how key your individual role is to the big team.  And that probably sunk-in, fully, by the time I was about to graduate,” remembered Squires.

Along with the continuing attention to those bigger-picture Army requirements and expectations, on the academic side, his diligent efforts to achieve there culminated with a very impressive, make that a truly incredible, finish.  Out of nearly 1,000 seniors in his West Point graduating class, Cadet Squires graduated 5 in his class!

The first assignment for newly-commissioned (May, 1998) Infantry Second Lieutenant Mike Squires was the Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) conducted at the “Benning School for Boys” (graduating officer term of endearment, in hindsight, for the then-Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia!).  Upon course completion, he remained at Benning for both Airborne (Jump) School (3-weeks), and then the start of the demanding two-month/three-distinctive element training sequence required to earn the coveted Ranger Tab.

Why seek Ranger Qualification?  “I knew as soon as I branched Infantry, that it was something that was pretty much a requirement.  If you want to do well in the Infantry, you’d better be Airborne and Ranger-Qualified, otherwise you’re gonna have a hard time making it,” said Squires.  “That’s something you learn over four-years at West Point and something you quickly learn at IOBC, when you look around and see who’s Ranger-Qualified and who’s not.  Even among the cadre of officers and enlisted teaching us, there was a noticeable difference between those who had it, and those who did not.”

Lessons learned from the demands of Ranger training?  “No doubt what it taught me is that you can keep going much longer and further than you probably would let yourself,” recalled Squires.  “And you know a big part of that is that there’s a team with you, and you’re not gonna let that team down. Whereas you might think you’re exhausted, you might think you can’t take another step, but if the guy in front of me is, and the guy behind me is, then I can keep going too. That has served me well going forward.  The fact that, if you made it through Ranger school, you can handle whatever future tasks you’ll face.”

Following preliminary Ranger orientation at Fort Benning, students then face the challenges of conducting operations in the mountains of North Georgia, followed by the swamplands of Central Florida.  When asked which of the three sequences presented the most vivid memories, there was no hesitation in his response.  “The mountains!  Now, I won’t say the Fort Benning phase (the first of the three) was easy,” he said.  “There were a lot of ‘go-no-go’ tests.  Miss this even by one push-up, see you later; miss another event by one-second, see you later.  But once we got into the actual patrolling, it became easier.  It was squad-level, small.  I was familiar with the terrain, the weather was still decent, it was Fort Benning.  But, then, we moved up into the mountains, at the end of February, that was a tough transition.  The terrain was much more challenging, with a lot of elevation.  The moves felt much longer, the weather was rough. One of my ‘favorite’ memories was when we started up Mount Yona, a famous mountain all Ranger candidates must climb there. It was a cold rain at the bottom, and half-way up, it was a cold snow, to give you some idea of the elevation we gained” said Squires, feeling that cold all over again!

He did recall, and credit, the genuine concern shown by the instructors if any of the students got wet.  “We had to cross a creek, and everything was going fine, until my Ranger-Buddy slipped and fell in, got completely soaking wet, and it’s about 2 AM,” he remembered.  The training cadre reacted immediately, realizing the dangerous combination of cold and wet. They literally stopped the whole patrol and formed a perimeter around that soldier.  They got his wet clothes off, wrapped him in towels, while others pulled a fresh uniform and boots out of his backpack, and got him dried off and relatively warm, as quickly as possible.  “Those sequences in the mountains were tough,” said Squires, clearly thankful that phase was now but a memory.  Reliving those winter-time North Georgia experiences helped him recall how comparatively easier the following movements were in Florida (training phase three).  While they were longer, they were flat!  “But I remember my body having so little left (coming off the mountain phase), that I knew I should be warm, but I was cold” remembered Squires.  “So even when the sun would come up, and by then it’s a beautiful April day, the kind of day I really appreciate now, but back then, my body just couldn’t warm up, until we were a few miles into our march.”

Lieutenant Squires successfully completed Ranger school, graduating and with his Tab now proudly in place.  He, then, headed for Vicenza, Italy to join what would soon become the 173rd Airborne Brigade, his first operational unit assignment. His very high West Point class rank had enabled him to pick both his branch and his first duty-station.  “That was one of the huge benefits of doing well academically,” he said.  “And, again, I approached West Point like I did high school.  At both, I had a series of tasks, so I put my head down, and didn’t stop until they were completed.  Going back years later to teach at West Point, he realized how much harder the studying had become, now, with social media and other distractions that simply did not exist, or were in their infancy, when he was an undergrad.

So why choose Italy for a first post-schooling assignment when, due to his high West Point senior class ranking (5th), he had his choice of any location, across the U.S. or overseas?  “There were all kinds of nice things about the unit that made me choose it,” said Squires. “It was an airborne assignment.  And every officer there was Ranger-Qualified. And, of course, it had the benefit of being in Italy!” As pleasant it may be for life-style, however, there is no real large-scale training capability for our troops in Italy.  That necessitates two major, extended, training trips a year to Germany for the 173rd.

What he didn’t fully appreciate about that, until moving on to later assignments, was the value of the extensive training exercises and small unit cohesion made possible by these annual German field opportunities.  “Everyone who goes up there, from Day 1, starts the progression from the smallest marksmanship training, all the way to the highest collective training you can get.  And you’re there for every repetition. So that team is doing rep, after rep, after rep.  The exact same team, together, throughout that process. In sum, two key advantages as I look back:  Everyone was there as a team, together from the start, and the NCO’s there were very strong” he recalled.

In a later assignment as a company commander, those cohesion advantages Captain Squires experienced with the German training modules looked all the more valuable to him, since he was unable to replicate them here.  “I then had a company of 140-150 soldiers, and at any given time, when I’d go to the field, I’d only have 80-110 of them.  And it wasn’t always the same 80-110!  So I didn’t have that team going through every step together. So although we might finish the same training density, the same marksmanship from team to squad, on up to platoon maneuvers and live-fires, when you look at the proficiency on the back-side, my elements out of Italy were several steps ahead of those I trained at Fort Riley years later,” felt Squires.

He was dispatched from Italy to Kosovo three times while serving with the 173rd.  “One of those times, I went as the battalion’s S-3 air officer. I would plan all of the air operations, so on this one, I went over early to set-up the drop zones with a couple of NCO’s.  More than anything, this rotation was meant as a show of force, demonstrating that the U.S. Army could push a battalion worth of folks to Kosovo relatively rapidly.  The second time I went was for a real short planning conference.  And the third time I went as the battalion support platoon leader, in charge of getting all of the air and ground vehicles sync’d up,” recalled Squires.  All his trips were operational assignments, but none of them involved combat.  The fighting was pretty much over by that time.  “We were there basically serving as a road-block, keeping people that hated each other apart.  We had live ammunition, but I don’t think anyone fired a single round.  If they did, it was an accident, and they got fired for it,” he said.

As a footnote, there’s no doubt one more reason for his very positive feelings and experiences recalled about Italy.  While stationed there, fortuitously, he met a young American woman who was traveling through Europe that summer. The attraction was immediate.  They stayed in touch, she back in the states, and later they spent more time together in Italy.  Although Lady Luck’s dice certainly played a role in their what-were-the-chances first meeting, this proved to be far from a gamble, but a rock solid relationship meant to be.  Mike and Sarah were married, and now have two great kids, rounding out their terrific Army family.

Upon completing his three-year tour with the 173rd, he went back to Fort Benning to take and complete the Infantry Captain’s Career Course, and two other training sequences (one, a familiarization with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, since he’d next be maneuvering with them) before heading to the Army’s First Infantry Division at Fort Riley (Kansas). There, he initially spent time as an assistant operations officer (S-3).

Before long, his unit received a ‘no-notice’ deployment order.  It had become apparent to our military leadership that the situation in Iraq (2nd Gulf War, Iraq Invasion, 2003) would take more than the Third Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division to get it under control, meaning Squires’ brigade at Fort Riley would be heading down-range as well.  So in September, 2003, he was off to Iraq, landing first in Kuwait, before the brigade linked-up with their armored vehicles, and then convoyed with them up to Ramadi in Iraq. This deployment would last a full-year.  “I did a few different jobs during that tour.  Predominantly, I was a plans officer in the 3-shop, and then I did a short stint as the battalion’s logistics officer (S-4), and then, kinda last minute, replaced a company commander who was relieved, so I took command overseas of a mechanized infantry company,” recalled Squires.  “Thinking back, it was an interesting dynamic going from Italy, where every officer was Ranger-Qualified, as were the bulk of the NCO’s, then to Fort Riley where that was not the case.”

Back when he first arrived at Fort Riley, he discovered that there were only five Ranger Tabs in his entire battalion, and Captain Squires was one of the five! And all five were officers serving in positons of battalion staff and leadership.  He realized that the Tab was not the be-all end-all, but he harkened back to one of the valuable lessons he’d learned from his Ranger experience, proving to oneself that, when put to the test, you can do more than you thought you could.

“As such, I was very nervous when we got the call to go to war, because I was not impressed with the (stateside) training level of my battalion.  I’d seen the complexity of the live fires that we’d done, particularly the dismounted live fires, compared to what we did in Italy, and they were not nearly as well versed (i.e., skilled),” said Squires.

“I’ve tried to go back in time to figure out how we, as officers, failed them (NCO’s) during the garrison training time.  Obviously, officers had failed to school them in basic combat behavior, their responsibilities, and the level of oversight expected, that good NCO’s always achieve, but qualities they either didn’t have, or failed to exhibit, when I got on the ground at Fort Riley,” he remembered.  And he also remembered quite clearly, by stark comparison, that those NCO leadership qualities had been ingrained and consistently projected when he was involved with field training with the 173rd back in Italy.

Thinking about the obvious, and dangerous, execution dichotomy, Squires had come to the only plausible explanation for the Riley NCO’s expectation and performance gap.  “It was likely rooted in the fact that a mechanized unit, such as theirs (First Division), is so platform-centric, so focused on being able to keep the vehicles (Bradley Fighting Vehicles) running, and to be able to shoot from and maneuver them, that all the focus was there, and not necessarily on the people.  We (officers) had just become too platform focused in our approach to training, so the problem-sets we gave the team (NCO’s) failed to properly address the soldier side of the equation,” concluded Squires.

Moving back, now, to the Iraq deployment (2003-04), as then-Captain Squires experienced it, and his impressions of that nation, after spending time in Afghanistan, as well. “One of the nice things about Iraq, that I saw, was they had a good ‘skeleton’ there.  Meaning there was capability there, infrastructure-wise, to actually support and function as a country,” he recalled.  “They weren’t where they needed to be, but they had potential. Driving, as I did, through Baghdad, over to Ramadi, to Fallujah, and seeing some of the other cities, it became obvious to me that there was some brainpower, some planning, some capability there.  Obviously not fully developed, but I wasn’t overly concerned about the long-term health of Iraq, at that time.   In my mind, they would figure it all out and eventually get there.  In hindsight, I did think that would’ve happened five-years after I was on the ground in Iraq, not over twenty-years later,” he said.

That delay in becoming the secure and maturing nation he envisioned was, of course, caused almost solely by the political decision in Washington to pull all of our troops out of Iraq prior to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, creating a void quickly filled there, in the worst of ways, by a destructive force known as ISIS.

Back on the combat side in Iraq, Squires’ group experienced a rude awakening once there on the ground.  “Those first six-weeks were pretty tough.  My battalion (First Battalion/16th Infantry Regiment/First Brigade/First Infantry Division) suffered a total of sixteen soldiers killed in action, over the course of that deployment. Several of them early on, and several really strong leaders were injured in early fighting.  A really influential platoon sergeant lost his eye and had to go back. One of the platoon leaders in the company I ended up taking over got his leg blown off.  Overall there were just a lot of casualties in those first few weeks,” Squires remembered.

Focusing on those ‘rough’ first few weeks in country, aside from the obvious danger accompanying missions outside the ‘wire’ in an active combat zone, the Ramadi headquarters compound (an old, large, multi-acre, former Iraqi Army air defense facility) where Captain Squires’ company, his entire battalion, and a total U.S. force of 2,500+ soldiers were stationed, ironically proved to be, itself, a targeted source of danger.  “We probably got some kind of indirect enemy fire on our camp, at least every other day, over the course of that year.  Usually it was just a nuisance, but every once in a while, they’d do some real damage,” he remembered.

The unsettling sound of nearby gunfire was a daily occurrence around Ramadi.  Not necessarily involving Squires’ unit, but sometimes they did involve his battalion.  “Some were small, little gun fights, but then some were horrific, longer-term, big-time fights, like the one in which that platoon leader from Charlie Company lost his leg,” he said.  Worse yet, our soldiers usually couldn’t predict when, and from where, these attacks were coming.  The enemy had learned the hard way early on that they simply could not take on U.S. troops directly, since, thankfully, our forces had too much firepower and too many ground troops along with it.  To help overcome that allied advantage, the enemy resorted to the prevalent use of IED’s, the elusive weapon of choice still employed by the opposition on the battlefields of today.

Recalled Squires: “This was a fuzzy time (in Iraq), because you didn’t know who in the neighborhood was Al-Qaida, or in this predominantly Sunni area, whether it was just their tribes fighting against each other, or even perhaps Sunnis fighting against Shia forces, intent on taking over territory in the Sunni’s Ramadi stronghold.  So that kept our intelligence shop busy trying to figure out who was who, and who or where to target and go after. Unlike most previous wars, it wasn’t always clear who your enemy was, until they were shooting at you!”

Squires was asked to reflect back on the first skirmish or battle that he, personally, found himself in during his time in Iraq, now some 14-years ago. “The first big firefight that I was in,” he recalled, “was when we did a pretty significant operation along with one of America’s elite units. They had flown in to our headquarters and said, hey, we’ve got some bad guys here and we need your help with an outer cordon.  So we planned and rehearsed that nighttime mission, and went in.  I was stationed on that outer perimeter, commanding and controlling (‘C2’) the assets we had manning it. The elite unit thought they had the particular target-house pinpointed.  Based on that, my men and I were about three blocks away from the fight … or so we thought!!,” said Squires.

The elite’s suspected target turned out to be the correct one, and a huge firefight ensued.  But, as it happened, that target house fight ended up being very close to the protective outer perimeter, a whole lot closer, in fact, than Squires and his men had anticipated.  “So things got pretty interesting really fast,” he recalled.

A perhaps unexpected amount of automatic weapons fire came at the Americans from the enemy structure.  As you would hope and expect, we had a powerful response.  Backing up our dismounted forces, we had several Bradley Fighting Vehicles pouring massive amounts of ordinance into that targeted building.  Despite that, a determined enemy fought on.  Regrettably, our elite unit did lose one of its team members during the course of that intense fighting.

At the perimeter, which, more than security, quickly became a part of the fight itself, Captain Squires was coordinating periphery assets from, of all things, an old Korean or Vietnam-era armored troop transport (M-113).  It had a 50-cal. machine gun trained on the suspect building, continually firing.  Because of it, his location attracted responding fire from the enemy, as did the soldiers around him, manning Bradley Fighting Vehicle guns.

“In this particular instance, we got lucky,” recalled Squires.  “There was my vehicle, and about twenty-meters away, was another one, and two RPG’s landed literally right between the vehicles.  There’s no doubt those Bradleys could’ve sustained an RPG hit with only minor damage.  Had that hit mine, however, I don’t know how much damage it would’ve done.  Depends on whether it might’ve been a really ‘good’ one, with an armor-piercing round, that likely would’ve severely injured or killed us.  Or simply an old one that maybe, at most, (the jolt) or (the ringing in our ears) would’ve given us a migraine headache the next day!

This nighttime mission to subdue a stubborn enemy target turned into a three-hour-long battle. Having understandably lost all sense of time, Squires remembers that when his unit finally got the OK to pull away, the sun was just coming up.  Said he: “I know our side killed a bunch of them. We had between 25–30 KIA on that target that night.  No enemy fighter was left alive, when the compound was searched.  So, in my mind, there’s a bunch of bad guys who aren’t around anymore.  And then that particular neighborhood was a little quieter for a month or so.  It had been fairly ‘active’ prior to that.”   The best news of all was that all of Squires’ soldiers survived.  He felt it was an effective firefight for them, with some valuable lessons learned.

“So that was my first baptism by fire, if you will.  I had already been on a bunch of missions, but none that proved to be that hot,“ recalled Squires.  Beyond the unexpected closeness of that firefight to his perimeter position, there was another reason the memory of that particular mission had managed to stick with him.  “I distinctly remember that night was Halloween, and what a strange, unforgettable ‘Happy’ Halloween experience it became!”

Besides that haunting holiday, it had also been for then-Captain Squires, as mentioned, his first close encounter with an actual combat event.  Thinking back, what impressions were made, what feelings does he recall, were going through his mind during that fight?  “I’ve read many books about soldiers’ experiences in our former wars, and what we learned from those conflicts,” he responded.  “And what’s interesting is that, probably starting after the Korean War, the way we trained changed.  When you went to the ranges, the targets were no longer bullseyes, they had become human silhouettes, both on marksmanship and live-fire ranges.  Counting West Point and active duty service, I’d been in uniform, then (2003), for about nine-years, and so looking back, now, on that first actual close-up event with the enemy, frankly, it felt just like training.  It didn’t feel like anything I hadn’t done before.  Yeah, there were bullets coming at me, and that was a little harrowing (!), but you’re still able to focus on what you’re supposed to focus on, because of the comprehensiveness of that training.  And so, at no point was I, or anyone on the team, shaking in our boots. Everyone recognized, hey, here’s what I’m supposed to do.  This feels so familiar:  Aim the rifle to target, squeeze the trigger, look for the next target.  It very much felt that way.”

But what about following the fight?  “It’s the thinking about it afterwards, where you realize, Oh, S—T!!  Remembering that two RPG’s had landed just five-feet away from me, and luckily the shrapnel blew backwards, and not laterally, because otherwise, I could’ve gotten peppered with it.”  Fortunately, in that instance, the armored vehicle he was in helped to keep Squires and his crew from sustaining any injuries. Summarizing with more than a touch of relief and sarcasm: “That was an interesting experience!!  All kinds of grenades, and a lot of heavy ordinance were continually coming in on that one, but at the time, you don’t think anything about it,” said Squires.

There was another enemy incident that stood out in Squires’ mind, as it still does. “This one was a tough day.  As I’d mentioned, our compound got shelled every 24 to 72-hours.  And usually it was very sporadic.  That day, I was enjoying a run with my good buddy, the battalion S-2.  A couple of rounds came in, but they didn’t seem to be anywhere near us, so we continued our run.  But this time it became different.  Every once in a while, they’d bring some heat, and this time they did! They must have shelled us with a couple of dozen rockets and mortars.  Normally you hear a round or two land, and you can continue with your run, not a big deal.  But this time, we quickly realized that we needed to seek some cover in a little bit of a ditch.  When we didn’t hear any more rounds, we sprinted back to the battalion, back where everyone was.  Still hearing no more, we got the sense that it was over,” said Squires.

At that point, he and others began to look around the compound for damage, and there was a lot of it.  “The worst thing was that there was an engineer unit that was just about to leave the ‘wire’,“ he said. “They were inside the ‘wire’, but outside of their building, doing the brief before initiating their large convoy.  All the vehicles were lined up ready to go, and everyone was assembled up around the hood of the lead vehicle, talking through the final checks for the mission.  All of the last minute details (security assignments, etc.) you do before you go.  It happened to be really hot out that day, so all of them had their helmets off, and some had taken their body armor off, as well.  When those rounds came in, a couple of them landed right where the group was standing.  We ended up losing twelve soldiers on the base that day, with another twenty of them significantly injured,” remembered Squires, vividly.  By luck of fate, had those rockets come in 10-minutes earlier, or 10-minutes later, chances are good the soldier loss that day would have been half or less, since either the unit members wouldn’t have yet assembled out in the open, or the convoy would’ve already moved out.

And another especially sad memory from that painful day.  “From my battalion, that was how the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) commander, Captain John E. Tipton, died.  He was literally standing there, and took some metal shrapnel to his head, and passed away that night from internal bleeding.  That was a huge blow. The battalion HHC commander is typically the second command, which is given to the best of the company commanders. He’d previously commanded Alpha Company, and, right before the deployment, took command of HHC. He was just a very experienced and good-natured guy.  And so that was a tough one for the officers in the unit to swallow, because we were all so close with him.  And, heck, he was my boss.  As a staff officer, I was in John’s HHC when he died during that mortar and rocket attack (02 May 2004).  So that’s one memory that doesn’t stand out as a good one. But it’s definitely a reality-of-war reminder,” Squires concluded.

Captain Squires finished his Iraq tour in September of 2004, returning to Fort Riley to continue his company command.  With upwards of half of his unit moving on to other assignments, Squires had several months of training-in the replacements ahead of him.  His unit had been alerted that it would be returning to Iraq, but those orders would change several times over the ensuing months.  As he prepared to relinquish company command, and move to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah (April, 2006), his former company did finally get its deployment orders, not to Iraq, but to Africa!

Squires was assigned to the First Ranger Battalion (1/75th), commanded by then-LTC Richard (Rich) Clark, under whom he had previously served in Italy.  Through assignments of increasing responsibilities and promotions to match, as of this writing, now-Lieutenant-General Clark has been nominated to head the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, following his previous assignment as Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.  That office provides strategic direction, policy guidance, and planning focus, in order to develop and execute the National Military Strategy.  Which, then, enables the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide military advice to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council.

With the Rangers, Squires became an Assistant S-3, and also served as the Rear-Detachment Commander here during a brief overseas deployment for the battalion.  After several months with the 1/75, he deployed to Eastern Afghanistan, but in a role outside the battalion.  Now in a joint assignment, as the director of an intelligence fusion cell.  It was his job to help develop target ‘packages,’ that could then be assigned to both conventional and unconventional units who would then take the military action needed to eliminate the targeted enemy.  “It was a great mission,” said Squires.  “I learned a ton about intelligence, and I learned how to use it.”  But thinking back, he recalled that, while it was very easy to feed targets to the elite unit on the base, and get them to take action, it was much harder to pass-off action requests to the conventional units, targeting the “lower- level thugs,” despite knowing who and where they were, and having compiled strong intel-based ‘packages’ on them.

Squires acknowledged that part of their reluctance might have been due to his not being persuasive, or influential, enough in ‘selling’ the need to get rid of those targets.  The other, bigger problem, he concluded in hindsight, was that their goals and his had apparently been different. “I just wanted to see those guys off the battlefield.  I had a deck of a hundred bad guys that I wanted to get rid of.  But I think they (conventional units) had a greater appreciation for what was going on among the locals, perhaps feeling that if they leave those guys alone, it would be better for community relations overall.  They might well have had a better sense, than perhaps I did, of the disruption those operations against the more minor players would cause,” he said.  Regardless, for whatever the reasons, that don’t rock the boat reluctance to take action clearly remained a source of frustration for him.

Captain Squires leads his Ranger Unit.

Still with the 1/75th, he was supposed to return from Afghanistan with the unit after three-months, but instead, his deployment lasted closer to six-months, twice the time planned.  That extension did not go unnoticed by his wife Sarah, disappointed by seeing the other Ranger unit members return, but her husband not with them!  After finally returning to Hunter and family, in October of 2007, Captain Squires helped ‘stand-up’ the fourth company in his battalion (Delta), with a core group of NCO’s.  On the next deployment for the battalion, he was assigned to remain at Hunter to finish the critical wartime task of building and training this newest company in the entire Ranger Regiment.   “I was dual-hatted as the Delta Company commander, and the battalion’s rear-detachment commander, now at the new rank of Major.  With both those responsibilities, it proved to be a very busy time,” he recalled.   Squires used the three-months the remainder of the battalion was overseas blending in, and train up, the almost fifty new-to-the-unit soldiers fresh from Ranger assessment training.  Then, after taking his company, along with the others, now returned, out to the National Training Center for combat certification, it was time for the entire battalion team to deploy once again.  About a third of the 1/75th went to Eastern Afghanistan, including Squires’ Delta Company, which ended up being spread between two different sites there.

Experience and training repetition were the keys, in Squires’ mind, to the proficiency achieved by his team during this deployment.  “You look at the standard Ranger NCO, who was just an unbelievable athlete, trainer, thinker, and leader, and I had a whole company of them!” remembered Squires with admiration and respect.  “What we were able to get done, and the proficiency level that we were able to get those Ranger privates to reach, looking back, I know it was because of the quality of those NCO’s,” he concluded.

Squires reviewed in his mind his troop experiences to that career point.  How impressed he was with the U.S. soldier and NCO capabilities he witnessed and experienced early on in Italy.  To then having that very positive impression initially deflated upon his arrival at Fort Riley, but restored again when the team deployed overseas to Iraq and rose to the performance standard he felt was necessary for the mission.  And then witnessing the performance level go significantly higher with the Ranger NCO’s that he had with this latest deployment to Afghanistan.  “When I look back at that time with the Rangers, just how strong and capable a team they were because of those Ranger NCO’s.  They were the primary reason. And then I had a strong crop of officers who could think, plan, and lead, as well, so it all kinda meshed.  It was a good four-month rotation.  A good mix of operations, with a night off once in a while, to get in some sleep, weight-lifting, and planning, and then right back after it.” said Squires.

Among the many operations that Squires and his team carried out during this deployment, one really sticks out in his mind to this day.  With a group of about sixty Rangers, Squires and his team had flown in at night, via Army Chinooks, and purposely landed about six-kilometers away from their intended target.  And the target for that mission was an individual insurgent who had been identified, his movements watched, and his location established.  Their intelligence was solid.

As they were walking in toward that target area, Squires heard a single gunshot.  “I thought back to my time in Ramadi and remembered that no one just shoots a single shot in the middle of the night.  That’s a signal. That’s someone warning someone else that we are on the ground.  So I sent out a radio call over the net.  Hey, be prepared.  Something’s not right. Keep extra scrutiny.  And sure enough, in less than two minutes, all hell broke loose,” he remembered vividly.   His group had suddenly come upon an entrenched enemy force!  “That was a pretty harrowing experience,” Squires recalled.

Made so, because the enemy had the high ground, while his team of soldiers had walked down below.  In hindsight, they thought they’d picked a safe place to land for target approach. Unbeknownst to them, it was the classic wrong place, wrong time.  “The area wasn’t as safe as we thought it was.  They had two heavy machine guns entrenched on a hill top, and we sustained two casualties pretty quickly.  One of our platoon sergeants took a round through the side of his body armor and into his chest.  And for another Ranger, the same thing, a round to the chest.  So right away, I had two significant casualties on my hands, and an enemy that I could not dislodge.  Nor was it my mission to go up and dislodge them.  That would’ve been a huge risk for no gain,” said Squires.

He was then faced with the difficult task of extracting his soldiers, two of whom were seriously wounded, as his Rangers remained under heavy enemy fire. Although there was an Air Force F-15 on-station well above them, it was not safe to attempt an assist. “Because we were so close (to the enemy), it didn’t have the ability to do anything other than shoot 20-mm rounds, and those rounds are designed to shoot down other airplanes, not to shoot bunkers, said Squires. “We were too close to that hill-top, and pinned down at that point with no cover to move to.  Maybe that F-15 could’ve done some work, if I could’ve backed off another 500-meters, and he could’ve dropped a 500-lb bomb, but I didn’t have that luxury at the time,” he recalled.

His tense situation under fire stalemated until about 45-minutes later, when an AC-130 gunship finally arrived high above the fight.  At that point, with the AC-130’s lethal, pin-point accuracy of fire, that unique, situation-dominating flying gun platform completely eliminated the hill-top enemy, and with that, the battle was over.  “Once that asset (AC-130) showed up, and fired a couple of rounds, I was no longer concerned, I knew we’d be fine” said Squires. “That gave us the ability to move the casualties, and extract the whole ground force a couple of kilometers away to a clearing, and then call in some assets to pull us ought of there.  Obviously, we had to scrub that mission. Which was really unfortunate because we had such good intel on the target we were heading to, and we had flown in a pretty robust ground force.” he said.

Squires took great pride in the team (Delta Company) that he had stood up, molded, and led on that Afghan mission and others.  In his view, undertaking missions with Rangers made a real difference in effectiveness, and in the assets that could be called upon to assist them, such as, in this case, the F-15, and especially the AC-130, which ended the extremely dangerous standoff, in a hostile setting, by destroying the enemy fighters.  “There’s no doubt that we performed as well as we did because it was a Ranger unit,” said Squires.  He went on to praise the expertise of Ranger medics, the very best in the Army, in his experienced view. Faced with the early casualties during that mission, “one of the doctors (medic), bullets still flying, crawled forward, hooked his safety line to one of the wounded Rangers, and literally dragged him out of the direct combat zone to safety,” so that he could more effectively treat him. That, to Squires, stood out in his memory as an extremely courageous act.  And thanks to the rapid, on-site treatment by the two expert Ranger medics there on the ground, and follow-up surgical care once flown back to safety, Squires’ two severely wounded soldiers both survived, although both did face, as might be expected, a very long recovery.

Once back at the compound, and seeing after his men, accounting for the time difference back in the states, Squires called his wife in Savannah. She was hosting a ladies social gathering at the time of his call.  After a bit of ‘how’s your day going, I was in a firefight’ conversation, Sarah Squires sensed there was more to this call, than normal.  Her Army wife instincts kicked-in.  She concluded this wasn’t just a regular call home.  Without him saying so, she knew he’d been injured during the mission he’d told her about.  She was right, of course.  Squires had been hit!  He’d taken some shrapnel in one elbow from a near-by enemy RPG which, fortunately, hit and blew by him, not at him.  Nothing serious, not to worry, he’d be fine, hadn’t missed a step, he assured her.  Regardless, he had been wounded in combat, and a Purple Heart medal would follow.  Aside from the obvious, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Over time, most Army wives develop an infallible internal BS meter.  Thus, even by the sin of omission, they cannot be fooled.  Best not to try.

Squires returned from Afghanistan, shortly after that intense nighttime mission, and turned over Delta Company to another officer on the staff.  He had completed a total of 23-months in combat (Iraq/Afghanistan), and during two additional unit deployments, had remained at Hunter, serving as the Rear-Detachment Commander.  After his final Afghan tour, Squires then left the 1/75th, having been selected to attend the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (2009-10).

This year was one that promised to be enriching, both from a schooling perspective, and for the opportunity to re-connect with his family, after having spent so much training and deployment time away.  From a personal standpoint, however, it proved to be a year of unexpected challenges.

Prior to the start of his studies, the Squires family scheduled some vacation time, flying to Tacoma, Washington to visit his wife’s family.  While there, he, Sarah, and some visiting relatives decided to do the scenic, six-mile+ ‘Sound of Narrows’ run.  That was a Saturday, enjoyed by all.  The next day, his wife’s folks put together a nice welcoming gathering for the Squires family and the other relatives. During that event, Squires remembers not feeling well. He was having a hard time breathing normally, somewhat like what a chest cold can do.  With another week of vacation ahead of them, his wife suggested he go to the medical facility at near-by Fort Lewis to get looked at.  They did a normal work-up, gave him some antibiotics and he returned to his in-law’s home.

Asked how he felt the next day, he told his wife that when he breathed in, he’d get a spike of pain in his left shoulder, and similar pain in his right ribs.  And the deeper he breathed in, the worse the pain became.  He concluded that he must have pulled something on that Saturday run.  Two days running, he woke up bathed in sweat.  His wife told him it was time to go back to the docs at Fort Lewis.  Based on his symptoms, they took some blood along with an intensive series of tests.  Then, as the day wore on, more tests, and still more blood drawn! Finally, after enough time to think and worry about what’s going on with his health, quite natural for all of us, a Lieutenant-Colonel came in, and after doing an unexpected, but thankfully, quick exam of his rear quarters, the Doctor informed Major Squires that has had no internal bleeding, (the good news), but what he did have was a pulmonary embolism (the not so good news).  Exam over, that announcement made, the Doctor left.

Fortunately, before long, a doctor from the Internal Medicine Department arrived and explained in depth what Squires was experiencing.  This is a common malady, he was told, where folks from overseas are in good shape, fly back to the States, and become sedentary for a while on that long flight home, which then allows clots form in their legs and either not break off, or in fact, eventually break off.  “Although I never felt any kind of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), something certainly broke off, some kind of clot, and got stuck in my lungs,” remembered Squires.  Had the clot become lodged in his heart, instead of his lung, he likely would not have survived (In fact, Mike’s older brother, Neal, had passed away from a clot in his heart just two months prior).  The doctors were actually amazed that he was still alive.  Once he was given blood thinners, he began to feel much better.  It also surprised the doctors that he didn’t appear to be having any residual issues with any of his limbs.  “I bounced back, and literally a day later, I was fine,” he recalled.

Squires then contacted the 75th Regimental doctors to explain his situation.  They reassured him that this problem happens frequently.  He was prescribed blood thinners for the next several months to reduce the possibility of additional clots forming.  Following that, there were additional medical tests to take, all of which he passed with, as the saying goes, flying colors.  He returns to Leavenworth. The Command and General Staff courses go well.  “I try out to come back to the Ranger Regiment.  I get hired.  Supposed to go to the 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning. And things are looking good.  I’ve got the next six-to-nine years mapped out, through the various probable assignment progressions, building toward potential Ranger battalion command,” he recalled.

Major Squires is still progressing through the coursework at Leavenworth.  After six-months on blood thinners, then off them for a month, he takes some final tests required to establish his health status, at a large medical facility in near-by Kansas City.  In February, he got a call from his doctor there, indicating that he needed to come in for a consultation.  Once there, it was explained to him that he had a condition called Protein-C Deficiency.  Protein-C is a critically important element since it works to prevent clots from forming within the body. Squires quantity and quality of Protein-C was markedly deficient. Therefore, to avoid the certainty of future clots, which would likely be fatal, his doctor explained that it would be necessary for him to take blood thinners for the remainder of his life.

“So now, I’m devastated, because I know what that means,” recalled Squires. ‘’They (doctors) didn’t realize that my six-to-nine-year future career in the Army has just been completely derailed.  That was a really hard time for Sarah and me, both the stress leading up to those tests, the outcome, and then not really knowing what we were going to do after that,” he said.

So what should have been an enjoyable year with family at Fort Leavenworth (2009-10), became one of career uncertainty, impacting both Squires and his wife.  He knew, without question that he would no longer be able to join an operational (war-fighting) unit. An understandingly tough reality to face for a bona-fide, seasoned warrior. So he would be leaving the ‘operating’ side of the Army, to experience additional professional growth assignments within the Army’s ‘generating’ force.  But if there was one positive, throughout all of this personal turmoil, his health crisis did bring he and Sarah even closer together, as they dealt with it all together as a couple. And another definite positive: Despite the health issue, he attending the prescribed CGSC classes, completed all the required coursework throughput that year (2009-10), and graduated on schedule. Fortunately, there would then be many attractive career opportunities ahead.

Moving forward, Major Squires placed a call to a long-time friend, the manager at the infantry branch personnel office.  They had previously discussed the fact that, pre-diagnosis, he had been slated for a return to the Rangers at 3/75 at Fort Benning, but pending test results, he might be in need of an alternate job assignment.  And that became the case.  He knew, then, that he wouldn’t be going to 3/75.  So, Squires requested that, if possible, he be sent, instead, to the Ranger Training Brigade.  And it worked out.  His request was granted.  “So I got to go down to Florida and become the Operations Officer at the Ranger 6th Training Battalion, which was just a fantastic job!  Doing a great mission with a great crop of folks,” he recalled.

That turned out to be a terrific year (2010-11) and experience for Major Squires.  The following year (2011-12), he became the brigade-level Operations Officer for the entire Ranger Training Brigade.  “With a great boss, and a great group of people, that was a really good experience, as well.”

Looking back to the point of that career-altering diagnosis, as soon as it had been determined that, because of the continual blood-thinner requirement, he would no longer be able to be with fighting unit, he knew in his heart that he wanted to go teach at his alma mater, West Point.  “I knew I could make an impact, by helping to lead that next generation of officers.  So I put in a packet to teach at West Point, and got hired to teach in the economics department there.  Which is what led me to (first) go to M.I.T. for a couple of years to get a Masters in Business Administration,” said Squires.

LTC Michael Squires

Because of his selection to join the West Point faculty, the Army, then, selected him to earn his MBA degree (2012-14) prior to beginning his instructional duties.  He found the two-years at M.I.T.’s Sloan School to be some the most intellectually stimulating of his career to that point. Extremely competent faculty, coupled with his degree-class of very bright fellow students, made for a truly enriching personal experience.  It was during this time that Major Squires was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel (2013).  Upon receiving his MBA, as planned, Squires then taught economics at West Point for a year (2014-15), prior to coming to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA (2015-17) as its Garrison Commander.

Although the lifelong blood thinner regimen required that he shift his Army career track from operational assignments to helping generate future soldier-leaders, his overall health remains excellent.  He still runs, does daily PT, and continues to meet or exceed all annual Army physical fitness standards and expectations.

Following his two-year term as Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Commander, in the Summer of 2017, LTC Squires reported back to his alma mater, West Point, this time to serve a one-year assignment as a Regimental Tactical Officer (RTO).

PERSPECTIVES ON LEADERSHIP:  LTC Mike Squires, United States Army

Concluding our interview, LTC Squires was asked his thoughts or experiences regarding certain elements that make up the profession of soldering.  To begin, what memories stood out in his mind about individual courage he has witnessed?  Without hesitation, he recounted the example covered earlier of the Ranger medic who ignored enemy gunfire and RPG’s to crawl forward to retrieve a badly injured fellow Ranger during a nighttime firefight in Afghanistan.  And then one other example of courage, this one collective, came to his mind. “It’s always impressive to watch the first guy go into any door (in a combat zone), because you never know what’s behind it. Not as bad for the second or third guy, because the first guy through is gonna keep whoever might be there occupied. Courageous and always impressive,” he said.

An example of leadership, personally witnessed?  “It depends on the level. There’s one I distinctly remember at the squad level, being on a target with the Rangers in Afghanistan.  Some enemy they were going after ‘squirted’ (got away). They got outside of our perimeter.  And without missing a beat, one of those fire-team leaders is like, Hey, follow me! And he takes off up the mountain chasing after them. That’s outstanding leadership at the direct level.  Leadership at that level is much easier to see.  Much harder to detect at the organizational and strategic level, because it’s so much more nuanced,” said Squires.

Are solid, great leaders born or made?  “I’ve thought about this a lot,” he responded. “The Army’s answer is that it’s teachable. We’ll take whoever you are, and we’ll give you experiences, and some leadership training, and you can be a great leader.  I’m in the Army. It’s my duty to believe that. However, everyone I’ve seen do well in the Army just seems to have a little something there that I think is hard to teach. Some kind of ability to command a room.  And I’ve never seen anyone learn that.  For instance, I’ve never seen someone at the lieutenant level, who didn’t have it, and somehow figured it out and gained it as a captain, or major or colonel.  So it’s hard for me to say that there’s not something innate there that’s very intangible and hard to define. I have seen people who were poor (leaders) get better, but I haven’t seen anyone go from poor to good, then to fantastic, someone who can really command a room.  But when you think about it, we do generate leaders all the time, starting with privates who grow with experience and training and, then put in front of some troops, and those guys figure it out,” concluded Squires.

What is the best life-lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?  What has the military meant to you?  “The one word I think of when I think of my time in the Army, and what it’s done, is grit.  It’s taught me that life’s gonna give you a bloody nose.  Maybe that’s a pulmonary embolism, maybe that’s two guys badly injured with chest wounds in combat, maybe that’s some shrapnel to the elbow during a mission that turned crappy, but you get up from being punched in the face and you solve whatever problem life’s put in front of you.  There’s no doubt that the Army has taught me that time and time again.  And I’m better for it,” said Squires.

LTC Squires then further summarized his time in the Army, and as Garrison Commander.  “So it’s really been interesting,” he said. “Although I’m in the Army, I’ve had, it seems, five Army careers.  Beginning with the conventional career, then special operations with the Rangers, then training assignments, followed by academic career, and now this garrison role.  And I’ve learned something different and valuable at each stage.  I’m very thankful for all those experiences I’ve had, because all of them have contributed to preparing me for this particular job.  Garrison command has been very enjoyable, because I’ve been able to reach back and literally touch all of those previous eras and phases of my career, and use those skill sets in this job.  Maybe that’s in a teaching role, like I do at Rotary teaching community business people more about the Army, or in a negotiation-influence role with folks in local government, or in the partnership and communications things that we do.  All of it’s come together in this Garrison Command billet.  It’s been fantastic,” he said with both genuine feelings and satisfaction.

Following his very successful tenure as Hunter AAF’s Garrison Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Squires now moves back to West Point, this time to become a Regimental Tactical Officer in charge of one of the school’s four regiments. “I’ll be working with cadet leadership, military training, discipline, standards, and physical fitness, all of those facets that comprise what we need an Army officer to be,” he said.  Having been on the academic side there previously, he’s looking forward to experiencing the other side of it, the overall, comprehensive molding of those future officers.

Our very best wishes to Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Squires, wife Sarah, and family, as together they move forward to the very well-earned and deserved future opportunities that will continue to be theirs.

(June 3, 2017)

Copyright 2017 William L. (Bill) Cathcart, Ph.D.


UPDATE (Summer, 2019):  Recalling that LTC Squires had been diagnosed with an ailment which, although easily controlled with medication, led Army leadership to determine that his status would need to become classified as “non-deployable.”  This during a period when the top levels of the Army, uniformed and civilian, had established a policy that those deemed non-deployable would eventually have to be released from further service.  So, despite the fact that Mike Squires was a dedicated, well-educated, multi-skilled, proven leader in combat, as well as a West Point faculty member, and as a very successful garrison administrator (Hunter AAF), and, thus, very well qualified for any number of non-combat Army positions, and despite the support of several General Officers familiar with Mike’s capabilities, the Army leadership made the decision that LTC Squires would be medically-separated (Spring, 2019) from the military branch and service that he loved. Prior to that, his West Point assignment, originally scheduled to last for just one-year, fortunately had continued for a second year, during which time, as a Regimental Tactical Officer, he was then promoted to take charge of the cadets in all four of the Academy’s regiments.  There was, however, a very important move from the Army, as Mike began what would be his final year on the staff at West Point (2018-2019).  With Army retirement now ahead of him, he received the well-deserved promotion to Full Colonel to serve out that final year at the Academy, and this time as the Brigade Tactical Officer.

But as usually happens with well-qualified, highly thought of, former military officers, upon completion of service, Army Colonel (ret.) Mike Squires quickly secured a great, career-related position with the Culver Academy, a military high school in Culver, Indiana (Summer, 2019), where he now serves as the Commandant of Cadets. No question, he will be a very welcome, successful, and truly great addition to that highly-regarded school.