ST. MARYS - A local National Guard soldier was part of mission earlier this month that captured the suspected leader of a bomb-making cell in Iraq.
Army 1st Lt. Jason Hickman, originally from St. Marys, aided in the July 12 civil affairs mission west of Baghdad which led to the arrest of a high value individual (HVI) known as one of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team's "most wanted."
"The platoon had dedicated a significant amount of time and effort on this particular HVI," Hickman, a 1991 graduate of St. Marys High School, said in an e-mail. "He was listed ninth on the (battalion's) Iraqi high-value target list, and there was a terrorist warrant for his arrest here in Iraq."
Army 1st Lt. Jason Hickman, a 1991 St. Marys High School graduate, poses in Iraq during his current second deployment near Baghdad. Hickman was part of a mission earlier this month that captured the suspected leader of a bomb-making cell.
The man is suspected of being the leader of an improvised explosive cell and was apprehended in a civil affairs mission after a warrant was issued for his arrest by the government of Iraq.
Hickman, 35, is the leader for 2nd Platoon C Troop, 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, of which 15 of the 18 soldiers participated in the mission as well as a lieutenant with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop and Abu Saif, the troop's local national translator.
Hickman became involved in the mission because the platoons in C Troop are partnered with Iraqi Army Companies in their operating environment. This mission took place in a sector that was the responsibility of Hickman's partner company.
The mission began after a door at the suspect's home was damaged in a previous attempt to get the man in custody on June 25, Hickman said.
"Our Squadron S2 came up with the idea of taking a claims officer to the house to follow up on the damaged door," he said in the e-mail. "The hope was that the HVI would be there at which time we would detain him."
Hickman said there were "serious doubts that the suspect would be at the home so soon after the initial detainment attempt."
"As we approached the house he fled," Hickman recounted. "Had he not run our suspicions would not have been so quickly aroused. Running only makes you look guilty."
Hickman and his men gave chase and surrounded the area while they called for backup support.
"When I cleared the reeds lining the aqueduct and blocking my sight I noticed that the HVI was about 250 meters away and about to drop into some dead space," he said. "I called out for him to stop in English which he immediately did. I motioned for him to move our way and as he approached we asked his name, at which time he confirmed the name on the warrant."
The man was then transferred into Iraqi army custody. The suspected criminal admitted he is a member of an insurgency group and Iraqi soldiers had been searching for him for nearly a week.
"My soldiers were very thorough in their preparations and I would venture to say that we knew the ground in that area as well as (the suspect) did," Hickman said. "When he fled north and east everyone knew where he was attempting to seek refuge.
"Capturing the HVI was the reward for hours of hard work. Knowing that an individual involved in attacks on our fellow soldiers was off the street made it worth the effort."
This was the first time Hickman participated in a mission like that on July 12.
"This was the first time I had participated in a claims mission with the ulterior motive of catching an HVI and not paying a claim," he said.
The 30th HBCT is the parent brigade to the 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, and is made up of National Guardsmen from North Carolina, West Virginia and Colorado.
This is the second time Hickman, who now lives in Greenville, W.Va., with his wife Susan and daughter, Piper Elizabeth, has been overseas with the United States military.
He entered the Army in January 1996 and was first deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in 2003 before he came home in 2004.
"I had volunteered to deploy with the 1092nd Engineer Battalion out of Parkersburg (in 2003)," Hickman said. "Engineer work and reconnaissance work is intrinsically different."
Hickman said his first deployment was quiet because not much happened following the end of the conventional phase of the war.
"The insurgency was taking off when we left in the spring of 2004," he said.
Hickman, who has a degree in history and political science from Concord University in Athens, W.Va., said this second deployment has so far been quiet, as well.
"The focus has been developing infrastructure and building the legitimacy of the government of Iraq. We work closely with our Iraqi Army counterparts to maintain security and they have taken the lead in many areas," he said.
Hickman was laid off from a civilian job in 2007 when he went on active duty with the National Guard and has since worked at Squadron Headquarters in Bluefield. Hickman's C Troop is based in Glen Jean, W.Va.
Hickman's parents, Dave and Susie Hickman, still live in St. Marys and said they have been told their son is expected to be home early next year.
"His initial orders were for him to be home in February," Susie Hickman said. "But things have been known to change."
She said this second deployment is different from the first because the family is able to speak to their son a few times a week.
"He calls us every few days," Susie Hickman said. "This time we get to talk to him and e-mail with him and that is something we couldn't do last time."
While the family is proud of the work Lt. Hickman does on a daily basis and what he has accomplished, his father said it gets difficult.
"I'm naturally proud and worried," David Hickman said. "We really wish he could be home for his daughter's first birthday July 29 and we know he wishes he could be here, too."