Monday, May 30, 2011

In Memory of a Fallen Soldier and Friend

On November 6, 2006, Lt. Col. Eric Kruger was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Baghdad. Kruger had only been in Iraq for a few days as he and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division were relieving the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Also killed in the same explosion were Lt. Col. Paul J. Finken and Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Gage. Kruger and Finken are two of the highest ranking officers to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Eric Kruger was my friend. We met on the campus of Southern Methodist University sometime in 1985. I was one of two students in the newly created Army ROTC program on the campus of SMU. Actually we were a satellite of the University of Texas at Arlington program. At the time Kruger was a cadet in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of North Texas. When you are two of only a handful of guys wearing military uniforms on the campus you notice each other. One day Kruger and I struck a conversation about the new Army ROTC program. Eventually, Kruger transferred over to the Army program. 

One of the things I remember most about Kruger was his great sense of humor. While we were never in the same military education classes, we were both members of the UTA Insurgency Team, a group that would get together on weekends and practice infantry tactics. One weekend, the upper-classman in charge kept barking his order to attention by improperly saying "position of attention," and it also sounded like he was saying "tin can." Finally, Kruger had enough of this and the next time the cadet called out "position of a tin can," Kruger dropped into a squatting position and extended his arms out making a circle in front of his body. Asked what he was doing, he replied he was in the position of a tin can. All of us in ranks busted out laughing.

Kruger was also my fraternity brother. We were part of the same Pi Kappa Alpha pledge class. We were a small group and Kruger emerged as our leader. We all grew together during our time as pledges. We grew even closer as brothers. Whether it was putting on Shrimp Fest to benefit the Big Brothers or bowling for our only intramural championship, Kruger was there. My fondest memory is all of us going to Pancho's on Wednesday nights for dinner. Kruger called it Rauchos but he sure could pack away the food.  Later, Kruger would become the Pledge Master of a future class of pledges. His care for those pledges gave us all glimpse of how well he would take care of his troops.

Kruger and I lost touch with each other after we graduated from SMU. I somehow knew he would make Army his life. During his twenty years in the Army, he served in Korea, Bahrain, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Among the many accommodations he received, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. At his memorial, his unit commander Colonel Jeffrey Bannister, called Kruger a leader who was "naturally gifted with people, and could make soldiers and civilians alike feel welcome and at ease." That says it all.

Lt. Col. Kruger is survived by his wife Sara and four children. A memorial fund was established for the support of his children. Donations may be made to: The Memorial Fund for Children of LTC Eric Kruger, 4850 Langdale Way, Colorado Springs, CO 80906

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