Sgt. Andrew J. Baddick (AJ) – Army – September 29, 2003
His friends and family endearingly called him AJ. They knew him best as a man with a zest for life and a love for all things water – from the age of five he spent his summers in a kayak. He was an expert swimmer who later became a whitewater kayaker and then worked as a guide on the Leigh River – taking others down the rushing narrows of adventure he so loved to traverse.
It was water where he would spend his finest and last moments, at the age of 26, while saving the life of another from drowning after their vehicle overturned in a canal. Baddock was one of several soldiers in a four-vehicle convoy responding to a mortar attack near the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that day near Baghdad in 2003. The heavy vehicle, conducting patrols in the area when the mortars began, had overturned at the top of a steep bank as it turned sharply to avoid impact from an incoming mortar round. The metal beast and its precious cargo landed in a swiftly moving drainage canal where all were submerged.
Baddock’s instinct took over upon arrival, as it often does for soldiers who train exactly how the fight. He plunged into the murky water and rescued two military police officers from the 800th Military Police Brigade. The next attempt was to rescue the driver. Even after it had become clear the man had drowned, Baddick dove again to rescue the body and revive the life that had been lost – truly living the warrior ethos to “never leave a fallen comrade.”
Baddick never resurfaced from that moment under water. Although he was an expert swimmer, those most familiar also have the greatest respect for water and its power. It was later discovered that he hit his head during the second rescue and while some may be surprised at the fate of his last breath, those who knew him best say that was the beautiful thing about their soldier they called AJ – he always put others before himself. What was true of him in his life was also true in his final moments.
Baddick was an airborne infantry soldier – something that all soldiers at basic training sing about during their cadence calling as they march in lock-step. Assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the path he found himself walking along was one something he dreamed of doing from a young age. Baddick wanted to be a paratrooper like his father; it was something he always talked about. After an enlistment in 1999 and a re-enlistment in 2002, Baddick was in Iraq for approximately one month before the news was shared with his family.
After the fateful phone call letting the family know the heroic acts of their son, Baddick’s father and airborne inspiration, received a letter in the mail, written shortly before his son’s death. He cried at the sight of the handwritten envelope but smiled at its contents. It described the missions Baddick conducted while in Baghdad, the cause they were helping, and referenced a conversation the two had while AJ was home on leave between assignments.
If anything happened while deployed, he requested to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Baddick’s father took AJ and his sister to Arlington for a visit when they were both quite young but the hallowed grounds left a lasting impression on the heart of the future soldier. An impression so strong that it became part of his last will and testament.
October 14, 2003, was the day that Baddick joined fellow heroes in the soil steeped in pride and patriotism. Along with his full military honors at Arlington, Baddick received full fireman’s honors in his hometown of Jim Thorpe – he spent time as a volunteer firefighter and volunteer for the ambulance corps before joining the Army. His wetsuit sat empty among photos of happy memories and a collection of those who cared for him most – kayakers, first responders, family members, and friends.
Like all who knew him, Baddick’s father is heartbroken but “it’s the price we have to pay for freedom”, he will tell you. He takes comfort in knowing that his son died saving the life of another.
We thank you for helping us to honor the sacrifice made by those who raised their right hands and swore to defend our country against enemies foreign and domestic. When you run for a fallen servicemember you are helping to keep their memory and their stories alive. Each Wednesday we will share the story of those we honor – because we are grateful for your commitment to them and we are grateful for their sacrifice.
By Nicole Smart
Former US Army Photojournalist
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