Patrick J. Twigg
By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — Retired Staff Sgt. Patrick J. Twigg served overseas in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, and also in our own state, helping transport sandbags in the Mississippi River floods of 1993.
“I’m grateful for the experiences and friends the service has given me, friends that I’m still in contact with. I also appreciate I was able to serve my county,” Twigg says. “I was reminded of it recently with the flooding we’ve had. In 1993, our unit went over to the Mississippi and was on the river several days.”
Twigg, 48, served with Paris’ 1544th Transportation Company for 21 years.
The 1544th suffered the worst losses of any National Guard unit in Iraq — five of his friends died.
Sgt. Ivory L. Phipps of Chicago died March 17, 2004, almost immediately after the 1544th got there.
His passing was followed by Spc. Jeremy Ridlen, 23, of Maroa, killed in action May 23, 2004; Sgt. Jessica Cawvey, 21, of Normal, killed in action Oct. 6, 2004; Spc. Charles Lamb, 23, of Casey, killed in action Sept. 5, 2004; and Sgt. Shawna Morrison, 26, of Paris, killed in action in the same Sept. 5, 2004, incident.
The Paris native comes from a family with a proud tradition of military service. He joined the 1544th while still at Paris High School, in 1984.
A couple of days after graduating, he boarded a bus to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
After basic, Twigg received Advanced Individual Training as a heavy vehicle operator at Fort Dix, N.J.
After humanitarian service in Honduras, building roads, schools and wells, the unit’s next call to action came in August 1990.
Watching TV news reporting that Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq, Twigg heard that the military response would be in special need of linguists, water treatment and transportation units — making it likely his unit would be activated for Operation Desert Shield.
At the time, Twigg was enrolled at Eastern Illinois University working on a computer management degree, which would much later come to play in his military career.
His unit was activated in September 1990, then deployed to Saudi Arabia.
“During these few months, we moved pretty regularly, from a cement factory called Cement City, to a Saudi military base called King Khalid Military City, and finally to a camp referred to as Camp Windy, west of a town called Hafar Al-Batin,” he recalls.
The aerial war only lasted about 100 hours. After the operation was renamed Operation Desert Storm, air operations started, and the Paris unit’s mission became to follow tank and infantry forces north into Kuwait and Iraq.
In 1993, when the Mississippi River flooded, his unit was broken into smaller groups, and assisted with hauling dirt, filling sandbags for rescue operations.
“For several weeks, I worked long days while being attacked by mosquitoes, and sleeping next to some kid’s locker in Quincy High School,” he recalls.
He married Mary in 1998, and moved from Terre Haute, where he was working in information technology, to the Champaign-Urbana area the next year. He now works at the Champaign County Circuit Clerk’s office.
Twigg had re-enlisted to make it to his 20th year and retirement.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the Twiggs were “glued to the television, watching in horror.”
The 1544th Transportation Company was put on alert to be activated. Twigg would eventually go to Iraq.
The Paris unit stayed on alert, finally called to duty on Dec. 7, 2003. He and his wife bought two digital cameras to share photos with each other. He also had ham radio equipment, but the Internet turned out to be a better method of communication, he says — and he posted photos of fellow soldiers there.
The Paris unit arrived at a post on the outside ring of Baghdad International Airport on March 16.
“The Army trained me for 19.5 years to be in transportation, and I was assistant truckmaster, doing details on routes to see which ones were safe, and make sure they were rotated to not be predictable, within the first 24 hours of getting there,” he says.
But immediately the service requested someone “good with computers.”
He ended up running a computer lab on post instead of working with trucks.
“While this was discouraging to some extent that I wouldn’t be using my government training, I knew that this other position was equally important for keeping the morale of the soldiers up with emails, Internet access and phone lines,” he says.
His mother passed away in February 2005. Twigg ended up the deployment on funeral leave, and did not return to Iraq.
But he felt what his unit had done was valuable — and that further military presence could have saved lives.
“I think we helped to get the people out of a repressed regime. I think that if everything had remained the same, if we had kept a presence there, they would have had a decent chance at a democratic government,” Twigg said. “Unfortunately, now that ISIS has returned, everything is as bad, if not worse.”
Paris Army National Guard units will be holding a reunion on Sept. 17. Former and current members can get additional information by visiting parisguard.com.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.