With help from home, soldiers in Iraq keep their weapons clean

ROANOKE – A few grains of sand can prevent a gun from working. In the desert of Iraq, that is a constant issue.

When his unit was low on gun cleaning patches and fluid, a 21-year-old soldier from Blue Ridge found help from his father and a generous bystander.

Army Spc. Joshua Williams told his father, Dale Williams, by e-mail in mid-August that his platoon needed these supplies. Dale Williams then went to Bryansteen’s Gun and Archery in Roanoke to buy them for his son.

As he spoke to the clerk, Dano McConnell of Catawba overheard and offered to help buy the supplies.

“Having been in the service, I know that logistics can take some time to catch up, so I thought, ‘I’ll just add to whatever he’s getting,'” said McConnell, who said he served a year in the Navy before being honorably discharged in 1969.

As a retired Portsmouth police officer, McConnell knows his share about guns.

“If you don’t keep it clean, it will fail you when you need it most. Cleaning supplies are critical to the survival of a soldier,” McConnell said.

Dale Williams was amazed by his generosity.

“Dan didn’t have to do this. He didn’t hesitate, he just told Paul, ‘Give ’em a whole case of it and put it on my bill,’ ” Dale Williams said. “Josh says it’s really things like that that keep morale up.”

Paul Hylton, manager of Bryansteen’s, also felt moved to help. He sold the box of gun cleaning fluid to McConnell at cost.

About two weeks later, Joshua Williams, who’s assigned to carry a Squad Automatic Weapon, or light machine gun, received enough supplies for his whole platoon. The soldiers normally have to wait in line to get supplies, so having their own stash saves time. Knowing they will be able to keep their weapons clean is comforting.

“Their weapon is their most important thing to have. You eat with your weapon, you sleep with your weapon. It goes everywhere, so it’s got to be in excellent working condition,” Dale Williams said.

Dale Williams was admittedly “a little surprised” at the lack of basic supplies, though he said he can understand the complicated logistics that go into such a large-scale military operation. The war in Iraq has cost the U.S. government $90 billion so far, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Another $30 billion has been provided by Congress.

“It sounds like it would have been nice to have a personal supply,” said an Army spokeswoman. “It was more convenient, perhaps, to have his own.”

Nationally, there have been numerous cases reported of family and friends sending body armor, boots and other supplies to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Friends of soldiers in one transportation company from Southwest Virginia even had metal plates fabricated and shipped to Iraq to supplement the soldiers’ body armor. One of those plates saved a soldier’s life, the Washington Post reported earlier this year.

Since March, Joshua Williams has been stationed in Baghdad’s Sadr City suburb with the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. According to Dale Williams, his son will move soon to Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. Joshua Williams has orders to be there for a year, but most soldiers are being kept three months longer than planned, Dale Williams said.

“We don’t know for sure when he’ll get another leave. We’re praying for Christmas,” he said.

McConnell received an e-mail from Joshua Williams thanking him for the supplies, and the two have been corresponding since then. When Williams comes home, McConnell said he hopes the Williamses will come to his property, which includes the Catawba Murder Hole, to go caving and have dinner.

“I just think that Josh and all those other men and women over there, they’re the real heroes,” McConnell said.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply