Gazette.com - By JEREMY MEYER THE GAZETTE
The last thing Pfc. Jesse A. Givens wanted was to leave his pregnant wife, 5-year-old stepson and their Colorado Springs home.
But duty called.
A dictator needed to be overthrown, and Givens told his family there wasn?t a chance in the world he would let the three other soldiers in his tank go into a war without him.
Givens on Thursday became Fort Carson?s first fatality when his tank fell into the Euphrates River, and he drowned.
Givens, 34, of Heavy Company, 2 nd Squadron, 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was driving the Abrams M1A2 tank toward four fires that Iraqis set in Habbaniyah, a city west of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Tobin Green, commander of the 2 nd Squadron.
Soldiers sometimes can put out fires when they drive over them with a tank, Green said. The riverbank apparently gave way, according to a Department of Defense statement.
Efforts to resuscitate Givens failed, The Associated Press reported. Three crew members escaped from the tank, Green said.
Givens had been in the military for more than a year, pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming a soldier. He?d spent most of his adult life working as an asset protection manager for Sears and ShopKo in Missouri.
Givens enlisted in the Army in January 2002 after the ShopKo where he was working closed and its 83 employees were laid off.
At basic training, younger soldiers teased Givens good-naturedly, calling him "Grandpa" or "pops."
But Givens, a former high school wrestler and football player, did well in the rigorous training, said his older brother, Reg Givens of Lamar, Mo.
"He was surprised at his age that he could complete basic and do it without injuring himself or embarrassing himself," Reg Givens said.
When he finished basic training in April 2002, Givens married his longtime girlfriend, Melissa, whom he had met at ShopKo.
She had a son from a different relationship, and Givens and the boy, Dakota, had grown close.
"He absolutely adored that child," said Connie Givens of Springfield, Mo., Jesse?s mother.
He was assigned to Fort Carson, and the family moved to Colorado Springs a year ago.
Givens wanted to be a tank commander and was working through promotions to get that spot. He wanted to apply to officer candidate school eventually.
His military career was going well, and his wife became pregnant with a due date of June 6.
Then word came that Givens? regiment would be shipped overseas to join the war in Iraq.
Givens didn?t want to go, his mother said.
"But he said it was something that needed to be done," she said. "He said he had a job to do and wanted to get it done as quick as possible so he could get back to his wife and kids. I told him, ?That?s exactly what he needed to do. Just keep his head straight and come back."
He certainly wasn?t against the war, his brother said.
"He just didn?t want to take the risk, except that he knew it had to be done," Reg Givens said. "My dad even made a joke, saying, ?we?ll hide you so you won?t have to go.? But he said, there?s not a chance in hell that he wouldn?t go without those three guys in that tank. He said it was the best tank company, and he was proud to be the driver."
Reg Givens, 18 months older than his sibling, said his brother will be sorely missed.
"He was a great man, kind of the hero type, always helping the underdog. He didn?t care for people picking on people. He had a good heart. It?s a very big loss. I can?t tell you how proud I am of him."