Renessa L. Gerhardt was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1985. When she was five years old, her family moved to Saudi Arabia. They lived in Yanbu (about an hour away from Jeddah) where Renessa attended the Yanbu International School until, when she was age ten, they returned to Texas. The Gerhardts then lived, initially in Denton, where Renessa finished elementary school. They next moved to Houston where she graduated from Bleyl Middle School and then attended Cy-Creek High School until (having skipped 11th grade) mid-way through her senior year. Then, when she was seventeen, the family returned to Saudi Arabia, once again to Yanbu. Renessa graduated from the Yanbu International High School in 2003. That was only about six months after arrival back in Saudi Arabia, school being dismissed early as a result of concerns about terrorist activity.
Shortly after graduation from high school, she enlisted in the Army, taking a five-year contract under the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). But, she began to have some misgivings, and today Renessa says, When I first signed my contract for the Army, I was extremely nervous about my decision (I was in the DEP for almost a year). A few weeks after I had signed the contract I was preparing to take a shower while listening to the radio. When I turned it on to my favorite country station a mans voice came over the radio. I had never heard that particular voice before and I was instantly intrigued. He basically said not to worry about my decision, God was going to take care of me, and he reminded me that God is always with me. As soon as he said those few sentences my finger slipped and I accidentally turned off the radio. I quickly turned it back on and the station was in the middle of a commercial. I will never forget that experience and I know those words were for me and others who doubt if God is watching over them.
Renessa entered active duty in August 2003 and went through One Station Unit Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, first taking Basic Training and then Advanced Individual Training in the Military Police. Upon completion of training, she was ordered overseas.
Private Gerhardt arrived in Germany in January 2004 and was quickly assigned to the 630th MP Company in Bamberg. She would remain assigned to that company for the duration of her five-year enlistment. However, the 630th MPs did not spend all that time in Germany, they had two long deployments to Iraq during her enlistment. Renessa came and went from Bamberg three times, and came and went twice from Iraq.
In April 2004, the 630th MP Company deployed to Iraq, for Operation Iraqi Freedom II, and was attached to the 759th MP Battalion in Baghdad. The MPs were in charge of numerous Iraqi Police stations on the east side of the Tigris River and they provided training for Iraqi Police in the areas of force protection, patrolling, and station operations. When al-Sadrs Mahdi Army began attacking Iraqi Police stations, the U.S. MPs began manning those stations 24 hours a day to repel the attacks. By June 2004 most of the MPs were out of the police stations and were conducting area security operations throughout the city. In October 2004, the 630th MP Company provided route security along the major roads leading into Fallujah when the insurgents were being cleared from there by coalition forces. At the end of the twelve-month assignment, in April 2005, Renessas company returned to Bamberg.
After 15-months back at home station in Bamberg, the 630th MP Company deployed to Iraq for the second time, arriving in theater June 26, 2006. The company was initially at Camp Rustamiyah, where for the next five months they worked with the Iraqi National Police and assisted with security missions in eastern Baghdad.
Then in November 2006, the company displaced to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shield in a northeastern section of the city known as Adhamiya, a large Sunni enclave surrounded by the Shiite neighborhoods of Shaab and Ur. The only other U.S. unit in Adhamiya at that time was the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, and the Shiite areas had no coalition troops at all. The MPs provided training and assistance, or conducted joint operations with the Iraqi Police and their objective was to improve the policing skills of the Iraqi Police and to build up the peoples trust in their national police force. Building confidence was difficult to do because during the Saddam era the police were there to enforce his brutal regime, and the people did not see them as providing law and order.
When the 630th MP Company first came on the scene there were incidents where the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army were shooting at each other. Local citizens would not assist or interact with either the police or the MPs and sometimes the MPs had a difficult time trusting their police counterparts. Nineteen of the police were dismissed after being suspected of cooperating with the insurgents, one of them died while emplacing a roadside bomb, and 30 others were arrested for corruption or collaboration with the insurgents. There were some counter-examples on the plus side, but not many. Twenty policemen in the district were killed by the insurgents, and some others displayed extreme acts of dedication and won the respect of the Americans. During the next two months, things had begun to improve, but only gradually, when the first benefits of the surge began to be felt by the 630th MPs. In January 2007, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division began arriving in Adhamiya, and things started to get better quickly.
The MPs saw a big difference. Previously uncooperative neighborhood residents began to go out of their way to help, and would wave them down when they were out on patrol to give information about the insurgents. In February 2007, Operation Law and Order began in Baghdad and things got even better.
For its part, the 630th MPs moved out of their Forward Operating Base and into the neighborhoods where they had been working and fighting for months. Together with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, they conducted clearing operations in Shaab and Ur, the areas where previous to the surge, there had not been any U.S. presence. The company then established and manned two Combat Outposts (COP Callahan, in an abandoned shopping center, and COP Old MoD, the former Ministry of Defense building), and placed another platoon in a Joint Security Site, the headquarters for the district police forces.
Life in the Combat Outposts was austere. All the amenities of the larger Forward Operating Bases were gone and the troops ate Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) for every meal, slept on cots, and at first, had no electricity, no showers, and no latrines.
The now veteran SPC (E-4) Renessa Gerhardt was in 2nd Platoon which was located at Old MoD. On most missions she was normally the gunner, but sometimes driver, on an M1114, an up-armored HUMMV further augmented with locally installed additional armor. The MPs added a 75-pound tank armor plate to the floor and sandboxes and ballistic-resistant glass were installed in the doors. With all the modifications, an M1114 had about 1,000 pounds of additional armor, and with the extra weight every part of the vehicle from the door hinges to the axles had to be reinforced or somehow modified to keep it from breaking. They had a monster garage operation in their motor pool and it stayed busy. Also, Renessa and all the crews were dressed in full Armored Security Vehicle uniforms for added protection when they went out on missions. She was wounded June 21, 2007 when her vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Events of that day unfolded this way.
In Adhamiya, an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, on a patrol from Forward Operating Base Apache, was destroyed by a powerful, deep-buried IED. The crew of five, together with their Iraqi interpreter, were all killed. Later, when 1st Platoon, 630th MP Company was securing that site, they were ambushed and a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) round penetrated one the vehicles killing the MP female driver and wounding the gunner and team leader. At that point, four vehicles from 2nd Platoon, including Renessas M1114, were diverted from a previously planned mission and sped for the scene of action. Enroute to the site, Renessas vehicle also was hit by an IED. Details of that days actions were reported in the media and are available in this Military Times website:
Her vehicle, heavily damaged, came to a stop 20 feet beyond the IED crater and her team leader, SSG Mann, had massive leg injuries. Gunner, Renessa, momentarily unconscious from the concussion, had a wound to the forehead, and trauma of both arms and legs. Dazed and disoriented, SPC Gerhardt nonetheless was preparing to engage insurgents with the .50 cal machine gun (none were seen) when other platoon members came up and took charge. The casualties were transported to FOB Apache. When dismounting the vehicle upon arrival there, Renessa fell to the ground, and unable to walk, was going into shock as she was carried into the Aid Station. She and SSG Mann were further evacuated to the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone where she was treated for her head wound and was held for observation for the effects of concussion, but only briefly, before being returned to duty.
The company was short on personnel, but the operational tempo remained high, so Renessa was sent out on her next mission the day after her return from the hospital. Her last three months in Iraq were less eventful for her personally, but a noteworthy event for the MPs, and all the troops in northeast Baghdad, happened in August.
From their arrival in Adhamiya they had suspected the Abu Hanifa Mosque was being used as a base of operations by the insurgents. As an important Sunni holy site, U.S. forces could never get clearance to search it. Now however, the increased presence of the troops had emboldened the populace to take action for themselves. A local sheik, that had lost a relative killed by the terrorists, together with his family members and some Iraqi Army soldiers, stormed the mosque. When they were done with that, then they called the MPs. Upon arrival, the 630th MP Company found 50 barrels of liquid explosives and more rifles than they could count, along with an assortment of other weapons. From that point on, the Combat Outposts stopped being mortared and there was a significant drop-off in attacks throughout that area for the remaining weeks that the 630th MPs were in Iraq.
The next month, September 2007, the company returned to home station in Bamberg, Germany, and Renessa was with them. Her MP unit had sent 171 soldiers into Iraq and had suffered 4 killed in action and 21 wounded.
During that deployment, the 630th MP Company had executed 2,200 missions, and during the earlier deployment in 2004 they had executed 1,300 missions. SPC Gerhardt participated in her fair share of them.
She was promoted to Sergeant while serving out the remaining time on her enlistment in Bamberg, and she also applied, on-line, for membership in the Military Order of the Purple Heart. She became a member in June and then was discharged from the Army in August 2008 and returned home to Texas.
She immediately enrolled for medical training in Austin Community College, and with no time wasted, has already started working shifts as a VA Volunteer in our Purple Heart Coffee Bar in the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. This month, PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly features Chapter 1919s own, Patriot Renessa Gerhardt.
–This article is an account of experiences of Renessa Gerhardt, together with information from news releases of the 21st Theatre Support Command Public Affairs Office posted at www.21tsc.army.mil/story/.