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Specialist 4 Aaron Sissel

A soldier who would do anything for a friend

spinner image Specialist 4, Aaron Sissel
Aaron Sissel
Courtesy The Aaron Sissel Scholarship Fund

Iraq War, 2003
Specialist 4 Aaron Sissel
by Specialist 4 Miyoko Hikiji

Miyoko Hikiji, then 26, and friend Aaron Sissel, 22, were both from Iowa and met at an Army and National Guard camp there after 9/11 while training, first as gate guards, then as truck drivers. In May 2003 they were assigned to drive supplies in northwestern Iraq. In November, Sissel’s convoy was attacked on the road.

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Aaron would do anything for a friend. We were helping supply materials to that part of Iraq, always crisscrossing around, meeting back at the base, then going back out for a day or a week. His girlfriend was at another base in Iraq, and my boyfriend at the time was usually on a mission at another base, too, so Aaron and I were each other’s mail person, delivering messages for each other when we could. Aaron would always take the time to ask, “Hey, got any mail for John?”

He was a superhard worker, really likable, and he’d tell me about his girl, about how they were going to get married when they got home.

On the 29th of November, I was driving up one of the main supply routes, going north to the base, and he was driving south toward the base on the same road. I was in the passenger seat, running the radio, and we started to hear there was an ambush. I heard the truck number, but we didn’t know who it was. When we got back on base, we saw a quick reaction force was waiting at the gate to go get them, and we heard the helicopters go out. My boyfriend was waiting there — he thought it was me. He was, like, “Oh, my God, I’m so glad it’s not you.” But that’s when we found out. Aaron had been shot and had bled to death.

I really regretted, when we heard about the attack on the radio, that the convoy had not gone north, beyond the base, to meet his, to see if there was anything we could do. Headquarters had told me no, that they had the quick reaction force ready to go out. They said there was probably nothing we could have done while Aaron’s convoy was still being shot at, but I wish I’d had the chance to try.

They brought his truck back with all the bullet holes in it. Nobody wanted to drive it; they thought it was bad luck. There were still bloodstains and skin in the truck. I said, “I’m going to drive that truck.” I felt like I needed to do that for Aaron — saddle up, you know?

I’ll just never forget him, because he was really that person who comes to mind when people talk about the goodness of an American soldier — the person who never gives up, the person who works really hard.

Even before Aaron died, I think I knew absolutely every day when I left that gate that there was a chance this was going to be it. But the curse of living through that for that year became the greatest gift for me for the rest of my life. Because I’ve never, ever taken my life for granted.

Miyoko Hikiji, 41, is the author of All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq. She was a candidate for the Iowa state Senate in 2016 and lives in Urbandale, Iowa, where she works as an employment services manager.

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