Soldiers’ safety was sergeant’s ‘awful burden’ in battle

September 10th, 2011  

Topic: Soldiers’ safety was sergeant’s ‘awful burden’ in battle

By Jules Crittenden
Friday, September 9, 2011

Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Lustig’s voice was like steel, with two tones — cold and cutting. He was like a coiled snake. The soldiers who invaded Iraq with him in 2003 loved him for it.
“He’s like Satan,” said Pvt. Robert Baxter, admiringly, a day after four horrific thunderbolts from Lustig’s tanks ended an RPG ambush. “He don’t hesitate. . . . That’s why I told him, ‘If you were going to Hell to fight the devil, Sgt. Lustig, I’d go with you.’ ”
Three days later, we followed Lustig into Baghdad, into fire and blood, the lead unit assaulting Saddam Hussein’s seat of power.
Many of us expected to die that day. Thanks to men like Lustig, we didn’t.
Last week, Lustig admitted his greatest fear was failing us.
“Any mistake I made would be costly. It’s an awful burden to carry,” Lustig said. He recalled a sleepless night, studying maps before the dawn assault. He was still alert when the Iraqis counterattacked at 3:30 a.m. a day later, and earned his Silver Star marshalling a rapid response after his tank took a direct missile hit. So more American boys could go home.
In his 40s now, a deputy sheriff in Georgia, he seemed more soft-spoken and reflective. He said he revisits the places we saw combat, via Google Earth.
“I’m drawn back to these places,” Lustig said. “It was where we fought. It was where we worked together as one. We were able to leave that place alive.”
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