From Goldman to Grunt

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With the early phase of the war in Iraq under way, Mincio, still at Fort Lewis, was assigned to an experimental brigade preparing to roll out a brand new Army vehicle, called the Stryker, a faster, sleeker version of the Armored Personnel Carrier. The Stryker was, at that time, in mid-2003, considered to be a key piece of equipment needed to turn the tide of the war in Iraq, which had gone from "Mission Accomplished" to bad, to worse.

As Americans began to question the decision to go to war, Mincio remained sure about his own choices, and steeled himself for a one-year tour of combat duty.

Around Thanksgiving of 2003, Mincio, as a member of the 1st Stryker brigade, was deployed to Kuwait; and, in December 2003, he found himself in a convoy travelling along the infamous "Highway of Death," heading to the small city of Sumarah in Iraq's Sunni Triangle region.

There he was assigned to the legendary U.S. 4th Infantry Division -- as it turned out on the very day that the division captured Saddam Hussein.

Mincio belonged to a Scout Platoon, part of the newly formed Stryker Brigade Combat Team, part of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry unit. Initially, Mincio's unit was attached to the 101st Division in Mosul at a time when fighting was becoming increasingly ferocious. This was also an anxious time of transition as the 2nd Infantry was replacing the 101st Division, on its way back home.

Mincio eventually left his scout platoon, assigned instead to work directly for Deputy Brigade Commander Robert Choppa, who is now a colonel.

"Kevin was known for his hard work and focus," Choppa told ABCNews.com by e-mail. "He was always ready to assist wherever needed."

Taking part in numerous combat missions, Mincio entered a world where mere inches separated life and death. During one March 2004 patrol, Choppa's men were ambushed by AK-47 fire, according to Choppa, who was wounded by bullet fragments.

"Kevin was first to return fire," Choppa said. "He broke the ambushers."

"You never know how you are going to react when you first encounter actual combat," Mincio said. "When I had to engage the enemy and face my fears, I was able to."

Back on the home front, Mincio's loved ones prayed for his safety and waited nervously to hear from him.

"There was no infrastructure in Iraq during the early days and we'd go without communicating for what seemed like forever," recalled Mincio's wife, Heather.

The couple had begun dating in New York right before 9/11. He didn't expect her to understand his decision, but she eventually moved to the Fort Lewis area, where she ended up gaining a profound appreciation for the sacrifices made by the families of soldiers.

"You try to keep the bigger picture in mind -- the rumbling of the towers as they fell are irrevocable memories -- but it's hard to be the one that steps up to the plate," she said. "Kevin stepped up, and I was honored to support his mission."

Mincio's tour included his share of frightening moments, but also some cherished ones, like the memorable day spent as vehicle commander of a Stryker that carried then Maj. Gen. David Petraeus. At that time, Petraeus was leading counterinsurgency efforts and training Iraqi security forces.

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