Sam Williams Huff —October 2006 Shipment Honoree
Memorial for Pfc. Sam Huff: Mourners honor “best female soldier”
Mountain View grad killed by blast in IraqSource: By C.T. Revere, Tucson Citizen (Tuesday, April 26, 2005)
Sam HuffSam Huff was an unlikely soldier in the eyes of those who knew her just months ago as a classmate and drum major at Mountain View High School. Even those who paved the way for the Tucson teen to enter the U.S. Army had a hard time envisioning the petite brunette with a gleaming smile as a member of their own ranks.
But to the Army sergeant who cradled the 18-year-old in her dying moments on a dusty highway outside Baghdad, Pfc. Sam Williams Huff was the kind of soldier to boast about. When Private Huff became my husband’s soldier, he was so proud to have her on his team,” Californian Erica James said yesterday at a memorial service where about 850 people celebrated Huff’s short life.
Huff died April 17, 2005 in the arms of Sgt. Sam James, her team leader with the 504th Military Police Battalion, after a roadside bomb ripped through the armored vehicle she was driving.
Erica James flew from Los Angeles to share her husband’s impressions of Huff as a soldier with those who knew her only as a friend, classmate, sister or daughter. “He would always come home from work talking about how motivated she is and how quickly she learned everything. He couldn’t stop saying, ‘Erica, I have the best female soldier in my company,’ ” she said, fighting back tears. “My husband was honored to have Private Huff as his soldier.”
For nearly two hours, Huff was honored during a memorial service at Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Oro Valley. It painted a portrait of a girl who loved music, had scores of close friends and was scarcely removed from student life.
On one side of the speaker’s lectern sat her feathered drum major’s helmet, on the other her canvas-shrouded Army helmet. Her parents, retired Tucson police Detective Robert Huff and Oro Valley police employee Margaret Williams, sat in the front row with other relatives and close friends. Behind them sat scores of mourners in military and police uniforms. In front of them on stage was the entire Mountain View marching band.
A video tribute to Huff shared photographs from infancy to soldier, accompanied by Bob Carlisle’s song “Butterfly Kisses,” a ballad about a father reminiscing on his daughter’s wedding day.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Colon-Mateo recalled the day Huff walked into the Army’s Foothills Recruiting Station in Marana. “When Sam came into our office, all of 16 and 99 pounds, talking about ‘I want to be in the Army,’ we looked at each other and went ‘Mmm hmm, yeah,’ “he said.
But before long, Huff showed the recruiters she had what it takes to be a soldier, Sgt. Roger Jackson said. “She was enthusiastic, energetic, very motivated,” Jackson said. “Anybody who was around her knew how contagious it was.”
Student after student stepped to microphones to share stories, read poems, shed tears and say goodbye. One young woman recalled the day she met Huff, who ushered her to the school nurse’s office after a playground spill. Another remembered being a frightened freshman who was introduced to Huff’s silly side. “She crossed her eyes, stuck out her tongue and did the Chicken Dance,” the teen said. Another female classmate recalled her as “gorgeous, kick-ass and fun.”
Former teachers noted Huff’s blend of maturity and playfulness. “She’s probably one of the top three beautiful people I’ve ever known,” said Shannon Gibson, Huff’s eighth-grade English teacher. “She was smart and beautiful and funny, and she would laugh with me when other kids were doing stupid things.”
Jeremy Vega, a former bandmate, wondered how Huff is being received in heaven. “How does God react when one of his angels comes back to Him so soon?” he said. “I miss her.”
Jennifer DeMille, a junior at Mountain View, saw indications of Huff’s leadership in her freshman year with the school’s marching band. “We had two lines across the field. I was in front, and Sam was behind me, and I remember her saying, ‘Boots up! Boots up!’ ” she said.
Huff’s brother, Sean, said she was “a hero to all of us.” “Sam gave her life for everybody in this room, Arizona and the United States. Sam gave her life for the freedoms that you and I take for granted every day,” he said.
Huff will be buried Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Sam Williams HuffSource: Arlington National Cemetery Website 1 May 2005:
Facing the highest ever casualty rate for servicewomen in its history, America is considering making official what is already a reality—allowing women to fight on the front line in war.
The ground war in Iraq has made the historical tradition of not having women in combat unworkable. A total of 35 US servicewomen have now died in Iraq and 271 have been injured. It is a small percentage of the 1,500 US service personnel fatalities and the 11,600 wounded, but these women are being killed and injured under enemy fire.
Three days ago army private Sam Huff was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. She was 18 and died on 18 April 2005 when her convoy was blown up by a roadside bomb. “Beneath that beautiful young lady was a backbone of steel,” her sergeant, Sam Jones, wrote in a letter read aloud at her hometown funeral in Tucson, Arizona.
Huff’s parents reluctantly let her join the army when she was 16 and she quickly gained a reputation for enthusiasm and grit. “She’s the bravest kid I’ve ever known,” said her father, Robert Huff. “She was up and down that damned road between Baghdad and the airport, which is notorious for improvised explosive devices. But she knew the risks and believed in the mission.”
Photos Courtesy of the Family
Sam Williams Huff
Source: Arlington National Cemetery Website
May 4, 2005
Pfc. Dan Balda
4th Brigade Combat Team PAO
“You know what Lathers? I could have been the next Gap girl. I had a modeling contract and everything. But no, look at me I’m in this awful country, wearing (desert combat uniforms), carrying around a weapon wherever I go and fighting for my country,” said Private First Class Ashley Lathers, a military policeman, 170th Military Police Company.
Private First Class Sam Huff in an undated photo
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Dan Balda)
“I can’t count how many times Private Huff said this to me day after day. Always with a smile and a laugh after she said it. Followed by, ‘I wouldn’t change where I’m at for anything.’ That’s the kind of person she was. In all honesty she was a model; a model Soldier.”
Lathers was talking about her ‘sister,’ Private Sam Huff, at Huff’s memorial service, April 22. Huff was killed while returning from the al Dora police station when the vehicle she was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device.
According to her battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Switzer, she was not a typical Soldier. “Within two weeks of her arriving in our unit, even I knew who she was,” Switzer said. “Battalion commanders get to know their Soldiers for two reasons. They got in trouble or they are very unique individuals. Private Huff was a unique individual. Her smile could light up a room. She could lighten the mood of any hardcore (noncommissioned officer) and even bring a smile to an old warrior’s face.”
Switzer told his fellow Soldiers that he had spoken to Huff’s parents. They told him they knew their daughter might perish in combat, but that Huff fSW Huff PHOTOelt she was doing what she always wanted to do; serve in the United States Army. Huff felt she was in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people.
Lathers shared many fond memories of huff with her fellow Dragonslayers as well as the assembled mourners. “If you knew Sam at all, you knew her two loves; dancing and her fiancé Nick,” Lathers said. “That girl would dance any time she got the chance, I’d catch her dancing in our room, dancing down the hall. She danced with a confidence and grace most people lack. 18 is a tender age to leave this world. But know this, she lived a life that many people only dream about.”
Huff’s team leader, Sergeant Sam James praised her for her beauty as well as her brains. “Her thirst for knowledge sometimes overwhelmed me as a leader, leaving me scrambling to answer question after question,” James said. “She was also a beautiful young lady, the kind that would turn heads in the mall.”
James continued to extol the virtues of his Soldier. “You would be hard pressed to find a Soldier that could learn and retain knowledge as fast as she did,” James said. “If I wrote down every positive quality I’d want in a Soldier, Huff would still be better. She was the kind of Soldier that made being a leader in the Army fun.”
Captain Robert Matthews, Huff’s company commander, described which of Huff’s many qualities he will miss the most. “She was a quiet professional who took her job seriously,” Matthews said. “Her dedication to duty and pursuit of excellence was an example for us all to emulate. Sam was a brave and honorable woman. She did her duty without complaint and earned nothing but respect and admiration from those of us that served with her. Her death was tragic and has left a void that will never be filled.”
Switzer mentioned that Huff will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, an appropriate resting place for a young hero. “I can bet you the sun will be shining that day (the day she will be laid to rest), and up in heaven a bunch of old warriors will be smiling.”
Slain Soldier Reached Beyond ExpectationsSource: By Ian Shapira, Courtesy of the Washington Post (Friday, April 29, 2005)
Not many people, including her parents, considered Sam W. Huff to be obvious Army material. She was petite—just over 5 feet tall—didn’t play any major sports and was best known at Tucson’s Mountain View High School for her striking beauty and sharp fashion sense.
But the marching band drum major was also feisty and persistent, a conductor with a loud voice and commanding presence. With relatives who had served in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the 18-year-old had precise career goals: a tour of duty in the military, a college degree in psychology and a job at the FBI profiling criminals. After graduating from high school last year, Huff completed the grueling months of basic training and then, around Christmas, visited her old stomping grounds before being deployed to Iraq.
“She told me basic training was really hard, how she was having problems with her knee and that they tried talking her out of the Army,” said Ellen Kirkbride, band director at Mountain View. “But she pleaded with them to stay. She would have felt as if she failed. She was tough.”
On April 18, 2005, Private First Class Huff died in Baghdad from injuries she received the night before when the Humvee she was driving was hit by a roadside bomb, according to the Army. Yesterday, she became the 130th soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She was a member of the 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Her parents, Robert Huff, 50, a retired police detective-turned-musician, and Margaret Williams, 52, a former Marine and communications supervisor for a suburban Tucson police department, accepted the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medal on her behalf during the service.
Robert Huff, who spoke with Army officials about the circumstances of his daughter’s death, said that she had spent the night of April 17 guarding an Iraqi police station. She and others in her unit were headed back to their base on the outskirts of Baghdad when an improvised explosive devise detonated next to the Humvee’s driver’s side. Huff was the only one seriously injured, according to Major Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman.
The blast severed Huff’s leg, and “there was nothing anyone could do and she bled to death,” Robert Huff said. Huff was supposed to operate the machine gun on the top of the Humvee, he said, but she was not strong enough to load the weapon quickly. So, the petite soldier with a penchant for Disney ballads learned how to pilot the monstrous Humvee.
Teachers at Mountain View High said the community has been crushed by her death. At a recent memorial service at Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson, the marching band played two of her favorite ballads, Kirkbride said: one from “Beauty and the Beast,” another from “The Little Mermaid.” On the stage, a black marching band hat—adorned with a plume of black and silver feathers—sat next to her combat helmet, Kirkbride said.
Robert Huff said he’ll never forget what an Army official told him about his daughter’s last moments. As she was bleeding, she told a sergeant next to her that she wanted him to pass along a message to her parents. “He said, ‘No, you’ll be able to make the call yourself.’ Then she said: ‘No, I don’t think I can make it. Tell my mom I love her, and tell my Dad good luck with his album.’ ”
Sam Williams Huff was barely a year out of her drum major’s uniform, prom dress and high school graduation cap and gown in April when she was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Her father remembers the 18-year-old Fort Lewis military policewoman as a “girlie girl and a soldier’s soldier.” In 10 months, she journeyed from the teenage dramas of high school to the real life drama of Iraq, where her sergeant cradled her in his arms after a bomb exploded by her Humvee.
“She couldn’t have turned out any better,” said her father, Bob, 51, a retired Tucson police officer. “I’m prejudiced as hell, but she was as close to perfect as anyone could have been. She was just beautiful inside and out.”
Sam Huff is one of the 2,000 men and women in uniform who have died in Iraq and one of 107 with ties to Washington, reflecting in part this state’s strong military presence in the war. In the last two years, 8,000 soldiers from two Fort Lewis Stryker brigades and 4,000 Washington National Guardsmen with the 81st Combat Brigade Combat Team have been in Iraq. Those units have returned, but smaller units from Washington bases, as well as the state’s National Guard and Reserve segments, continue to deploy. Perhaps more than 2,000 are there now.
Many who died were like Huff, young, committed and willing to serve. They left behind families who alternately worried and waited and now grieve and search for answers. “I don’t know what 2,000 means to me other than it’s too damn many,” Bob Huff said. The Huffs feel for such parents as Cindy Sheehan who channel their grief into efforts against the war, but they think such protests are misplaced. “You can’t blame anybody but the enemy for what happens,” Bob Huff said.
Bob Huff served 25 years as a Tucson police officer before retiring last year to make his longtime passion, the guitar, a career. His wife, Maggie Williams, who served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam 35 years ago, works for the Oro Valley (Ariz.) Police Department. She is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
They called their daughter Sam. It was her name, not her nickname.
“In school when she wanted to do something, she excelled,” Huff’s father said, recalling her performance in a dance group. “She had a smile as big as (the grill of) an Edsel.”
Huff surprised her parents when she made up her mind to join the Army. It was a means to an education and a future in the FBI, but “she and her fellow soldiers have embraced an ideal of duty, honor and country in a big way,” he said.
Despite 12- to 15-hour days at war, she was enrolled in online college courses. “She was definitely a girlie girl but was tough and driven. She had a great heart,” her father said.
“When it happened to Sam there were a lot of broken hearts over there,” Huff recalled. “She was known to everyone from the colonel on down. She just was a go-getter and stuck out in a crowd. They called her an ‘exceptional soldier.’ ”
When she was laid to rest at Arlington, Huff’s mother had her own Marine Corps dress blues put into Sam’s coffin. She said, “Bury them with her because I have no one to give them to now.”
The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Sam during the month of Oct 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Sam’s family and friends today and in the years to come.