University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Craig BirkholzFond du Lac (Wis.) Police Officer Craig Birkholz was shot and killed in the line of duty Sunday, March 20.

Birkholz, 28, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology, was one of 16 soldiers and Marines featured in the War: Through Their Eyes project. The multimedia project was intended to give a name, a face and a voice to those who have enlisted during a time of war and to give them a forum to tell the world what they did and what they felt at the front lines. Birkholz , an Army veteran, served two tours, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Birkholz survived multiple mortar attacks and had marveled that he had gone through two wars without firing a single shot.


Officer Birkholz Profiled in UWO Project on "War Through Their Eyes" on ABC Channel-2 WBAY-TV
Remembering Officer Birkholz on CBS Channel-5 WFRV-TV

The following story and podcast on Craig Birkholz, reported by UW Oshkosh journalism student Alex Mueske in March 2009, appeared in the War: Through Their Eyes book. The photos are courtesy of Amber Patrick; the war photos are courtesy of Craig Birkholz.


Name: Craig Birkholz
Hometown: Kenosha, Wis.
Military rank: Sergeant, 511th Military Police Company 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, U. S. Army (in Afghanistan) and with the 101st Airborne Division (in Iraq)
Tours: January-August 2002 in Afghanistan and from March 2003- February 2004 in Iraq


by Alex Mueske

On the Hunt

Craig BirkholzIn August of 2000, 18-year-old Craig Birkholz of Kenosha, Wis., enlisted in the U.S. Army right out of high school because he felt he needed toughen up. He said he was a "pushover" in high school and needed what he called "that little mean button." He would soon be fighting in two wars. When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, Birkholz, who served as military police, was more than ready to go to the Middle East.

When I went to Afghanistan in January 2002, I was just ready to find the people that did it. Capture'em, kill'em, whatever. We were hoping at least in Afghanistan to find bin Laden, and bring in al-Qaida, Taliban, capture them, get it over with. I understand that was asking for a lot. Other then that, I was just hoping to get in and out of there alive in one piece.

For Afghanistan, it was kind of a, "Oh, Shit!" When we got off, we had shots fired at our plane as we were landing at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. We came in wearing night vision goggles, so we really couldn't see anything. The worst thing besides that, our commander decided to put all our ammunition on another plane, which was supposed to land first. But naturally, that one broke down. We landed before our ammo did. So I, effectively, had a gun with no ammo for the first two days. Thankfully, we didn't come into any contact with the enemy.

We were in Kuwait for about a month and we were sleeping in the sand for most of that. Sometimes we had our cots, sometime we said, "Screw it," and slept sitting up because the days were so long.

If there's a tip of the spear for the war, then we are just right behind that. As military police we collect everybody that's captured. With that we run into a lot of firefights because we're pretty close up there.

Mainly for Afghanistan, our job was to patrol the outlining cities. We'd also try to draw out the Taliban and engage whatever way possible and talk to the local people and see if they could direct us to where these guys are hiding. We would rather capture them than kill them. No one ever wants to actually kill somebody, but you do if you have to.

Craig BirkholzFrom Friends to Foes

While serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Birkholz saw the attitudes toward him and the U.S. military change from one spectrum to the other. 

When we first arrived in Iraq, it was amazing. Kids were running up to us screaming, yelling and cheering. Even adults were doing that, giving us the thumbs up, bringing us food. I even had a marriage proposal. I was patrolling an area, and this older man comes out and offers his 16-year-old daughter to me. That was kind of amusing, but I had to obviously turn that down.

That really turned around in Iraq, probably the day or two after Saddam Hussein was captured. Then it was like a whole new world. They wanted us out. They didn't want us there anymore. The little kids started throwing rocks at us if we weren't dropping food off. I remember several occasions where I had no choice but to have my gunner point the machine gun at the kids to scatter them from the Humvee because they were throwing rocks that could potentially hit the gunner in the head, knock him out or kill him.

They saw that our job was done with Saddam out of power, so now get out of our country, we'll do it from here. That was the attitude that we were receiving. That was a huge change - from a guy shaking my hand during that day to shooting at me at night.

Craig BirkholzMissions

Throughout Birkholz's tours of both Iraq and Afghanistan, he experienced firsthand the horrors of war. 

From June to August 2003 we were roadside bomb sweepers in Mosul. We had the additional armor Humvees. In the beginning of the war, the insurgents didn't really have set ways to know what takes us out and what doesn't. For several months our job was to drive through and run over some of the piles with our Humvees and try to get these things to go off and take the blast in the armor. That was working until they figured out just to add more explosives and that would take out an armored truck too. We quit doing that very shortly after.

In late 2003, we were hit by two roadside bombs. One of them missed us, but hit the truck behind us and took out one of my guys. The second one hit my vehicle directly. That was the luckiest day for my gunner. I had asked him a question in the morning before the patrol, and just seconds before the roadside bomb exploded, he remembered the answer to the question. He leaned down to tell me - I was sitting on the passenger seat below him- what the answer was and that was the time the roadside bomb went off. Everything went clear over his head. The back shield on his turret caught most of the shrapnel.

In September 2003, we had two Black Hawk helicopters collide with each other. One was trying to avoid an RPG (rocked-propelled grenade) and did not know that the other helicopter was even there. They were on two separate missions and hit each other and went down inside of Mosul. There were still three or four soldiers trapped in the back from when the engines collapsed, obviously dead. They got trapped back in there. One of the guys got burned up pretty bad from the fuel fire that started.

The only other one tough for me was an escort mission with a (high ranking official). We took him over to a base and we got mortared attacked while there. A couple of them came in and we heard "Man down!" I was a combat lifesaver as well, which means the first-aid guy for the squad. I grabbed my bag and got over to this guy. He had a couple holes in his chest. The mortar hit right next to him. I remember the shock going through me because I couldn't even get my bag open. We were all rattled and shaking. That was a bad one because he took his last breath in front of me. Two seconds later his other guys came in with the gurney to try to save him, and I'm sitting there frustrated that I can't even get my bag open.

Craig BirkholzI actually somehow went through two wars without firing a single shot. I don't know how that happened with the amount of stuff I saw, but it just did. There was one time that I was definitely drawn down on a guy, and had another convoy not come by, he was going to die. When that convoy came by, it was between me and him, so that gave him an escape route. He jumped over the fence and took off. Otherwise because he had a gun, and he was ready to use it, so was I. I'm glad that I didn't have to kill him. You never want that on your conscience.

Craig Birkholz graduated with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology from UW-Oshkosh in December 2008. He is currently attending the Fox Valley Technical College Law Enforcement Academy in hopes of becoming a U.S. Marshal.

PULL-OUT Quotes:

"That was a huge change - from a guy shaking my hand during that day to shooting at me at night."

"He had a gun, and he was ready to use it, so was I. I'm glad that I didn't have to kill him. You never want that on your conscience."

Iraq War Tanker