Columns » John Brummett

A big loss in an Iraq bunker


Like his mom, Arthur "Bo" Felder was college-educated and religious. He took the hard jobs, such as teaching tough kids in Little Rock and leading vulnerable men in Iraq. He was the math teacher at Pulaski County Step One Alternative School. Students were assigned after they had been declared delinquent or gotten expelled from junior high or high school. Run by county government with funds from the three public school districts, Step One was called that because kids either earned their way back to regular school or were processed to step two. That was next door to juvenile custody at the county jail. Some of the tough kids were getting grief counseling last week. At 6-feet-5 or thereabouts, 280 to 300 pounds of mostly muscle and 36 years of age, U.S. Army Capt. Bo Felder was imposing enough to command classroom respect and young enough to call on his sports exploits in high school and college and shoot hoops with the kids. P.H. Gilkey, the school administrator, hired Felder five years ago from another tough job drilling youthful offenders at the state prison boot camp. "I could see that he had a God-given talent and drive to help kids," he said. Gilkey learned on the afternoon of Saturday, April 24, that the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard had been hit by mortar fire at its base 15 miles north of Baghdad in the town of Taji west of the Tigris River. He heard that four soldiers were dead. "I knew in my spirit that Bo was among them," he said. He, like Felder had been, is a devout Baptist and youth minister at his congregation. On a Sunday morning in early March, Felder had gone home to Lewisville in Lafayette County in Southwest Arkansas. He had completed training in Texas and Louisiana with the rest of the 3,000-member Arkansas brigade. All of them would ship out in a couple of days to stand guard for a year or more in the Iraqi tinderbox. Felder would lead about 75 men as headquarters commander. He attended church services that morning with his mother, Cheryl Stuart, the chief county administrator for the state Human Services Department. She has a master's degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and a doctorate from Century University in Albuquerque, N.M. It was her influence that led Bo to Ouachita and then on full scholarship to the East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. He graduated third in his class. He did even better in Officers Candidate School at Camp Robinson in 1995, finishing second. As the congregation prepared to say a prayer for him, Felder asked that the prayer be made for his mom, his two kids, 8-year-old Jaelun and 4-year-old Amari, and his fiance, Lisa Lewis of Little Rock. A 20-year Army Guard veteran, Felder was in the mouth of a bunker when the mortar attack occurred. The reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette embedded with the 39th quoted Felder's men as saying he had told them three weeks before, "There's nowhere I'd rather be than right here with you guys." That surely could not have been true. But maybe that's how leaders lead, by embracing the moment. It could never be said that a noble man performing in dutiful service to his free, democratic and open country died in vain. It might only be asked whether his country deployed his noble service unwisely. But that's a question for another day. At the funeral Monday filling St. Mark's Baptist Church in Little Rock, Felder's strong-voiced mother led the congregation in Bo's mantra for his men, "Lead the way, hooah." Maj. Gen. Don Morrow, adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, eulogized Felder with his voice cracking as he related that Bo had told his own son that he was going to Iraq "so that those children over there also could be free." But there's a local cost, and it has become more vivid.

Add a comment