By Kevin Wood/NEMS Daily Journal
Sergeant First Class Billy Sutton had a strange nickname for the platoon he led in the Army National Guard. He called them the “honey badgers” for their tenacious, take on anything attitude. He meant it as a compliment since the honey badger has been called “the world’s most fearless animal”. His platoon in response called him “Papa Badger”, because he embodied that fearless mentality for them and because he was their senior by a good two decades.
In October 2011, SFC Sutton and his “honey badgers” headed to Afghanistan for a 12-month tour of duty as a part of the 288th Sapper Company out of Houston, MS. It was SFC Sutton’s third such tour in the War on Terror. His first two tours came in Iraq. The most recent tour was in the Anbar province of Iraq. SFC Sutton’s commanding officer said it was one that would have made most soldiers quit the military altogether. But the man with the honey badger attitude wasn’t ready to quit.
SFC Billy Sutton was a solid soldier, but he did have a softer side. It was one that his wife Traci saw from time to time from the man that she said “absolutely loved everything about the military.” She experienced that softer side on February 8, 2012, her 40th birthday, when a bouquet of flowers showed up at her work. They had been sent by her husband in Afghanistan. It was a bittersweet birthday gift, however, because SFC Billy Sutton had died the day before from an apparent heart attack. In the days that followed, Traci Sutton’s cell phone and Facebook page filled with messages from friends and family. They also came from men in Billy Sutton’s unit letting her know how much they looked up to him.
At the memorial service in Afghanistan, several members of the 288th Sapper Company came forward to share their thoughts on their friend and leader, SFC Billy Sutton. Many shared personal stories about funny moments they had with “Papa Badger”, commenting on everything from his love of his hunting dogs to his humorous distaste for the local Afghan radio stations. Perhaps the strongest tribute was one soldier’s feeling that SFC Sutton wasn’t just the backbone of his platoon, but of the whole company. The selfless and sacrificial attitude he displayed was an example not just to those under him, but to every soldier he served with. One by one, the members of the 288th Sapper Company came forward to pay their respects. Many of them had tears in their eyes as they said their final goodbyes. They dedicated the remainder of their tour in Afghanistan to the memory of SFC Sutton, the leader of the Honey Badgers.
Read the rest of SFC Billy Sutton’s story and view photos at www.40DaysofHonor.com