Earlier this week, I visited two soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital who
had been injured in Iraq. It was the second time I went to see
California servicemen and women at the hospital, and I fear that I
will have many more opportunities to return in the weeks and months
I could not have been more impressed with the indomitable spirit
of those I met. Pvt. Reed Rosenkranz of Pittsburg had been in the
Army for only six months when he was sent to Iraq. His convoy was
attacked in the early evening while returning from securing a power
plant east of Baghdad. A rocket-propelled grenade was fired inside
the passenger window of his Humvee, hit the radio and exploded. He
lost his right eye, and shrapnel injured his legs. Another passenger
lost his left eye. Three others in the car -- two fellow soldiers and
one translator -- were not so fortunate, and were all killed.
Reed’s mother, visiting her son in the hospital, showed the
weariness of worry over her son, but also great pride in his bravery
and service. She told me that the Iraqi that fired on her son’s
convoy was part of Saddam Hussein’s special forces. He had been
interviewed by the newspapers and later captured.
Pvt. Rosenkranz explained to me that he enlisted in the Army in
January at 25, because he wanted to serve his country in a time of
need. “The whole Sept. 11 thing” made him want to do his part. “I
feel lucky to be alive,” he told me, holding his young wife in the
hospital room. He showed no regret for having served, and no anger
over his injuries. He merely looked forward to continuing his
education, and making use of his skill with computers.
Sgt. Erick Castro Rodriquez of Santa Ana was fired on by Iraqis
armed with a Russian-made projectile that shot a rod of steel through
his vehicle. His leg was later amputated, as was the leg of another
soldier hit in the same attack. Still another soldier had his leg
amputated by the projectile itself.
“This is one of those bumps in the road that you meet in life, and
you just have to get past it,” the sergeant told me.
I’m not sure where they find these men and women, but our armed
forces are filled with them. They are brave, dedicated,
uncomplaining, devoted to our country and willing to sacrifice.
When I recently visited our troops in Iraq, I met many more of the
same smart and courageous young soldiers. Whether it was the First
Marine Expeditionary Force in the south, the 101st Airborne Division
in Mosul, or the Fourth Infantry Division in Tikrit, these soldiers
were operating under the most extreme conditions -- 130-degree heat, frequent enemy fire, improvised explosive devices along the roadside
and long deployments.
“I’m an artilleryman,” one Army captain told me as we left a
hospital in Baghdad. “I was trained to fight large mechanized armies
on the open battlefield. We weren’t trained for this. I looked at my
training photos the other day and there wasn’t a single building in
any of them. But we’re learning, we’re adapting well and we’re
getting the job done.”
These soldiers are tough.
“What do you do when you’re not in Tikrit fighting bad guys?” I
asked one Army reserve private.
“I install computers at Pepperdine University,” she told me.
Imagine, going from installing computers at beautiful Pepperdine to
Saddam Hussein’s hometown and one of the most dangerous places in
My colleagues and I flew in C-130 troop transport planes into
Baghdad, making combat landings with steep vertical declines to avoid
the shoulder-fired missiles they have been shooting at our planes. To
get around inside the country, we traveled in Blackhawk helicopters
or heavily armed convoys, our security detail always on guard for
explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades.
In the evenings when we returned to Kuwait, I spent my time
calling the families of the soldiers I met during the day. I spoke to
mothers, brothers, husbands and wives -- sharing news of their loved
ones (“he looks good,” “she’s eating well,” “his spirits are strong”)
and extending my gratitude for the sacrifice the families are
I joined a similar congressional delegation to Afghanistan around
the time of Operation Anaconda. Then, as now, it gave me a chance to
assess the true conditions on the ground, what our soldiers face and
whether they are getting the tools and supplies they need to complete
their mission, without the filter of the Pentagon.
And equally important, it gave me the chance to thank all of them
for their dedication to duty. I thanked them for me, and knowing you
would want me to, I passed along the thanks and gratitude of my
constituents, as well.
The war in Iraq has been extremely divisive here at home, and has
also divided the world community. Our failure to find weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq thus far has been deeply troubling, and our
intelligence-gathering process needs thorough and unbiased
investigation. Gen. Zinni’s pointed observation that the dedication
of our troops was not matched by the quality of our planning rings
all too true.
But the men and women of our armed forces are deserving of our
unqualified support. Many of us were struck by the designation of the
generation that served during World War II as the greatest
generation. As my father was in the Army during that war, I felt a
One visit to Walter Reed Hospital or to our troops overseas,
however, is enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that any
generation of fighting men and women could exceed the quality of
today’s soldier. These remarkable young people are simply as fine as
they could be.
* REP. ADAM SCHIFF represents the 29th District, which includes
Burbank, Glendale and parts of La Crescenta and Montrose. He can be
reached by e-mail through his Web site at www.house.gov/schiff or
through his Pasadena office by calling (626) 304-2727.