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Soldiers’ sacrifices symbolize another greatest generation

ADAM SCHIFF

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

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will have many more opportunities to return in the weeks and months

ahead.

I could not have been more impressed with the indomitable spirit

of those I met. Pvt. Reed Rosenkranz of Pittsburg had been in the

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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

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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

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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

Iraq.

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

sharing.

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

similar bias.

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.


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