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Rebels attacked slain US troops in Iraq: witness

Two slain U.S. soldiers who went missing south of Baghdad were ambushed by as many as 30 insurgents who closed in on them in vehicles and opened fire, according to people who said on Wednesday they were witnesses.

It was not possible to independently verify their accounts. The U.S. military has yet to explain how the soldiers may have been isolated in what Iraqis call “The Triangle of Death” for its frequent insurgent attacks.

But two Iraqis who said they were witnesses gave similar accounts of the moments when Privates First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, and Kristian Menchaca, 23, went missing in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, on Friday.

They said the two soldiers and a driver fell back a few hundred meters behind two other military vehicles when they came under attack at dusk.

“There was one vehicle in the back of the convoy. It was very dusty. Suddenly these gunmen in Land Cruisers and Toyotas and other cars started firing at the soldiers,” recalled farmer Omar Abdullah, 49, who said he was some 200 meters (yards) away.

“A lot of dust was kicked up by the cars so the soldiers in the other cars probably could not see. The gunmen killed the driver. Eventually the other two soldiers were totally outnumbered and they were taken away.”

He said about 30 gunmen, some wearing ski masks and baggy black pants and others in white and red checkered headdresses, mounted the ambush.

Chief U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said there was reason to believe two bodies found in the Yusufiya area on Monday night were those of Tucker and Menchaca.

Muhammad Abu Hillal, a soft drinks vendor who also said he was in the area, said a woman was killed in an exchange of fire between the insurgents and the soldiers.

“There were many gunmen. One vehicle was isolated and there was lots of shooting. There was dust everywhere,” he said.

The Mujahideen Shura Council has said it abducted the two soldiers but it has offered no proof and Caldwell dismissed the claim.

Residents say the group was highly active in the rural area, terrorizing families and forcing them to flee.

The Story Of: Pfc. Kristian Menchaca

“Air Assault!” May You Rest In Peace Young Warriors
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker
1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division

When his younger brother enlisted in the U.S. Army late last year, Cesar Vasquez advised him to try for a posting other than infantry, which would certainly land him in Iraq.

But Kristian Menchaca, 23, didn’t share those reservations. He soon was a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

“I guess it didn’t seem real to him that anything would happen to him,” Vasquez said Monday.

Vasquez learned this weekend that his brother and another private first class, Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., are the soldiers believed to have been taken hostage Friday in Baghdad after coming under small-arms fire at a checkpoint. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Vasquez, standing in the dining room of his aunt’s home in Houston’s near northside, where he and his brother were raised. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s not looking good right now. I would be surprised if he were released. I don’t expect that to happen.”

A group with ties to al-Qaida, the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, but the U.S. military had not confirmed that claim Monday. A Defense Department release describes the missing soldiers’ status as “whereabouts unknown.”

All were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Vasquez, 25, said the apparent captors probably want “payback” for the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. bomb attack this month.

“Sometimes they like to use soldiers as an example,” he said. “The one soldier I saw on the news that got kidnapped back in ‘04, they never found him.”

(Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, went unaccounted for after his fuel-truck convoy was ambushed April 9, 2004, in a western suburb of Baghdad. The Army has vowed to keep searching for him.)

Menchaca, who completed his general equivalency diploma at the Alternative Learning & Transition Academy in Houston, was deployed to Iraq in January. Menchaca married his wife, Christina, of Big Spring, before shipping out.

“He just liked the military, the military lifestyle,” his brother said. “He just wanted to go through the special training that they go through.”

Vasquez said his mother has had trouble sleeping since she received word about her son. But Guadalupe Vasquez said by telephone from her home in Brownsville on Monday that she has faith that her son will return safely to his family. Until then, she said, she will continue to pray and patiently wait.

Mariaelena Garcia, an aunt who raised him as an infant until he was about 14, recalled telling him during a brief visit to Houston in May to take care of himself back in Iraq.

“Ya tía. Ya tía. No me pasaba nada,” he told her. Nothing would happen to him.

“It’s hard for me,” she said Monday. “It’s very hard.”

Menchaca told his family during the same visit that he was having trouble sleeping because he had become accustomed to lack of sleep during his tour in Iraq, she said. He spent long evenings with friends and family. His uncle Mario Vasquez recalled that one night his nephew pestered him for hot wings for dinner — he’d had enough Mexican food.

After his military duty, Menchaca told his brother, he planned to pursue a career in law enforcement, maybe with the U.S. Border Patrol.

‘It doesn’t look good,’ says brother of missing soldier
Sibling thinks apparent captors want ‘payback’ for al-Zarqawi’s death
June 20, 2006

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Bodies of missing U.S. soldiers recovered

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer

The bodies of two U.S. soldiers reported captured last week have been recovered, and an Iraqi defense ministry official said Tuesday the men were “killed in a barbaric way.” The U.S. military said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. forces — part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops — found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday. The bodies were recovered early Tuesday.

Caldwell said the cause of death was “undeterminable at this point,” and that the bodies would be taken back to the United States for DNA tests to confirm the identities.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had “slaughtered” them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men had been beheaded.

The two soldiers disappeared after a deadly insurgent attack Friday at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry’s operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. “With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way,” he said.

The claim of responsibility was made in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups led by al-Qaida in Iraq. The group had posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the two American soldiers captive.

“We give the good news … to the Islamic nation that we have carried God’s verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders,” said the claim, which appeared on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

“With God Almighty’s blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court” calling for the soldiers’ slaying, the statement said.

The statement said the soldiers were “slaughtered,” suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, “nahr,” is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named al-Qaida in Iraq’s new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.

Al-Zarqawi made al-Qaida in Iraq notorious for hostage beheadings and was believed to have killed two American captives himself — Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004.

The checkpoint attacked Friday was in the Sunni Arab region known as the “Triangle of Death” because of frequent ambushes there of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops.

Iraqi and American troops involved in the search for the missing soldiers killed three suspected insurgents and detained 34 in fighting that also left seven U.S. servicemen wounded, Caldwell said.

A farmer claiming to have witnessed the attack told The Associated Press on Sunday that insurgents swarmed the checkpoint, killing the driver of a Humvee before taking two of his comrades captive.

Ahmed Khalaf Falah said three Humvees were manning a checkpoint when they came under fire from many directions. Two Humvees went after the assailants but the third was ambushed before it could move.

He said seven masked gunmen, one carrying a heavy machine gun, killed the driver of the third vehicle and took the two other U.S. soldiers captive. His account could not be verified independently.

Kidnappings of U.S. service members have been rare since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite the presence of about 130,000 forces.

The last U.S. soldier to be captured was Sgt. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, who was taken on April 9, 2004 after insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy. Two months later, a tape on Al-Jazeera purported to show a captive U.S. soldier shot, but the Army ruled it was inconclusive and remains listed as missing.

Caldwell said that in addition to the two soldiers, a dozen Americans — including Maupin and 11 private citizens — are missing in Iraq. In addition, Capt. Michael Speicher, a Navy pilot, remains listed as missing in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said.


Associated Press writers Ryan Lenz in Balad, Iraq, and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

My Opinion: When Our Soldiers Are Murdered

I am outraged. I confess it. Politically correct or not, I have grown weary of throwing our soldiers to the political wolves in order to appease the Iraqi’s and world community. These are the same Iraqi’s who have barbarically slaughtered their own, as well as our soldiers. No, not everyone is an insurgent. But in 24 hours we had 8,000 soldiers, helicopters, aircraft, and unmanned drones searching for the soldiers, and not one Iraqi citizen seemed to know anything that could have possibly preventing their fate. In reading of the torture and brutal way our soldiers, who were taken captive, were treated, tortured and murdered, I am no longer deeply concerned about the incidents that make the headlines and making our soldiers scapegoats for very incident that occurs in Iraq. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not justifying or condoning any action in which our soldiers murdered unarmed innocent Iraqi’s. But please, the Italians want to try a Marine for firing on a speeding car approaching a checkpoint. Can anyone count the number of days in which someone didn’t turn up beheaded in the streets or rivers of Iraq? And now to treat our soldiers who were taken captive in this way, where is the same cries for justice. I don’t see any of these same “in the name of justice” countries calling for the justice of the two soldiers. At what point did it become acceptable for inhumane actions, as long as it was against American forces? Right now is the moment to measure the media’s worth. If there is not a call to arms, not coverage for the outrage and disgust for these two soldiers on at least the same measure as they have applied to those soldiers accused (not found guilty of) of killing Iraqi’s in the fog or war, then the media has exposed itself not only in bias for its total lack of credibility with the American public. If it fails in this test, if it fails to unite the American people in their resolve, then it fails to represent America and demonstrates, without argument that it seeks only its personal agenda as a divider of the American people, and not a unifier of their will. This is the same media that I watched this morning tell us of the discovery of the bodies and their condition, and then state “the pentagon will not confirm that the soldiers have been located pending notification of their next of kin”, (in other words we have not yet notified the families, please respect that and we will inform you of the information after notifying the families first) so why is the national media broadcasting not only the discovery of the bodies, but their condition based on information they received from Iraq officials before the families had been notified.

I live on Ft. Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, one of the most elite military units in the world. So, today as I was in the Shoppette, or the PX courtyard, everyone was talking about what the insurgents has done to our soldiers. There was intense and utter rage. The feeling and sentiment was not that we should pull out, but rather tired of the political games, and the restraint that no one within the world community seems to recognize, and let the military do its job so we can wrap this up and come home. See one must understand that the patrols that come under attack are a political solution to assist the Iraqi’s in the ability to stand on their own. We downplay our presence, to be the “nice guys” that in deadly attempts goes without recognition. In fact, the military is quite capable of going from city to city making Fallujah look like a training exercise, until the insurgency becomes no more dangerous than a troop of boy scouts on a weekend campout. Yes it would upset the Iraqi’s, and yes we would become the great Satan again to another country, and yes the Italians would be vocal at the United Nations and threaten to pull out their couple of hundred soldiers from one of Saddam’s vacation palaces in the south. But, this nightmare would be over. And please, come on, be realistic. Let’s say that the Iraqi government takes hold, and let’s say that the Iraqi army is finally able to stand on their own, do you honestly think the attitude and opinion would of the Iraqi’s and the world community will be any different, then if we just clean up this mess and went home.

To me, the bottom line is simple. These people have demonstrated their values, their humanity, and their danger to society. There needs to be no more calls for protecting their rights and dignity, to pamper them and treat them as anything more than murderous criminals. There have been despicable individuals tried by the world court for war crimes, who performed less hideous acts than those of the terrorist, and insurgency. So why did it take a U.S. air strike to bring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to justice. Should not he have been sought after by the world court for the horrific deaths he brought on the world community? Should not the United Nations have been using its resources to hunt down and try him for criminal acts against humanity? I guess it just depends on who you are killing, and if it involves American soldiers, then it is justified.

I know I am just ranting and raving here, without a clear platform. But look at the photos below. These soldiers were taken captive and unarmed. In other words, they are no longer combatives, in the same way that we label insurgents who fired on U.S. troops but are now unarmed “detainees”. We have soldiers under investigation for supposely firing on “detainees” and world outcry for justice. Today these soldiers bodies are being shipped back to the U.S. for DNA identification because they were so brutally murdered that dental records were not even an option. Yet I have not read, heard, or viewed even one article calling for “investigations”, justice, criminal actions, or the world community outrage that you have read about for other incidents in regards to this latest action by the insurgents. I guess justice just depends on whether you are an American soldier or not. I have had enough of being the “nice guy” military.

kristian menchaca
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas

thomas tucker
Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division

These opinions are my own and do not reflect Grey Eagle’s opinion or that of the military

The day I had to shoot the humvee…..

I think everyone will understand when I say the words, “Command Maintenance” or “Turn in” out here. Yes, I was tasked to do both….and let me tell you it was funny. First I had to go around and bribe, barter and steal to get doors put on for my two vehicles. That was fun. Luckily, I found some great guys in a shop that had no problems with helping me. As I am getting one set put on, I went back to get the second vehicle only to find out that it was dead. Yeah… dead. I just wanted to cry at that moment. I was so excited to have made all the right connections. I mean, You have to see the whole picture to know how much trouble I went to get this set up.

First, finding someone that would squeeze my two vehicles into their schedule. Something they certainly did not have to do, and trust me there is not a lot of people here willing to help sometimes because we are all under the gun for time. Then I found out that I was missing special brackets to put the doors on that no one had any extra for me, so it was up to me to turn over every rock and pull a lot of favors to find them. Then it was by fate that I found them, while making another deal for something else…..the gods were good to me that day. So, then I get the brackets, doors and vehicles all lined up to be taking care of…..I was very proud of myself for having the right connections and for being able to pull of something that was virtually impossible to do. So, for my second one to not crank for me ….. well, you can imagine how sick at my stomach I was.

But, I wasn’t going to lay down on this one. I decided to go out and talk to the humvee’s. I told them of the importance of this mission and that I had to accomplish it. I promised them a massage and washing if they would all just behave and crank for me in order to complete this mission. At that point I tried again to crank number two and he still did not want to start up……I then pulled out my weapon and shot him in front of the other humvee’s letting them know that this is what happens when you don’t want to co-operate.

With fear in number two’s headlights I turned to the others and said “let this be a lesson to all of you humvee’s sitting here! I am not playing.” Of course, I did not really shoot him but I played it out real well in my mind. But not to be taken lightly, I did seriously kick the tire however, demonstrating my lethal martial art skills with my size 7 boot………

Needless to say, all of the other humvee’s must have taken me seriously, because they all cranked without a hitch. Now, number two….well, he went to the shop to be fixed and n I still managed to get his doors put on the next day. Even though this mission took me almost three days to accomplish, I still managed to get it done and have them ready for turn in.

Yippee for me…..It all goes to show that making friends and connections out here is the only way to survive this environment.

Charlie Company On Patrol

When The Line Between Reality & Surreal Becomes Blurred


The other day I was giving some thought to life beyond Iraq. It seems like I have been living here so long that life beyond the sandbox has become surreal. I don’t even know when that happened, it was so long ago. We all say we are excited about coming home, and that is true, but in the same breath that we declare our excitement, we are also nervous. We express our joy at returning to those things that we left behind but anxious if it will still be the same. I have lost contact with myself. I am not even sure who that is anymore.

I have been living in another life time another dimension so separate from the world I left behind that I fear I may never really find my way back. Will those I love be able to accept me if I was not the exact person they knew. Would they be angry with me for the loss of my innocence. Will they understand the person I have become, the new needs I require. If I turn left, when they are used to me going right will they make the new turn with me, or stay on the old path, and we become separated, even for a moment. Detached now from who I was, I do not really even know who I am right now. When I first arrived here I was able to separate the two worlds. Things were distinct and traveling back and forth was easy. I was able to rationalize my behavior as two separate and distinct personalities. Now that line almost doesn’t exist. Living, working, breathing and being overwhelmed by the environment and those in it, I have found their personalities meshing with mine. A composite of characters that would rival Sybil. Cast adrift, living in the moment, my vision never wanders far from little box here. One moment I thinking of home, my husband and kids, I miss them, my heart heavy; then in a flash the drama of life here disrupts my moment of longing and I am quickly teleported to another dimension, one in which all the players are living in that same moment of time existence. This may seem distorted to those who have never experience this, I know that my wildest of imagination never produced me living like this, but within the box, things are real. The people, the sights, sounds, the soap opera drama, it is all real to me. I can touch it, feel it, be surrounded by it. Home… it is a dream, an imaginary world. It is like that tropical vacation you have always wanted to take. You close your eyes and escape to the vacation place in your mind, and though it brings you happiness you know it is just beyond your reach. Then you open your eyes to reality and go back to the mundane work at your desk.

I hate talking about my feelings. One, it is viewed as weakness, something I cannot tolerate within myself. The second is, what is perceived as sharing feeling by one, can be misinterpret as “whining” by another. That is one thing I will not have others see me as… whining about anything. Some people here say that my posts are too dramatic, and become lost in the symbolism. Some have stated a resentment at the attention the website sometimes gets, because I confess I am not always the poster child of the U.S. Army. I am just a soldier, experiencing and finding my way through my first deployment. When I was arrived I sought to please everyone, and that a good sense of humor and respect would carry me through this. I thought if I just worked as hard as I could then everyone would see that and somehow I would be above the “infighting” that exist in any unit that lives, works, plays, and breathes together 24/7. I thought people would say ‘go get “Wilks” she’ll get it done. Not that everyone else couldn’t have done just as good, just that people would see me as sort of that “worker bee” and accept me. See, I struggle a little with the fact that I am older than 80% (+) of those around me. With no real common bond, and set in my ways, I didn’t know how I was going to fit in.…hell I don’t even know who Snoop Ditty Dog.. or whoever is. The soldiers around me are looking to go places in life I have already been and left behind. I felt and feel very old. Crap, I have people giving me orders who are barely older than my son. After a while, I felt lonely and isolated and tried to fit in, and as many of those who are deployed with me here know, I have made my share of mistakes along the way. Most soldiers my age are senior NCO’s or officers, and have learned along the way and have much to offer, but because of my rank, I don’t fit in. I only share life’s experiences with them, not military structure. I work hard. That is the most important thing to me, that is the only way I know. I feed off recognition. I have always been that way. I will charge a dozen insurgents in an ambush with nothing more than my utility tool, smiling and thanking the NCO who ordered me to do it, not even arguing back (which will be a surprise to some here) all for the simple knowledge that in the aftermath they will acknowledge that I did it. I know, not the best personality type to have in the Army. But that is me. Tell me “good job Wilks, thanks” and the next time you ask me to do something I will try even harder because I know I have to work harder than last time to get the same recognition. Hand me a roll of toilet paper with the words “Thanks” on it and it gets its own little place on my shelf and makes my month. That’s just how I operate, and I guess I am too old to change. So I will probably be doing a lot of corrective training.

I figure I would bring this post to a close with a photo of me during a happier time. In my mind and in my actions I sometimes forget she exists, buried in order to survive a year here. But in my heart I know she is alive and waits the freedom bird that will take us home so she can be set free from her exile.


Some injured GIs decide to stay in Iraq

By RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer

Parallel scars running down 1st Sgt. Rick Skidis’ calf tell the story of how he nearly lost his leg when a roadside bomb blew through the door of his armored Humvee.

The blast shredded muscle, ligament and tendon, leaving Skidis in a daze as medics and fellow soldiers rushed to help him. Skidis remembers little of that day last November except someone warning him that when he woke, his foot might be gone.

After five months and six surgeries, the foot remains intact but causes Skidis haunting numbness and searing pain caused by nerve damage.

Skidis, 36, of Sullivan, Ill., fought through the surgeries and therapy to return in April to Iraq, conducting the same type of patrols that nearly killed him.

He is not an exception.

Nearly 18,000 military personnel have been wounded in combat since the war began in Iraq more than three years ago, according to Defense Department statistics. Some have lost legs and arms, suffered horrific burns to their bodies and gone home permanently.

But the vast majority have remained in Iraq or returned later — their bodies marked by small scars and their lives plagued by aches and pains.

“I wear my scars proudly,” said Skidis as he gingerly lifted his pant leg to show the railroad-like tracks where doctors made incisions to save his foot. Why didn’t he stay home? “I felt guilty because I wasn’t sharing the same hardships that they were,” Skidis said shyly, while another soldier nodded at his side.

For some soldiers in Iraq, it was a roadside blast that muffled their hearing or peppered their body in shrapnel. Others have been ripped by gunfire, sometimes leaving them with jabbing pains in their limbs and compromised movement.

Their wounds are often similar but there are many reasons for remaining at war when their wounds are a ticket home.

Some can’t imagine any other job than being a soldier. Some know no other life. Others, like Skidis, feel the guilt, an obligation to their fellow soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Katherine Yocom-Delgado, 28, of Brooklyn, N.Y., lost 70 percent of the hearing in her left ear weeks ago when an artillery shell landed just a few feet away from her. Her teeth still hurt and she has frequent headaches, especially in the morning.

Yocom-Delgado tilts her head when she listens to people talk.

But she hasn’t considered leaving — the wounds are not as important as the mission.

“I’m alive and I’m happy to be alive,” she said with a smile. “I don’t hurt every day.”

As a woman, Yocom-Delgado represents just two percent of those injured in Iraq, a figure she quotes and has read in new articles. It’s an odd distinction, she said, just her luck.

Spc. Steven Clark’s luck is worse. The 25-year-old has been shot three times and wounded by shrapnel from a grenade that tore into his legs and back. He has been awarded three purple hearts — a fourth is on the way — and a bronze star with valor.

His friends have nicknamed him “Bullet Magnet” — but he won’t consider leaving.

Clark, of Fitzgerald, Ga., says getting wounded was a mistake and his pain is punishment for letting people down. He won’t show the scars on his calf or shoulder or back. He calls the attacks “incidents.”

“I have pains. I have numbness from nerve damage. But it’s just something I’m going to have to live with,” Clark said. “I’m not going to change what I am just because it’s dangerous.”

Soldiers in the battalion, the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, have been struck by more than 230 roadside bombs since they arrived in Iraq last October, leaving 15 dead. They’ve discovered about 350 more on the roads that crisscross their swath of desert.

More than 100 of the soldiers have been wounded, mostly on patrols in their sector south of Baghdad where Shiite and Sunni Arab tribes often clash with coalition forces. Twenty-seven of those wounded were evacuated from Iraq and remain at hospitals in the United States.

Pfc. Salvadore Bertolone, 21, of Ortonville, Mich., was injured when a roadside bomb blew glass shards into his face and arm. A scar curls down his cheek, but he dismisses his injury.

There are perks to staying in the fight after an injury, he said.

“I get free license plates for the rest of my life,” Bertolone said. “And I’ve got people who are definitely going to be buying me drinks when I get home.”

Though proud of their fellow soldiers, medics fear long-term health problems lie ahead.

“The soldiers here are so focused on staying in the fight that they suck up the pain and push through,” said Capt. Dennison Segui, 33, a medic and physician’s assistant from Browns Mills, N.J. “I know I’m busy here, but I’m nowhere near as busy as I will be when we get back.”

Many of the injured soldiers have begged their commanders to let them come back. One soldier was sent home after a bomb exploded in his face and damaged his eyes. He likely will never return to Iraq, but still asks. Another was sent home because of a heart condition, but returned to Iraq three times, according to Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, a commander in the 502nd Infantry Regiment.

Kunk, who is not a doctor, decides every week which wounded soldiers can return to duty. Often the soldiers research regulations and argue endlessly, he said.

It’s heartbreaking when he has to say no, but he does.

“Sometimes there’s too much ‘Hooah!’ in us guys,” Kunk said. While he doesn’t want to dampen that enthusiasm, he said, “I don’t want to hurt the guy the rest of his life.”

Kunk has injuries of his own, so he understands a soldier’s conviction to fight. His leg swells and throbs by the end of the day, the lingering effect of a roadside bomb that damaged nerves and muscle. But he, too, won’t think of leaving.

“I’m a father. Heck, I’m a grandpa to be honest with you. So I just kind of look at it from that perspective,” said Kunk, 48. “I want to do right by them.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press


This website reflects a collection of stories of female soldiers and does not depict Grey Eagle as the whole of the stories presented. Grey Eagle is accountable only for her words in her blog and some comments are in jestful humor and are not to be taken literally word for word. Views are of the soldiers are not of the Army, Military, or U.S. Government. All efforts are attempted to comply with OPSEC regulations.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaime S. Jaenke

Picture Not Available

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaime S. Jaenke, 29, of Bay City, Wis., died June 5 as a result of enemy action when her HMMWV was struck by an improvised explosive device in Al Anbar province, Iraq. She was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, Fort McCoy, Wis.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamie Jaenke was in Iraq only three months has becomes Iowa’s first woman soldier from Iowa to die in line of duty in Iraq.

Thirty-year-old Jaime Jaenke was killed Monday by an improvised roadside bomb. She was one of two soldiers killed in the attack. Jaenke was stationed in the Al Anbar province in Iraq in the western part of the country. But we don’t know exactly where in that part of the region the attack took place.

The news of Jaenke’s death has shaken the small Hardin County town of Iowa Falls. The flag outside of her grandfather’s home is flying at half staff in honor of their fallen soldier. Friends of her family say Jamie only recently moved to town last summer. She was in the process of starting her own business, running a stable just outside of Iowa Falls, when she was called to duty in the Naval Reserves. Friends also tell us she was serving as a medic, though they were not able to go into detail on the exact nature of her mission on the day she was killed.

Jaenke leaves behind a nine-year-old daughter. Jaenke’s parents are taking care of her 9-year-old daughter Kayla. They say she had only recently move to Iowa after living for years in Wisconsin and Minnesota and was excited about starting a stable business when she returned from Iraq.

In Sports, a Sisterhood

By the time Carla Best awakened from surgery, the Iraq war’s first female amputees had long moved on. Best had been injured in 2004, but for months, doctors had been trying to save what was left of her disfigured leg. In June, they finally amputated it.

Not long after her surgery, a nurse pointed out an envelope on bedside table. Best opened it to find a get-well card with a note that promised an understanding friend. “We female AKs have to stick together,” the card said.

Best understood that “AK” is part of the parlance of the amputee world — it stands for “above knee” — and she recognized the name of the card’s sender: Melissa Stockwell, a young lieutenant who was the Iraq war’s first female combat amputee.

To Best, Stockwell was the very picture of can-do determination. Injured at 24, she endured 15 surgeries on her amputated leg, and then took up skiing, biking and most of all swimming — a sport she had never before embraced but now pursued with ardor. Stockwell aspired to compete as a swimmer in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. In the meantime, she and her husband had moved to Minnesota, where Stockwell had thrown herself into a new career — in prosthetics.

As Stockwell put it: “You don’t sit in a room crying. You get up in the morning and put your leg on.”

For Best, the example was heartening.

At 29, Best was a mechanic by training who had made rank as a sergeant and embraced Army life. She had been in Iraq four months when she got her wish to be part of a mission away from her base in Baghdad. The mission had barely started when her vehicle was blasted by a roadside bomb. Both her legs were severely injured, one almost severed.

The night before her leg was amputated, Best took photos of it as a kind of goodbye, knowing she would never see herself with four limbs again. “There was a lot of fear in not knowing what was going to happen,” she said.

Months later, she found herself alongside her role model — first at a triathlon event in San Diego, then at the New York City Marathon.

On a hand-cranked bike, Best muscled her way along the 26.2-mile marathon course. It was not easy. Her tire went flat three times. A rim nearly fell off. But she was exhilarated to be out in the sun and to feel the wind of her own forward movement.

She whirred across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, through all five boroughs of New York, in the shadow of skyscrapers, toward Central Park. At the finish line, she saw Stockwell, done with her own race.

“You did it,” Stockwell cheered.

Best hopped up on one leg and hugged her, giddy.

– Donna St. George

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Fallen Soldiers: Female Soldiers

Fallen Soldiers: 101st Airborne