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Army Lauds College Student Wounded Working in Iraq

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2004 – On June 2, college student Scott Erwin was shot four times while doing his part to defend freedom in Baghdad, Iraq.

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Scott Erwin (right) poses for a photo in the Pentagon's Hall for Heroesafter being presented the Defense of Freedom Medal by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III Dec. 3. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Today, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the former civil administrator in Iraq, honored the young American with the Defense of Freedom Medal -- the civilian equivalent to the military's Purple Heart Medal -- in a late-afternoon Pentagon ceremony.

The event started out bittersweet for Erwin: His parents' plane had been delayed and he feared they'd miss his big moment. Relief showed all over his face though when they rushed in a few moments before Bremer did.

"You made it!" he said as he jumped up to hug and greet his parents before he was shuffled off to meet with his former boss.

Bremer described Erwin as "a very valued adviser to the Ministry of Interior" who helped most in Iraq by "teaching the Iraqis what democracy means, what's the rule of law."

While in Baghdad, through his own initiative, Erwin set up a program called Ambassadors of Democracy at the city's Mustansiriya University. The program brought lessons in democracy, the rule of law, the value of community service and the role of Islam in government to the university students.

It's particularly appropriate to honor Erwin with this award now, "as we are now standing on the eve of elections in Iraq," Bremer said, "elections that I'm confident will go forth on Jan. 30."

Erwin said he accepted the award "with great humility," adding that his sacrifice seems "insignificant" when compared to those of families who have accepted the same award on behalf of deceased loved ones, compared to military men and women who have died "in the cause of freedom," and especially when compared to the sacrifices of the two Iraqi policemen who died in the attack that critically wounded him.

Erwin said he accepted the award in the honor of three men: his two grandfathers and Mohammed, a close friend he made in Iraq.

His two grandfathers, both World War II veterans instilled a sense of service in Erwin at a young age, he said. One had been a "proud old Marine" and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"But his most valiant campaign came in the final days of his life," Erwin said of the grandfather. "He performed a round-the-clock vigil over my grandmother, who was dying of Alzheimer's." Sadly, the stress of that care led to the man's own death.

Erwin's other grandfather was more reserved about telling World War II stories, but he wasn't reserved about stressing the value of education, Erwin said. "One of the final memories I have of him is discussing my university experience and what I was going to do with my education in the future," he said. This grandfather died while Erwin was working in Iraq.

"This notion of service and sacrifice and the importance of education is what took me to Iraq and what inspired me to begin Ambassadors of Democracy," Erwin said.

Mohammed, Erwin's third great inspiration, was an Iraqi policeman who was killed in the attack that wounded Erwin. "All he wished was a future that was brighter for his children than he himself had experienced in his life," Erwin said.

The attack occurred as they were returning from the university on of the last sessions of the Ambassadors of Democracy program. Erwin said today he believes they were attacked because the attackers were afraid of the progress they were making in teaching the university students a better way of life.

"I think they were frightened by the power of what was occurring in that university," he said. "Those university students understood the importance of democracy. They understood the importance of sovereignty in their own right, and they understood the importance of sharing it with others."

He also maintains that the attackers failed in their mission -- to stop progress in Iraq and intimidate the Iraqi people.

"The virtues of my two grandparents, the virtues of Mohammed live on in the Iraqi students who are now canvassing Baghdad and its environs teaching their peers about democracy in preparation for elections," Erwin said to a standing ovation. "The march of freedom rolls on. And the true heroes, along with our troops, are those Iraqi people like my students who are working diligently to ensure a brighter future."

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