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Why I Serve: Soldier Focuses Through Iraq, Afghanistan

By Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Jan. 7, 2005 – "I volunteered to deploy in another medic's place," Army Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Buhain said. But when he volunteered to deploy, he didn't know what he was in for.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Buhain, a medic with Task Force 168, poses for a picture during his time in Iraq. Buhain served five months in Iraq before joining Task Force 168 in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

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

Eight months and two combat zones later, the Task Force 168 medic has experience and memories he will never leave behind.

Buhain, a respiratory specialist from Rochester, Minn., was activated as a medic, one of his two military occupational specialties. He received just four days to prepare before he reported to Fort Hood, Texas, for mobilization and to meet his new chain of command. TF 168 was set to deploy to Afghanistan, where Buhain would serve as a unit augmentee.

After he reported to Fort Hood, a paperwork mishap led Buhain to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he received orders to Baghdad, Iraq. "When we landed in Baghdad, we took enemy fire," said Buhain. "The whole time I was thinking, 'I'm not even supposed to be here.'"

Buhain knew he belonged with TF 168 in Afghanistan, and he also knew it would take time for the proper orders to make their way into his hands. While he waited for this to happen, Buhain found a home and a job with the 31st Combat Support Hospital.

He was surrounded by the horrors of war, but determined to do what he could to help. "Iraq was an eye-opener for me," he said. "In the month of May I dealt with 65 deaths."

That's just one month of the five Buhain spent in Iraq. "I saw so much horror," he said. "Sometimes I knelt down to pray with other soldiers. I held the hands of others during their last moments."

Through it all, Buhain never lost his faith. "Iraq was very desponding, but I learned a lot. I learned to respect the value of life, to respect our country. I learned what our flag really means," he said. "I learned that old or young, it doesn't matter; it's about unity, taking it one day at a time to survive."

Buhain also learned to respect other coalition members. "I watched Poles, Australians, Brits, and even my own Filipinos die," he said. "Iraq was hard, but touching. If I could go back in time, I would go again. My brothers are still there fighting."

But Buhain now has another role to fill. After five months in Iraq, he finally received the correct orders, arriving in Afghanistan in September to fill his role as the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team medical noncommissioned officer in charge. No longer surrounded by death in a combat support hospital, he is seeing a different side of combat.

"Through everything, I've met so many people. I've felt pain, anger and depression. When I got here, I hated everything," he said. "But now I see the difference. (Here) we're transitioning and rebuilding. It lets me know that there's definitely hope.

"I still visualize all the terrible things I've seen -- I have nights I can't sleep. But it's good for me," he said, adding that the memories remind him why he's here.

"People call me a hero, but I'm not," he said. "It's nice to be called a hero, but the heroes are the men and women who died. I'm alive now because of those who died. And I think it's all worth it. I know I would be willing to give my life for my country."

(Army Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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