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Deputy Secretary Shares Stories of Army Heroes in Iraq

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2003 – Declaring that "our Army understands that right now, Iraq is the central battle in the war on terrorism," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz praised the service's soldiers and civilians and their families here today for their "extraordinary record of accomplishment" and "selfless support."

Wolfowitz, speaking at a luncheon for members of the Association of the U.S. Army, recalled stories of Army heroes he heard during a visit to Iraq in July.

He told the group of the "remarkable restraint" shown by young soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division who had come under fire from snipers in a mosque and refrained from firing back until some elderly Iraqi citizens had a chance to get out of the line of fire.

"Their behavior did not escape the notice of Iraqi civilians who were on the scene," Wolfowitz said. "Those young soldiers are helping to win the battle for the hearts and minds in Iraq today."

Another group of soldiers, he said, negotiated for 15 hours and worked out a peaceful surrender to avoid hurting the hostages when terrorists captured a group of Iraqi women and children to use as human shields. "Then, when they found that a 3-year-old girl had been injured, thrown down a flight of stairs," Wolfowitz said, "they called in a medevac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital.

"The local Iraqis who witnessed this event too were impressed," he continued, "and there hasn't been a problem in that neighborhood since."

Wolfowitz recalled walking in Mosul with a company commander, who told him of a problem in there caused by local butchers dumping animal carcasses in the street.

"In the old days," Wolfowitz said, "the regime would solve that problem by just shooting a butcher or two, and the rest would get the message. We have liberated Iraq from that kind of tyrannical abuse.

"Instead, this young Army captain organized an association of butchers so the authorities would have a way to interact with them," he continued. "And I jokingly asked that young officer if they taught him how to organize butchers associations in some class at West Point, and of course they hadn't.

"Like ingenious young Americans all over Iraq, he worked out that solution by himself, maybe with some 6th grade civics," Wolfowitz said. "And the fact is that this kind of ingenuity and initiative is being replicated across Iraq on a daily basis."

The deputy defense secretary related part of a letter Army 1st Lt. John G. Gibson wrote to his parents on his birthday. Gibson is in Baghdad with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division.

Wolfowitz read excerpts from the letter, in which Gibson said that despite the hardships he and his soldiers endure, their work is not in vain and is not finished.

"I see things here on a daily basis that hurt the human heart," Gibson wrote. "However, I see the hope in the eyes of many Iraqis a new hope for a chance to govern themselves in a new way of life. I think they are on the cusp of a new adventure."

What Wolfowitz called "the heroism of which our Army is made" was also evident in the words of Spc. James Kiehl when his unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, got its orders to Iraq.

"This brave young soldier told his father, 'I've got a job to do, and I'm going to do it. I'm not going to raise my son in fear of terrorism. And this is the first step in eliminating it,'" Wolfowitz said.

Kiehl -- 22 years old, married, and the father of a newborn son died in battle. "He gave everything he had for his child," Wolfowitz told his audience, "and for yours and for mine."

Wolfowitz said the Army's civilian employees and the families of soldiers "don't always receive the credit they deserve." He noted that Army civilians "have taken on increased responsibilities and long hours in these days of transformation and war."

He added that no one in America does more to support the Army than Army families. "Their sacrifices are enormous, and they are appreciated," he said.

Wolfowitz evoked the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who told U.S. Military Academy cadets at West Point, N.Y., 40 years ago that the U.S. Army never failed the American people.

"That remains true to this day," Wolfowitz said. "And we owe it to them to show our appreciation as often as we can, in every way that we can."

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