Heartbreak and Heroes

On all of my five trips to our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I insisted on seeing the heroes before we go home...the injured soldiers at our medical center in Germany. As soon as any soldiers injured or ill can be safely moved, they are transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. It is very common to meet soldiers, many who were manning a gun turret yesterday, resting in a hospital bed at Landstuhl today.



We began our tour in the intensive care unit. We stood aside as a soldier on a ventilator was rushed to a waiting plane and then home. We peered into the room of a Marine Corps Sergeant from Camp LeJuene. His wife is here. He was injured in battle just a few days ago. He was severely burned. The doctor said respectfully, "there isn't much we can do for him....he will not survive." I looked him in the face, wrote down his name and prayed. This moment broke my heart.

Spc. Christopher Rutter of Missouri was with the 101st Airborne in Iraq. He smiled broadly as we entered his room, actually making an effort to sit up until I urged him to be "at ease" with a smile. Chris was driving an up-armored humvee in central Iraq a few days ago when an IED (Innovative Explosive Device) was detonated under his vehicle. Chris told us how he managed to keep the vehicle on the road after the explosion despite severe injuries.

Both of his legs were amputated this weekend. We spoke about his future, his wife Amber and their plans to have kids. He was resolute. He had not an ounce of self pity. I promised to pray for him and Amber, and I thanked him for serving his country. Spc. Christopher Rutter of Missouri is a hero, plain and simple, and I told him so.

Pfc. Christopher Frazier is a Marine from Maine and a man of courage and compassion. Pfc. Frazier was sitting upright when we entered the room. Three days ago, he was serving as the gunner on a military truck in Iraq. They crossed a bridge and an IED ended the lives of the two other men in the vehicle, inflicting third-degree burns on Spc. Frazier's legs. He told us the "trigger man" was standing near the bridge but "I didn't worry about him cause he had two little kids with him." I asked him the names of the men in his unit who had lost their lives.

He hesitated then, dabbing tears away from his eyes, he spoke the names of David Vevrka, a 26 year-old soldier from Pennsylvania, and Dave Kelly, a 49 year-old soldier from Maine. His emotion came to the surface as he told us how Staff Sgt. David Vevrka saved his life. Sgt. Vevrka unbuckled himself to pull Chris out of the gun turret and was throw 60 feet from the vehicle sustaining severe head injuries. Spc. Frazier choked out, "he didn't make it cause he was helpin' me."

There wasn't a dry eye in the room. "No greater love has a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends." We assured Chris of our gratitude and prayers. We also promised to pray for the men who had lost their lives and their families. The Bible says, "the prayer offered up in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up." May God lift up and heal Pfc. Christopher Frazier.

There were others soldiers who we saw in other wards. Some were there with combat related injuries and some were there with illness. All of them are men and women far from home in the service of United States, and we repeated our thanks and admiration at every turn.

Before we left, I met Lt. Col. John Pamerleau of Muncie, Indiana. John grew up in a heartland city at the heart of my congressional district and has gone on to a position of great responsibility. He manages all the soldiers inbound from Afghanistan and Iraq, ensuring care and treatment of the highest order. A modest man, John spoke of his youth in Muncie with pride.

His mother, Maryanne Toomey, grew up in Muncie and his aunt Ferrell Toomey and many cousins still call Muncie home. We shared a meal and his insights on the war. He said, "A lot of the troops are really frustrated that the public isn't getting the whole story about the good things happening in Iraq." I thanked Lt. Col. Pamerleau for his service to the country, and he smiled as I told him, "Muncie would be proud!" And we are.

I write this in an Air Force jet somewhere over the northern Atlantic Ocean. The sights and sounds of this journey will stay with me for a lifetime and inform me as a Congressman and an American. We have great challenges ahead in Iraq and in the Arab world, but there is reason for hope. Like the democratic revolution that overtook the nation of Turkey in 1923, many nations in the Arab world are looking for a future of freedom.

In Jordan there are democratic reforms under way and a firm partnership with the United States. In Iraq, with American soldiers at their side, the good people of Iraq and its new Prime Minister are preparing to launch a new government based upon the principles of liberty. And in Turkey and Greece, we have allies determined to stand with the United States and the United Nations in confronting the tyranny and nuclear ambitions of Iran.

But I don't only base my confidence on hope. It is said that "hope that is seen is not hope" and what I have seen in the faces of American soldiers from Iraq to the hospital beds of Landstuhl is the real source of my confidence. I have seen in the eyes of our soldiers in Mosul, Baghdad and Ramstein the fixed gaze of men and women who have answered freedom's call and have not turned back.

So long as our nation continues to produce men and women of such courage and character, I believe with all my heart, no enemy...no where....shall prevail against us.

Rep. Mike Pence

Returning from Iraq

North Atlantic Ocean