April 27, 2006
Fitzgerald- Rarely, if ever, to we hear a soldier's thoughts about the Iraq war, but we often hear from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and various generals.
One South Georgia soldier, who was wounded early in his first tour, spoke out and provided a first-hand, ground-level perspective of the war that is increasingly unpopular with Americans. The soldier refuses to accept a reassignment even though he has had several brushes with death.
"Steven, good to see you buddy," says Jim Clark, as he hugs his nephew, specialist Steven Clark giving him a hearty pat on the back. Home sweet home could not have been sweeter for Steven.
"Ready for us I think," says Jim who gently moves Steven in the direction of a dining table reserved for them. Many people eating in the restaurant that Saturday would consider Steven an Iraq war hero if they knew. "I worry about him all the time," says Jim.
The modest 25 year-old, who has looked forward to eating an All American burger, doesn't consider himself a hero. "I just did my job; Just another soldier doing what he is supposed to do," says Steven. He got shot during an ambush attempt while he drove a Humvee in Mozel.
Bullets ricocheted through the floorboard and hit him in his left shoulder. A month later a sniper shot him while he exercised in his compound. By now, the community knew he had been injured two times and lived to sing hymns at the family's church.
To them, a war hero came home for a few days to rest and recuperate, but his family felt uneasy. Some of the congregation knew of this third brush with death when pieces of an exploding grenade came dangerously close to paralyzing him. "Exactly," says Steven.
Steven had a hard decision to make. Would he go back to Iraq again? Understandably, his mom and dad, a war veteran as well, wanted him to leave Iraq while he had chance.
But Steven went back and was wounded a fourth time when an interpreter shot him while trying to steal information.
A gun fight broke out at point blank range. The interpreter shot Steven in the chest, but Steven's military intelligence badge, that was in his pocket, stopped the bullet, saving his life, but Steven was wounded by the gun blast. "He's lucky to still be with us, with four Purple Hearts," says Billy Clark, Steven's father. His brother, a soldier who has fought in Afghanistan, offered his opinion. "I tried to talk him out of it," says William Clark.
Steven listened, but decided to go back to his counter-intelligence unit again, even though he didn't have to. "These men would die for me and I would die for them," says Steven who apologized to his fellow soldiers numerous times for getting injured four times. He felt he let them down. He has had three chances to leave Iraq, but he has decided to stay.
Why? Because he remembers when he was 12 years-old and playing Little League baseball. He felt the coach was much too tough on the young players, and Steven quit. The team went on to win first place and Steven vowed he would never quit again.
To leave Iraq now would be quitting in Steven's eyes. "We are making a difference. We are making an extreme difference. The government is taking over. Iraqi Army is utilizing roles that we use to do," says Steven.
A young man who earned four Purple Hearts knows the sweet taste of freedom, and believes strongly the US should stay in Iraq until the government feels so secure that it asks us to leave.
Then, he'll come home with no telling how many Purple Hearts.