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Wounded US Servicemen Reflect on War, Their Personal Experiences in Iraq

The shooting war in Iraq is over, but tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain in the Persian Gulf region. Some with injuries and health problems are flown to the U.S. military medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany, where Douglas Bakshian spoke with servicemen who recently returned from the front.

While the injuries may be less dramatic, the stories about life in a conflict zone remain compelling. Twenty-year-old Chris Rasmussen, who worked in a Navy Seabee construction unit, broke his ankle while helping repair an Iraqi high school - one of the activities the military is turning to in the aftermath of the war. He says looting is a big problem in Iraq.

"I've been to Baghdad, Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah and Babylon," he said. "I hope one day it will be a nice country again. But, all the buildings and stuff are all war-torn. Right before I broke my ankle we were supposed to go to a courthouse and fix it up. The civilians were chipping away at the bricks and they had burned the second floor. They took the glass out of the windows. They just came in and tore it all apart. They even took the light fixtures and the ceiling fans. They took anything that they could grab."

It hasn't been all high schools for Seabee Rasmussen, of San Bernardino, California. His unit was 12 hours behind the first wave of Marines in Baghdad, and things were different.

"It was nothing like I expected. It was, like I said, for the first couple of days, hours you hear all the explosions going 'boom-boom,' he explained. "You're always looking over your shoulder. I'd probably do it again."

Douglas Bakshian: "What about combat, would you do it again?"

Seabee Rasmussen: "It's a little scary, but it's either me or somebody else, like my little brother. I Wouldn't want him to have to go through it."

Another glimpse of life on the ground comes from Marine Lance Corporal Daniel White who worked with a direct air support center behind the front lines that called in air strikes as well as helicopter rescue operations.

"I think the scariest part was my last night where I was actually in Kuwait when the war started," he said. "When President Bush gave his 48 hours [warning], and the 48 hours were up and then we started moving into Iraq. And Saddam started launching the scuds at us and we had to wear our gas masks. That was probably the scariest part right there in the beginning. And then when we would get in an ambush. Whenever we got outside of Baghdad we had people just taking pot shots at us all the time. It was different. I was semi-ready for it, but not. After a little while you get used to it. You get used to hearing all the artillery blowing up and people shooting at you. You just get used to it."

But would he do it again? "My mom wouldn't like me to, but yeah, I'd probably do it again."
Corporal White, of Victoria, Texas, says experiencing war on the ground is different from what comes across on television.

"The war on television, you're not actually there," he explained. "All you hear is sounds coming through the TV. Whenever you're out there and you're hearing all these sounds. They're not all coming from one direction, like your television. They're coming from all directions, and you never know when the next person is going to shoot at you. And it's different. You've always got to be on the alert - night, day, anytime. And at night sometimes the moon wasn't out and you couldn't see anything and you just didn't know what was fixing to happen. It's pretty nerve-wracking."

Corporal White has pains in his left side and was sent to Landstuhl for tests to find out what the problem is.

While the war has stopped, injuries from disease, training and non-combat activities continue to take their toll.

"During the actual war, during the actual battles we were seeing much more serious injuries - gunshot wounds, badly damaged soldiers, a lot of fragment injuries from bombs that went off, and so forth," said Captain Renaldo Morales, a doctor who sees many patients in the emergency room. "There were some amputations. Burns were also more common at that time. Now, as it's transitioned we're seeing more injuries that occur around the camp. Not battle injuries, more just non-battle injuries and diseases. Chest pain, people coming in with chest pain, kidney stones are very frequent. Often because of the dehydration that they can experience over there. But the majority is still orthopedic type injuries - sprained ankles, knee pain, back, a lot of back problems. There are more people coming now due to psychological issues, depression and so forth, I think more now than actually during the war itself."

Captain Morales adds that the troops on the ground remain under pressure. "They mention that what we see on TV isn't necessarily what's going on out there," he said. "It's much uglier. Even though we feel like there's peacetime now, for those guys out there, they're constantly looking around, because there's snipers and there is no rest for them."

Hospital officials say that as long as large numbers of troops remain in the Persian Gulf region the U.S. military medical center in Landstuhl will remain busy.