I want you to sit back, close your eyes, and think back to when you were 21 years old. Do you remember your birthday? Probably not. Do you remember the first time you were able to order alcohol, legally? I can remember hanging out with my friends at college in Fort Collins, without a care in the world. The only thing I had to worry about was what we were going to do tonight and how I was going to find money to do it. Overall it was a very easy life.
Now think about that same time, 21 years old, with a gun in your hand, scared, halfway around the world fighting for your life and your country. Every second, of every minute of every day all you can think about it how to get out of this miserable place called Iraq.
Today I would like to share with you the story of my nephew and how we transformed from an immature boy to a mature young man and who is currently serving our country in Iraq.
To truly appreciate how amazing it is to see Ben in the Army at 21 you need some background.
Growing up Ben did not have a lot of drive and motivation. To outsiders his lack of drive and motivation might be attributed to laziness, but I always felt it was due to a lack of challenge. He wasn’t fully challenged in school and he never really got involved in extracurricular activities, which meant he wasn’t challenged outside of school.
Due to this lack of challenge, Ben dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
For the next two years he worked at McDonald’s, never missing a day of work and always on time. Here was a high school drop out with supposedly no determination and work ethic, yet he took real pride in his job. Since he couldn’t afford car insurance, he would ride his bike over 10 miles to work, even though there was a McDonald’s less than 2 miles from his house. While working there was as easy as tying his shoe, his hard work and perseverance paid off and eventually he was promoted to management.
Eventually the challenge wore off and he became bored and decided to work at King Soopers. He worked in the Deli for two years and then one day his best friend quit his job at King Soopers to join the Army. After his friend completed basic training, he was stationed in Alaska, once of the most beautiful places in the world. Ben’s friend told him how cool it was going through basic training and he hoped that Ben could join him in Alaska.
Excitedly, Ben decided he wanted to join the Army. When he shared this information with his family, the whole family was distraught. However, for the first time in his life he was setting a goal and a plan for achieving that goal. Joining the Army is not as easy as you would think.
If you saw Ben, you would have thought he was anorexic, or sick. His arms were as thick as a pretzel and his legs were as thick of two pretzels.
When he went down the Army recruiting office, they took one look at him and told him he needed to gain at least 25 pounds. At the time he was 6’4”, 150 pounds.
He was also told that he would need to get his GED, which is equivalent to a high school diploma. He would also need to pass a physical test where he would have to run 2 miles, do 100 pushups, 200 sit-ups and 25 pull-ups in less than 15 minutes.
The GED was the easy part and he immediately went to the local Community College and took his GED, passing with flying colors.
The hardest part was the physical test and at the beginning he could barely run 1 mile in 10 minutes, let alone pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Within a few months, through hard work and determination, he was able to get himself in top physical condition and pass his physical test.
The Army offered to place Ben inside their intelligence office, but he declined and said he wanted to join the infantry and be on the front lines so he could be in the middle of the action.
The Army obliged and sent him to basic training in Ft Benning, Georgia. After the first week, he called to say that it was hotter than Hades, where the temperature hovered well over 100 degrees, and the humidity was thicker than a milkshake.
In August of last year, Private Benjamin Rodwell graduated from Ft Benning Georgia basic training. It was amazing to see the lasting impression he left not only on his fellow soldiers, but also on the drill sergeants. At one point the kidded Ben about his weight and asked him if he had anything to eat in the past month.
After basic training, Ben was sent to Ft Campbell Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles. For the next few months, he continued to receive training for his imminent departure to Iraq.
On December 28, 2007 he boarded a plane, bound for Kuwait, and eventually Iraq.
I couldn’t help but think that Christmas last year might be the last time I would ever see my nephew, but I was so proud of him for following through and achieving his goal.
When he arrived in Kuwait, he spent two weeks acclimating and eventually was deployed to Forward Operating Base in 20 miles south of Baghdad called Kalsu.
During my research I came across the following description of Kalsu. Let me read you a description of Kalsu.
“Forward Operating Base Kalsu is known to its soldiers as often being very dusty. The dust consists of a very fine, powdery mix of sand. This dust coats almost everything in the base and also makes its way into much of the equipment.
FOB Kalsu is a smaller base in relation to many other FOBs in Iraq. Its infrastructure is more temporary with soldiers mostly living and working in tents that are protected by blast walls. There are a few temporary buildings that house some of the offices on base. “
Just to give you an idea of how small the living area is, Ben told me that he and 5 other soldiers live like sardines in a 20x8 foot shipping container with all of their gear
When Ben first arrived in Iraq, it was not what he expected. The daily temperature hovered in the 40s with lows in the 20s and 30s, and it even snowed. However, when I talked to him last week he said it was getting warmer and eventually with be over 100 degrees for the summer months.
Today Ben helps train the local Iraqi police and provides security for military and civilian transports in and out of southern Baghdad.
Not a day goes by that our entire family does not think about and pray for Ben. As one person said, “It’s not just a soldier who goes to war for the first time –it’s an experience for the soldier’s entire family.”
We are constantly reminded of his presence by the yellow bands we wear around our wrists
Although Ben is in constant danger in Iraq, I am so proud of what he has done with his life. Just over a year ago he was an immature boy with no direction and purpose in his life. Now he has developed into a mature young man with a clear direction and purpose.
When I think back to when I was 21, I cannot imagine having to fight for my life, my fellow soldiers, and my country on a daily basis. When I think of our true American heroes, I think of all the men and women serving our country in the military.
God willing, each and everyone will return home safely to their friends and family.