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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Soldier tells tale of war: Shoshanna Johnson recounts Iraq rescue

By Rachel Westberg
Contributing Writer


Friday, April 23, 2004

A little over than a year ago, American Marines rescued seven soldiers held captive as prisoners of war in Iraq. One soldier, Shoshanna Johnson, brought home a unique story of survival that she shared with the St. Olaf community in a Political Awareness Committee (PAC)-sponsored event Tuesday evening in Boe Chapel.

"I hope that by talking to students, I impact them," Johnson said. "These are the people that are going to be moving into the working world and are going to make an impact on the future."

Following an introduction from Janine Wetzel, president of PAC, Johnson used her life story as an example of how simple things can make a difference.

"It's so easy to take these little things we have for granted," Johnson said.

Johnson moved with her family from Panama to the United States in 1978.

"My parents gave up everything for their family so they could give their daughters opportunities they never had," Johnson said.

Growing up in a military family, Johnson learned the hardships of the life even before she enlisted in the army in 1998 to earn money to pursue a higher education.

Johnson experienced the rough military lifestyle very early on, getting wounded twice during boot camp.

When asked why she did not just quit, she replied, "This is one thing I'm going to finish. I wasn't going home unless I graduated Basic Training."

As a cook in the Army, she learned very early to be assertive with her male comrades.

"Once I asserted myself and showed them where I stood, there were no problems," Johnson said.

But soon after her enlistment, rumors began to circulate concerning possible deployment to Iraq. In just months, she found herself in Kuwait awaiting movement into Iraq.

It was on her way to Iraq that the convoy transporting soldiers was ambushed. The Iraqis captured her along with six others.

Shot in both ankles during the ordeal, Johnson remained in an Iraqi prison for 22 days until Marines rescued her and other captured soldiers on Palm Sunday of 2003. The Marines' elation at their liberation inspired Johnson.

"It was wonderful to know we weren't forgotten. It brought a sense of unity. No matter who or what you are, you wouldn't be left behind," Johnson said.

Such unity can be seen in her opinions of all other soldiers, including Jessica Lynch, a fellow POW during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I see no comparison between us. And I am glad she is safe and her recovery is going so well," Johnson said.

Now, a year later, Johnson looks back, sees her friends, and as a result of the whole ordeal understands that "the little things you thought were so important don't matter anymore. Freedom in this country is taken for granted. There is so much in this country that others would just kill for, and so many die just to have the opportunity to be here."

In everything she went through, Johnson came to realize the importance of family and friends. She hopes Americans remember what others have done to preserve their freedom, and that there are still soldiers preserving that freedom for others today.

Students were amazed at her positive outlook on the situation.

"It is such a courageous thing for her," Kate Webber '04 said. "We underestimate the strength it takes to get through something like that."

Johnson showed a gentle nature despite her strength.

"I was surprised by how soft spoken and how shy she is," Noah Mehlan '04 said. "Her story was impressive and uplifting."

If there was one message Johnson hopes to get across, it is the appreciation for what we have: "To impact students on the things I've seen and I've experienced, maybe they can go out and make things a lot better."





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