Former Operation Iraqi Freedom POW Spc. Shoshana Johnson, center, is flanked by NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and Command Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones, senior enlisted adviser to the Army Reserve, at the NAACP's 28th Annual Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Awards Dinner in Miami. Johnson attended the event as a special invited guest.
Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample.
Former POW Honored
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, July 18, 2003 - Possibly the most honored person at the NAACP's 28th Annual Armed Services and Veterans Affairs award dinner was not a high-ranking dignitary or any of the scheduled awardees.
However, this invited guest was special: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, former POW from Operation Iraqi Freedom. She received a bullet wound to both feet when her vehicle convoy came under heavy enemy fire March 23 in Nasiriyah, Iraq. She and other members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Battalion were taken as POWs. Along with six other POWs, she was rescued by Marines conducting house raids in the city of Samarra, Iraq. Unit members found the captives when they kicked down the door to a home.
Johnson was the person everyone flocked to at the civil- rights organization's 94th annual convention. Wherever she went, people were waiting to shake her hand, wish her well, and most importantly, to get their picture taken with her.
None of this seemed to bother Johnson -- she's become accustomed to the attention. And despite the constant camera flashes and occasional objections of her media escort, Johnson always managed a picture-perfect smile, and took time to talk and pose for the numerous photos.
"It's been this way since they returned," said Terri Sirois, who accompanied Johnson the Fort Bliss, Texas, where her unit is stationed. Sirois was with Johnson to assist with interview requests.
Johnson said she has come to understand and appreciate what she says can be "overwhelming" public attention. She said she was reminded of stories of service members returning from Vietnam without such support.
"We really didn't realize exactly what had been going on during our captivity, that our faces were out there, and everybody knew us by first name on site. It was a lot to take in," she said. "But we appreciated our homecoming. Everyone knows the history of Vietnam, so we appreciated the veterans from Vietnam that made sure we got such a warm welcome when we came home."
Coming home is something for which she is both "happy and grateful." She describes the "incredible" feeling of finally seeing her young daughter.
"I had to pinch myself a couple of times to make sure it was real and that I was not dreaming and still in captivity, because sometimes you wondered if that was ever going to happen again," she said.
When asked did she think she would ever see her family again, she said, "Of course." She declined any further discussion of events surrounding the unit's capture.
She says what got her through her ordeal was prayer and faith in God. "Prayer. That's all that I can say, the belief," she said. "You never know what life has in store for you. You just have to make the choices you think are best for you in your life and leave it up to God."
"I'm grateful that He chose to bring me home, and I'm grateful to have known those who had passed on, because they have changed my life forever. And I will do my best to make sure they are not forgotten and their sacrifices were not in vain."
Johnson wears a heavy boot-like cast on her leg that makes it hard for her get around. She said she had a torn Achilles tendon in her right leg, and that the doctor's expect full recovery.
"My injury is taking some time to heal. I'm going through physical therapy, but hopefully I'll be back to 100 percent and hopefully (at) full speed," she said. "I still have some pain with it." However, she jokes, "The foot is still there."
Prior to Iraq and before she was injured, Johnson had planned to serve a full Army career. As a food service specialist, she wanted to one day use her Army training and experience to pursue a career in culinary arts.
Now those plans are "just kind of up in the air," she said. "I'm not sure if that's the course for me right now. I still have a year left on my contract. I still have plenty time to think about it, especially when things settle down and I have time to breath."
After a whirlwind day of hand-shaking and picture-taking, Johnson finally got a chance to rest in a room at the convention site. She seemed excited to be out of the public eye.
But a sparkle remained in her eyes, the smile still painted on her face. Another night of photo ops and public attention was over. But then again, after her wartime ordeal, she appeared just happy to be alive.
What happened in Iraq may have given Johnson a greater appreciation on life. She offered this message and advice:
Whether one chooses military or civilian life, she observed, "whether you wash windows for a living or you're a soldier picking up trash, any contribution in a good way helps the world. So don't ever think that a dollar in a (church) collection plate doesn't make a difference; it does. It's going to make a difference to somebody."
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