By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
WASHINGTON -- Three soldiers received Purple Hearts this week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Afterward I asked them a series of questions sent to me by readers in response to my "Purple Hearted Candor" post about the last award ceremony.
On Tuesday I spoke with Sgt. Christopher Ritchey, 25, of Hudson, Ohio; Staff Sgt. Dale Cherney, 43, of Mosinee, Wis., and Sgt. Michael Minard, 26, of Grand Junction, Colo.
The first soldier, Sgt. Ritchey, was wounded in December by a roadside bomb north of Fallujah, Iraq:
|Sgt. Christopher Ritchey|
1. Question from Merry Jones, Rockmart, Ga.: "How can we best show our appreciation for the wounded that are stateside and the others who are still in the Mideast?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "I think the best way people can support troops coming back is to just listen, because I think it helps to just talk about what happened. Get things out in the open and, you know, not hide anything. I think that really helps the healing process."
2. Question from Mireya, Berwyn, Ill.: "What would you say to a young 18-year-old who is thinking of joining the military, what advice would you give to them? What advice do you wish was given to you when you first signed up?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "I would tell someone joining to make sure they know what they're getting into and not be naive. Read everything before you sign it. A lot of people gave me advice, and I ignored a lot of good advice. I guess I wish I would have just finished school before joining the Army."
3. Question from Joel, Boston: "As the enemy has no airplanes, no navy, no tanks, no artillery, etc. ... how come the USA is not kicking their butt?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "The enemy is really cunning, and they're fighting a guerilla war. We're doing the best we can, and in a lot of respects, from what I've seen, we are really kicking their butt."
4. Question from Clint Bramkamp, Cincinnati, Ohio: "How long will they still be fighting and taking casualties?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "I really can't say for sure. I think we're definitely making a lot of progress, and things are doing better than they were a couple of years ago."
5. Question from Thoralf Tollefsen, Matawan, N.J.: "Do they still feel we should have gone in the first place? Should we still be there?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "You talk to these Iraqis out on the street, and they'll tell you they have hope, and I think that in itself makes it worth it."
6. Question from Pam S., Westford, Mass.: "What can we do for their families when they get back or when they are over there?"
Sgt. Ritchey: "I guess people just saying thank you is enough."
Staff Sgt. Cherney was wounded last October in a mortar attack on Camp Liberty in Iraq:
|Staff Sgt. Dale Cherney|
7. Question from Jackie, Southern California: "In which way can we as civilians best honor their service?" SSG Cherney: "Just understand that soldiers go over there and do their duty. We aren't fighting for oil or whatever. If the country calls us to duty, we go."
8. Question from Niall, Ireland: "Do the soldiers feel Iraq has changed them, and how has it changed them?"
SSG Cherney: "It changes everyone. That's a definite yes. I've seen some younger folks grow up really quick and come back very grown up. Me, I think about things more now."
9. Question from William Spadel, Philadelphia, Pa.: "In their opinion, is America looked to with hope or dread by the people of Iraq?"
SSG Cherney: "Most of the people are like us and they see us with hope. There are a few bad guys over there making it not so nice for everybody."
Sgt. Minard was wounded Oct. 1 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad:
|Sgt. Michael Minard|
10. Question from Jose Gonzalez: "Is there anything we can do that's not being done for each of them?"
Sgt. Minard: "Just continue taking care of the soldiers overseas, you know. Send them care packages, take care of them. They need all the support they can get to get through what's going on over there."
11. Question from Jen West, Jordan, Utah: "Ask them if they feel that they are doing any good. I want to know if they think any of it is worth it."
Sgt. Minard: "Yeah, I've done three tours, and on my first tour it was pretty rough. Second tour, it got a lot better. And this last tour, obviously I didn't get to finish it, but it was going pretty well over there. It's getting better."
12. Question from John Doe, Washington, D.C.: "What do the soldiers feel regarding the care they are given at Walter Reed? Is it as bad as the Washington Post depicted it a year ago?"
Sgt. Minard: "It's been really good. I've had no problems. Everything's been amazing, actually."
I sought a response from Pat Cassimatis, a public information officer at Walter Reed, to this final e-mail from Doug Culp: "Hell with the interview, take 'em all a goddamn case of beer."
Pat Cassimatis: "Beer? Unfortunately not, given medications they are probably on. You wouldn't want to go there. Dinner gift certificate to some restaurant? Hey, why not?"
If you'd like to do something for the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, just go to www.wramc.army.mil and click on "donate" in the bottom right of your screen.
If you'd like to know what you can do for all of our service members, here are some websites sent in by readers: www.anysoldier.com; www.soldiersangels.com; www.letssaythanks.com; www.health.mil; www.adoptaplatoon.com, and www.marineparents.com. If you know of similar websites, please send them to us in the comment section below.
And if you have a question you'd like me to ask the soldiers at Walter Reed, please send it to me in the same section.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.dailynightly.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories") and at http://john-rutherford.newsvine.com/. A tribute gallery to U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/.