Visiting soldier enjoys Craig's support for military

Staff Sgt. Josh West spent Memorial Day 2003 with other soldiers in Iraq. This year, he and his wife celebrated with family in Craig.

West and his wife, Niketa, are in Craig visiting Niketa's family, the Hollenbecks. Dean Hollenbeck is the vice president of the Colorado Northwest Community College Craig campus.

Originally from Oklahoma, West said he has felt tremendous support from the Craig community since his arrival.

He appreciated the Memorial Day ceremony and said he was pleased to see so many veterans out that day, because they are the ones who truly deserve the community's respect.

The "Star-Spangled Banner" is a powerful song for West, but it was especially so Monday when his sister-in-law, Jori Hollenbeck, sang it during the Grand Olde West Days street festival.

West traveled to Iraq in April 2003 with the U.S. Army's 194th Military Police Company. In October, he was injured in a skirmish near Karbala. Three soldiers were killed and six others were wounded, he said

It was not the first time West had been shot at, but it was the first time he was hit -- and he was hit three times, he said.

A scar on his inner left thigh is evidence that a bullet passed there. Another pair of scars on the inner and outer sides of his right thigh mark the passage of another bullet through his body. Fortunately, a bulletproof vest stopped a third bullet from penetrating his chest, he said.

He was sent back to Fort Campbell, Ky., early because of his injuries, but West is by no means finished with his military service. He hopes to become a drill sergeant.

West said he's had many good drill sergeants and experienced many good leaders since he joined the Army in 1997. Drill sergeants train privates; they are the first exposure to the Army that recruits have and West said he would like fill that role.

"I'm a do-as-I-do leader," West said.

He wouldn't ask his soldiers to do anything he would not have done or was not willing to do, he said.

"It's all about taking care of our soldiers," he said.

West said stories of abuse involving Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel are isolated incidents.

"As far as my unit, we treated all the prisoners within the Geneva Convention," he said. The Geneva Convention is the treaty that defines international laws on the humane treatment of prisoners of war.

He said privates are handed a card printed with a code of war and the Geneva Convention.

"The Geneva Convention is embedded in you from the time you come into the Army," he said.

He supports President Bush and said that war is a part of being a soldier.

"I'd hate to be pulled out now and think all we've done is all for nothing," West said.

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