13 September 2010

Former Landstuhl Commander visits Iraq for first time since being held Prisoner of War in 1991

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum tours the medical clinic at Taji, Iraq. The tour was given by Lt. Col. Dan Johnston, Surgeon for the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. It was Johnston who initally asked Cornum to come back to Iraq for the first time since 1991. Photo by Capt. Efrem Gibson, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

“The last time I was here, I was blindfolded in the back of a truck so I didn’t see much.”

- Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, who spent eight days as a POW during Desert Storm.

Also trained as a helicopter pilot, she was serving as a flight surgeon when her helicopter was shot down during a MEDEVAC mission, killing five of the eight crew members aboard. Cornum had a bullet lodged in her shoulder, both her arms were broken, and she suffered a knee injury. During the drive to a prison in Basra Cornum was molested by one of her captives.

She went on to continue her medical career in the military and became the Commander of LRMC during the summer of 2003, where she remained until June 2005. When things got busy, such as after the 2004 battles in Fallujah, Cornum stepped in to do everything from admitting patients to assisting in the operating room. She often consoled patients and their families, telling the soldiers, "Don't be discouraged. It's going to take you a long time, but you're going to come back if you want to."

In 1992, Cornum published "She Went to War: The Rhonda Cornum Story".

Retracing her steps
Story by Capt. Efrem Gibson

TAJI, Iraq – “Certainly, it’s a homecoming of sorts.”

That is how Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum described her first visit back to Iraq 19 and a half years to the day she was released as a prisoner of war.

The catalyst for her return to Iraq was an invitation. Currently serving as Director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness for the Army, Cornum was the guest speaker for the grand opening of the Taji Warrior Resiliency Campus Taji, approximately 15 miles north of Baghdad. The center is operated by the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and is the first of its kind in Iraq. Cornum was thankful for the brigade’s invitation, because it was an opportunity to speak to soldiers on resilience.

The CSF concept was not around in 1991, but Cornum demonstrated great resilience back then, surviving eight days in captivity by Iraqi forces. The goal of CSF is to improve a soldier’s “resilience” by focusing on five dimensions (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family). Cornum credits her spiritual strength for getting her through her time in captivity.

“I had great confidence in the Army and felt we were doing (in Iraq) was right. I also believed that if I stayed alive long enough, the Army would come and get me.” The General also felt being able to put it in perspective was a key factor that helped her stay alive.

Cornum’s experience as a prisoner of war has helped her realize there is a need for CSF. She is able to personalize the teachings of CSF and relate them to a real-life incident she’s experienced.

“No matter how grave or mundane the situation is, I always try to take a disadvantage, and turn it into an advantage” she stated. “I live my live every day like that.”

Although she was glad to be in Iraq again, Cornum does not consider the trip to be closure for her. “It was an event. I don’t look for closures to events, they just end,” she said. The general said she was happy she had came back to Iraq to demonstrate that a person can return to the scene of a bad experience and be OK. Cornum does not even hold animosity toward the men who held her captive.

Besides being a guest speaker, Cornum had other plans while she was in Iraq.

“See the country and all of the progress,” Cornum said. “The last time I was here, I was blindfolded in the back of a truck so I didn’t see much.”

No comments: