The latest war in Iraq has found Iowans again risking life and limb in the line of duty. This reality hit home recently when we heard the story of specialist Robert Jackson, an Iowa National Guard soldier who had to have both legs amputated after an explosion in Baghdad. KCCI-TV in Des Moines has granted us permission to rebroadcast a story produced by reporter Geoff Greenwood. Greenwood met with Jackson at an army medical center in Texas, where this brave soldier is making a heroic effort to recover.
This story originally aired in November of 2003.
Geoff Greenwood: Specialist Robert B.J.Jackson doesn't remember what happened the day he and two buddies from his National Guard unit stopped at a Baghdad market district. He doesn't remember the rocket-propelled grenade attack, the ensuing firefight, or his dramatic rescue. But he does remember the day, weeks later and thousands of miles away, when he found out his life had changed forever.
Robert Jackson: About the only time it upset me was the first time they unwrapped my legs and took the cast off. I think that's when reality set in.
Geoff Greenwood: The reality is Jackson lost both legs below his knees. He was badly burned. He's fought infection, pneumonia, and his ability to talk. He's recovering with the help of doctors, nurses, and specialists at the Brooke army medical center in Texas.
Robert Jackson: For my wife and kids, I can't give up.
Geoff Greenwood: His wife, Abby, and two little girls are here to help him heal his body and heal his spirit.
Abby Jackson: We don't have anyone to blame. I mean, i keep telling my husband this, that even if we knew, you know, who did what, what's that going to do?
Robert Jackson: We have a lot of people to thank.
Abby Jackson: That's it. We have no one to blame, just a lot people to thank.
Geoff Greenwood: Those people include the staff at Brooke medical center who spend hours each day helping Jackson learn to walk again.
Robert Jackson: The staff is awesome. They work hard and they help a lot.
Geoff Greenwood: They're helping Jackson achieve his next goal: stand and salute when he's awarded a purple heart.
His life will be changed forever.
Geoff Greenwood: B.J. Jackson's life already has changed. It changed august 7 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his HumVee in Baghdad. It changed when doctors amputated his legs below the knee. And now it's changing again as he receives the nation's highest military award for sacrifice. It's a bittersweet award. Jackson's first sergeant, Chris Fox, who wanted to be here but remains in Baghdad, writes a heartfelt letter to Jackson that his battalion commander reads out loud.
The obvious thing is that this is a medal that nobody really hopes to get. So congratulations are really not in order. Neither is I'm sorry. Sorry is for the things that i could change. It is, however, a symbol of your sacrifice and willingness to put your life on the line for others.
And today I salute him and I say thanks for all the sacrifices that he has made.
Geoff Greenwood: But it's Jackson who vows to salute general Ron Dardis. Jackson has endured excruciating pain in physical therapy just to reach this goal. He wants to stand and salute Dardis when the general pins the Purple Heart to his chest. The small room is silent when it's time. Jackson stands and Jackson salutes. Even the steeliest of soldiers are moved. A moved general whispers to Jackson some very personal words of comfort and respect.
General: I want to say thank you very much for all you do. I have tremendous respect for you. Thank you very much for the sacrifice you made. I'm glad to be on your team. Thank you very much.
Geoff Greenwood: Jackson thanks the general and six others from the guard who flew here for the ceremony.
What does it mean to you to get the Purple Heart?
Like he said, it's an award that nobody wants. But it's good that I was able to be here to get it.
Geoff Greenwood: Jackson lost his vocal cords, so if you had trouble hearing him, he says, "it's an award nobody wants, but it's good that I was able to be here to get it." And it was his wish and goal that he not get it in a hospital bed.
Abby Jackson: I'm very proud of him.
Geoff Greenwood: His wife, Abby, is proud. So are fellow soldiers and so is the nation.
General: I appreciate all you've done, your sacrifice. I'll be praying for you.
Paul: Thank you, sir.
Geoff Greenwood: Geoff Greenwood, KCCI news channel 8 at Brooke army medical center in San Antonio, Texas.