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Alex Rozanski

Ohio History Connection
Jess HollerTy Pierce , Interviewer |
Standing Together: Ohio Veterans and the War on Terror |

0:00 - Introduction

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0:46 - Early Life and Childhood

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  • Born at Riverside Hospital in Columbus;

  • Grew up in Dublin, Ohio; based in Marysville since 2007

  • Two siblings: Nicholas (b. 1976); Keith (b. 1977)

  • Parents were involved in local politics: Dublin City Council, mother involved in pension work

  • Family history of military service: grandparent a Marine in WWII; mother and father served at Pearl Harbor at Guadalcanal

  • Father had served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War; enlisted in Germany and worked to combat the Eastern bloc countries

  • No expectation that Rozanski would join the service; but there was a “natural progression”

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4:26 - Interest in Military Service

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  • Signed enlistment papers in 1997; 1st in the family to do so. Brother Nicholas joined later, in 2003. Began by asking family questions about service experiences; they weren’t surprised by this.

  • At age 16, as a sophomore, began taking the AMBATT test; scored very well on the test and was able to meet with recruiters; set on the active duty army; also met with Marine recruiter

  • At the time of his enlistment, Rozanski also wanted to go to school, and to get to be an officer; enlisted at 17 with parents’ permission; attended boot camp after graduation

  • Enlistment/desire to enlist shaped Rozanski’s high school career: commitment, focus, working to get into shape; one of the few recruits in his high school. Looked into getting accepted into service academies, but planned to attend Columbus State.

  • Family reactions: prism of 1960s Vietnam-Era campus protest; “legacy of Desert Storm” got families acquainted to a non-combat model of warfare

  • Long-term plan was to join Marines: smallest/most selective service (appealed to Rozanski); intended to go to service school

  • Military was Rozanski’s sure plan at the time; intended to go to boot camp and let the rest fall into place; sought out guidance from recruiters and other Marines

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14:58 - Basic Training; Advanced Training

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  • Lots of anxiety around basic training

  • 12 men and 1 woman piled into a shuttle van; given packets of information.

  • Headed to Atlanta, then Charleston, then Paris Island

  • After the bus ride: drill instructors talked really fast; buzzed everyone’s hair. Got gear issues at warehouse

-Lots of intensity; had to take one day at a time and endure it; only 13 weeks

  • Totally transformative physical conditions; at family day, the day before the end, Rozanski was totally “unrecognizable” to his family

  • Family was very proud of this transformation; all took a vacation together on Paris Island

  • Then: Rozanski headed to Camp LeJeune: infantry training batallion for 5-week training with the Columbus infantry unit

  • Returned home Nov. 1998; enrolled in Columbus State Community College

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27:23 - Return from Basic Training; College

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  • Became a typical college student; worked a PT job with the City of Dublin in Spring of 1999; then became a full-time maintenance worker at 19 years old. Mother wasn’t particularly happy with this decision; wanted a long-term plan

  • Reserve commitment, at the time, was 1 weekend/month, 2 weeks/summer

  • Served with the infantry unit; higher tempo of training with lots of physical training

  • Sometimes hard to integrate with work: took Mondays off after drill weekends people didn’t always understand

  • Pre-9/11: people weren’t super aware of the military at the time; some didn’t understand the high tempo of Ohio Army National Guard work compared to the active army

  • Planned to serve a 6-year term, then out; lucky to have public work

  • September 11th changed direction of plans

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34:09 - Experience of 9/11; Awaiting Mobilization

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  • Tuesday, at work in Dublin; had drilled the weekend before

  • Boss pulled up in a pick-up truck, described a “terrorist attack”

  • Rozanski remembered thinking “Wow, I could be called up”; left work at noon and had his gear staged by the door; but nothing happened

  • Then went to drill; unit wasn’t being mobilized, but they were being prepared for possible mobilization

  • Some Marine Corps members did get activated; discussions of preparations to invade Iraq; everyone prepared wills and got immunizations necessary for potential deployment

  • Prepared to mobilize for January-February 2003; just missed the invasion — Rozanski and fellows expected a short war. Missing the invasion thus felt “disappointing”; felt like other units got to see combat and to go into Baghdad. Rozanski wanted that experience, “to get to play on a Friday night.”

  • Worried that he would “miss the war”; 1-year out from the conclusion of his 6-year contract

  • 2003: unit took volunteers to train with the South American forces. 5 weeks at LeJeune, 1 week in South American (Panama; Lima); at the time, Rozanski thought this was the height of his combat experiences

  • Then, formally mobilized in Jan. 2005; “war wasn’t over yet”

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44:48 - Mobilization for Iraq

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  • Entire battalion was mobilized: Lima (Columbus), Buffalo, California

  • Rozanski needed/wanted to extend enlistment time; “playing on the varsity team”

  • Didn’t tell his mother; but, she got a phone call from the family support group about the planned mobilization

  • At the time, there was a more deliberate deployment process than earlier in the war; Rozanski had been dating, but ended up getting engaged before the deployment, in December of 2004

  • Left for California to train

  • Rozanski had heard of stories/reports of IEDs, roadside bombs, conditions ramping up in Iraq

  • Nov. 2004: Battle of Fallujah; town clearances

  • By the time of Rozanski’s deployment: sense of “the big fighting is done”; felt like, at the time, he and companions were there to “mop up”

  • In California, found out deployment would be to Western Iraq; but no specific locations yet

  • Trained in the Mojave Desert for 2 months; cold and rainy

  • Found out at training that he would be stationed at Haditha Hydroelectric Dam

  • Finished up training in February; boots-on-ground in country by March 1st-2nd, 2005; bussed to Los Vegas and saw family there for a few days first, then to 29 Palms, California; left in waves.

  • Flew on a 747 to Kuwait, issued ammunition; then flew into Iraq; landed at Al-Asad air base

  • Convoyed in vehicles to Haditha dam; “nothing really happened”; new home for the next 6-7 months

  • 1st wave of folks came in this way; subsequent troops arrived by chopper

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55:34 - Mission at Haditha Dam

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  • Based along the River Euphrates; villages and cities situated along the River

  • drawing attention away from the troop rotations; visiting cities on the River

  • Handing weapons over the wire; getting systems out on the mission

  • Checking out other preventative units: thermal sites on machine guns; working with the Afghan National Army, 90% of whom had never trained on machine guns

  • 1st mission was relief-in-place work; lots of “boredom”; some action towards the tail end of the mission

  • 7 month deployment, with 6 months of that operational; some casualties in Platoon A/B Squad, with 1 soldier evacuated

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62:03 - First Firefight

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  • April 1st, 2005 — change of tempo. Clearing through a town, looking for weapons caches and hunting for “bad guys.” Work involved displacing families int hose houses when positions were needed by the military. Troops were eating ice cream in a shop; went outside and received fire; returned fire

  • “Adrenaline rush” of being involved in a firefight; returned fire and held that position for several days

  • Mark-19 machine gun mounted atop humvee; 40mm grenades. Troops didn’t necessarily having the training on these weapons, but a junior man knew how to do it. On watch, received an RPG flash across river, which impacted near Rozanski’s vehicle. Rozanski returned fire and emptied his cans of ammo; only one left. 2 tanks were nearby, and one came up behind him; got the vehicle out of the way

  • Training has its purpose in combat: muscle memory, building an instinctual reaction to enemy fire

  • No casualties yet, at this point in the deployment

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72:00 - Camaraderie in the Unit

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  • Rozanski had served with most of his unit from Ohio; but also the 4th Recon from Montana and New Mexico; and some folks from elsewhere

  • Reformed as an integrated unit; this fast assimilation process was typical for the time

  • Lots of humor, Maxim magazine; not much internet at Haditha dam; only so many phones and a handful of computers — one email could load in 30 mins

  • But: an internet café and movies, DVDs, books; lots of dow time and organized activities

  • No women served in the infantry unit; “word spread fast if a woman was around”; females sometimes sent on “female engagement teams” to accompany patrols

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78:10 - Interactions with Iraqis

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  • Mission work was town clearance, but also presence patrols

  • U.S. troops had free reign to go anywhere; but couldn’t go inside of a Mosque

  • Moving into civilians’ houses to do inspections; checking in every room for weapons

  • Difficulty of going into people’s homes and getting families out; not being able to communicate — only a handful of interpreters

  • Balancing cultural exchange and respect, and also the need to look for weapons and “enemies in plain sight”

  • One story: disrupting a wardrobe case full of blankets and pillows

  • Cultural exchange: town clearances helped Rozanski understand how life in Iraqi is lived — different world, no couches, etc.

  • Sometimes soldiers stayed in these cleared houses: most houses had satellite TV; watched American television that was broadcast in English, with subtitles

  • Odd to see continued reportage of the media on this exact mission; feeling like a “top story,” around the world

  • Living in the site of Mesopotamia, the “cradle of civilization”; mud-brick buildings; Iraqi homes and architecture and foodways

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86:29 - Iraqi Reception of U.S. Troops

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  • In Al Anbar Province: seemed generally annoyed; Saddam didn’t make so much of a difference in the life of the average date farmer

  • “Moog” intelligence — disrupted life in the villages

  • Setting up blocking positions disrupted the flow of life; difficult to not know who is who

  • Teenagers, etc., were not afraid to be upset with the U.S.; middle-aged and older men tended to be more low-key about the occupation

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91:17 - Village Clearance Missions

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  • U.S. troops told to never address or search a woman in Iraq; females had to search females

  • Contraband often held in barn-like structures; each household allowed to have 1 rifles

  • Used digital cameras to photograph people next to the chase of weapons, to be used in future intelligence missions

  • Destroying the mortar and rockets

  • Infantrymen: more of a forensic process; this was the formative era of town clearance/weapons search policies

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98:52 - Changes in Culture on Base as Mission Progressed

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  • “New normal,” post-9/11: house-to-house work

  • All work supports the infantry, on-the-ground

  • Visited by key movers & shakers in Iraq

  • Culture on base shifted: began to see more KIA’s; many younger men

joined in the aftermath of 9/11

  • IED’s began to be a danger for convoy missions

  • As casualties started accruing, tone at Haditha changed and became much more serious

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107:15 - Communication Home

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  • Very limited communication; long lines

  • A type of “telegram” would come from friends and family; typed out messages, printed and given out to soldiers

  • Wrote letters home (free postage from a combat zone); able to make phone calls at night — 8 hour time difference

  • Differences in work: almost contact contact available at Haditha Dam, but very little when running missions

  • Constant barrage of care packages: “almost too many”; shuffling through various packages and dealing with the “hundreds of toothbrushes” and food from home that may have melted or spoiled in shipping containers

  • Casualties shut down communication zone; could scare families to hear an un-official report first (such as mass casualty of Aug. 2005)

  • “Thoria”: each unit had access to a satellite phone

  • Aug 2005: mass casualty; soldiers given a quick phone call phone on the Horia phone — each commander had one as a last means of communication

  • Now: Rozanski has kept all the correspondence; storied in a box in the basement

  • Deployment was difficult for Rozanski and his fiancée; communication and talking about the wedding planning made it easier

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117:18 - Support for Missions

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  • Light infantry had access to Humvees — either “up-armored vehicles” or ones with welded-on steel plates and “other armored-type variants”; no AC

  • After casualties, order went out that no non-up-armored-vehicle allowed outside of the wire

  • Adopted a different posture: more stand-off; afraid of UB IED’s

  • Same “cordon and search” missions; but took on more casualties

  • Ramping up force, but tempo started to increase

  • “At the tip of the efforts”; Rozanski learned more about what was happening on their missions after returning home

  • Prepared to be in the theatre for 7 months; looked forward to the end of things — squeezed it out; leaving, experienced a decompression

  • Final days were not taken up on mission work: instead, handing off the equipment to their counterparts, and two presence patrols, showing maneuvers

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127:05 - Responses to Changing Media Perceptions of the Iraq War

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  • Iraqis’ posture seemed similar throughout Rozanski’s deployment

  • Not a ton of access to the media for soldiers; delays in receiving Time magazine, etc.

  • Didn’t pay a ton of attention to it unless it applied directly to them and their work

  • Life for Iraqis seemed better off without Saddam; bringing over the American cultural way of life “has to be better”

  • Rozanski believes American troops wanted to become a target abroad, in Iraq, rather than here; “taking the fight to the enemy” — instead of needing to fight them here

  • Popular press could be upsetting: especially the rhetoric of “support the warrior, not the troops”; warrior culture; upset about critique from people with no “skin in the game”

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133:26 - Transition Home

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  • August 2005: 14 men lost

  • Changed the media scene: big homecoming reception, AP photo

  • Lots of national media at the homecoming and sympathy

  • Rozanski didn’t want to be known for the casualties his unit suffered; attitude was to get back to work and life; left Kuwait Sept. 30th and returned to Dublin, Ohio on November 1st (90 day leave)

  • Memories eventually returned to normal; but Rozanski began to withdraw inward; resisted returning to civilian life

  • Cut the ties with his battle comrades; but more recently (on the eve of the 10th year reunion of their service) has gotten back to touch

  • Rozanski started back up to work at Dublin with a renewed clarity of perspective; saw the same guys complaining about the same things, workplace policies, etc.; was able to take the job more seriously; promoted to work as a Contract Specialist for the City of Dublin

  • Received a job with the Guard; took education and new responsibilities very seriously; “driven about things”

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140:09 - Family, Life and Career Post-Deployment

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  • New job, marriage, having kids; “living the American Dream”

  • Moved to work at Marysville, with the National Guard Armory

  • Brother Nicholas asked to join the Guard

  • 2011: Rozanski began to look at finances; considered a 1-year contract position with the Guard for supplemental income

  • Brother Nicholas deployed in 2012; trained in Mississippi for deployment to Afghanistan — deploying as an officer (Information Officer 6)

  • Brother killed with Lima Company; Rozanski has had to navigate a lot of media attention surrounding his death and the events, and the protocols of service

  • Joining back with the Guard: feels like he is taking his brother’s place on the line; honoring him through service and serving alongside many of the same people, in the Headquarters Company 148, light infantry

  • Now headquartered in Columbus, on active-duty orders

  • Brother’s death has helped build a network; life goes on, after an event like this; the world does not stop

  • Brother’s death and joining the Guard have given Rozanski a sense of purpose; Nicholas’ death is an opportunity to “make good” and work alongside a network of people; also network of support in discussing these shared experiences, seeking out services — learning that other people also go through traumatic events tied to military service, and that resources are available

  • Important to continue the mission, get the work done

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161:04 - Reflections on Service

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  • New job, marriage, having kids; “living the American Dream”

  • Moved to work at Marysville, with the National Guard Armory

  • Brother Nicholas asked to join the Guard

  • 2011: Rozanski began to look at finances; considered a 1-year contract position with the Guard for supplemental income

  • Brother Nicholas deployed in 2012; trained in Mississippi for deployment to Afghanistan — deploying as an officer (Information Officer 6)

  • Brother killed with Lima Company; Rozanski has had to navigate a lot of media attention surrounding his death and the events, and the protocols of service

  • Joining back with the Guard: feels like he is taking his brother’s place on the line; honoring him through service and serving alongside many of the same people, in the Headquarters Company 148, light infantry

  • Now headquartered in Columbus, on active-duty orders

  • Brother’s death has helped build a network; life goes on, after an event like this; the world does not stop

  • Brother’s death and joining the Guard have given Rozanski a sense of purpose; Nicholas’ death is an opportunity to “make good” and work alongside a network of people; also network of support in discussing these shared experiences, seeking out services — learning that other people also go through traumatic events tied to military service, and that resources are available

  • Important to continue the mission, get the work done

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