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Alex Rozanski

Ohio History Connection
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00:00:00 - Introduction 00:00:46 - Early Life and Childhood

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Segment Synopsis: - 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”

00:04:26 - Interest in Military Service

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:14:58 - Basic Training; Advanced Training

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:27:23 - Return from Basic Training; College

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:34:09 - Experience of 9/11; Awaiting Mobilization

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Segment Synopsis: - 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”

00:44:48 - Mobilization for Iraq

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

00:55:34 - Mission at Haditha Dam

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:02:03 - First Firefight

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:12:00 - Camaraderie in the Unit

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:18:10 - Interactions with Iraqis

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:26:29 - Iraqi Reception of U.S. Troops

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:31:17 - Village Clearance Missions

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:38:52 - Changes in Culture on Base as Mission Progressed

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Segment Synopsis: - “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

01:47:15 - Communication Home

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

01:57:18 - Support for Missions

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:07:05 - Responses to Changing Media Perceptions of the Iraq War

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Segment Synopsis: - 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”

02:13:26 - Transition Home

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Segment Synopsis: - 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”

02:20:09 - Family, Life and Career Post-Deployment

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Segment Synopsis: - 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

02:41:04 - Reflections on Service

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Segment Synopsis: - 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