Freed POWs Stick Together

One is a supply truck driver who had never been out of Texas before finding himself in Iraq. Another is a single mother of a two-year-old. A third is an Apache helicopter pilot whose father fought in Vietnam.

The seven American POWs rescued in Iraq had vastly different backgrounds and responsibilities within the armed forces. Thrown together by adversity, they are now inseparable.

"They became a team. They want to stay together as a team. The military has sayings for that -- 'You never leave your wingman.' 'You never leave your buddy,"' said Col. Mark McGuire, the medical officer who attended to the former POWs when they arrived in Kuwait.

The seven former prisoners from Texas Army posts Fort Bliss and Fort Hood were rescued Sunday by U.S. forces. They are unlikely to be pulled apart, at least until they return to the United States and make their way home to families and local communities waiting to hold reunions and parades in their honor.

Since arriving in Kuwait City on Sunday after their dramatic rescue from a house south of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the former POWs have been kept away from news media and undergone medical checks, both physical and mental, and debriefings.

The six men and one woman -- five of them comrades of POW Jessica Lynch from the ambushed 507th Maintenance Support Company, the other two a downed helicopter crew -- are in good shape and may not require stopover care in Europe before being flown home to the United States, McGuire said. No timeline was given.

"They're in a facility that's taking care of their needs, from medical to emotional to operational security," McGuire said. "Though they have different physical needs, they've grown together and they want to stay together."

The seven came together in their ordeal from greatly different paths.

Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson is a single mother whose family emigrated to the United States from Panama when she was six. By contrast, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez' first trip outside Texas was his deployment to Iraq. The POWs hail from towns scattered across America -- in Georgia, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Kansas and New Mexico.

The Marines who rescued the POWs have also developed strong emotional bonds to the former captives. They refused to leave them for the first day, even after doctors had their new patients under care. The Marines sat outside, leaving only to check their weapons into the armory.

Eventually, the Marines were persuaded to visit a military store to buy goodies for their buddies back on the front lines, said Maj. Cookie Wilson, a military spokeswoman. They wolfed down a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken brought to them by medical staff, then had their first showers after a month in the desert.

One of the POWs devoured a piece of pecan pie, McGuire said. Others wanted to take snuff, smoke and crack a few jokes.

None of them will return to immediate duty with their units, even for those who have not been physically injured.

"That's not part of the process," Wilson said. "Their mission is done, and they're going home."