Fort Bliss Community Hit Hard by POW Tapes

Joining the 507th Maintenance Company was not supposed to be terribly risky. The Army company is made up mostly of mechanics and isn't considered a combat unit.

So officials at Fort Bliss were horrified to learn that at least 10 members of the 507th had been taken prisoner in Iraq. Some were later shown being interrogated on Iraqi television.

Joel Hernandez, 19, instantly recognized his older brother, an Army supply truck driver, as he watched from his home in Mission, Texas. Supply Specialist Edgar Hernandez, 21, was one of those captured.

"His job really is not that dangerous, but once you're out there anything you do is dangerous, I guess," Joel Hernandez said.

In the video, captors drag a wounded Hernandez to his feet to tell them his name and where he is from. "Edgar," he answers, and "the United States."

"He was all beat up from his face," Joel Hernandez said. "He was hurt. I could tell he was really scared."

"What are the odds? It's crazy," Joel said as he sat in the family living room. "A guy from the [Rio Grande] Valley, has never been out of Texas, goes to war and gets captured."

News of the captures rippled through Fort Bliss, the massive 1.1 million-acre post that is home to the Army's center for the education and training of air-defense artillery soldiers and units.

"The mood of course, is very tragic," spokeswoman Jean Offutt said Sunday.

Offutt confirmed that at least 10 of those who fell into enemy hands were with the 507th, which deployed last month with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. The 507th keeps diesel tanker trucks rolling, fixes generators and maintains mechanical parts.

Iraqi video showed five U.S. soldiers — four men and one woman — being peppered with questions. In response to queries about where they were from, one soldier said he was from New Jersey; the others said they were from Texas.

The New Jersey soldier is Sgt. James Riley, 31, who wanted to serve in the military even when he was a young boy growing up in New Zealand, his family said from their home in Pennsauken, N.J.

Athol Riley, his father, said that when James came home on leave last summer, he painted the family's house, then went back to Fort Bliss a week early so he could get to work welding the Army equipment.

Relatives of Spc. Shoshana Johnson said the 30-year-old single mother from Fort Bliss was the female POW shown on TV. Her father said he learned of his daughter's capture while searching a Spanish-language network for cartoons to watch with Shoshana's 2-year-old daughter.

Johnson joined the military in 1998 and is a strong individual, said her sister, 28-year-old Nikki Johnson of Fort Lee, Va.

"I don't necessarily think she thought too much was going to happen," said Nikki Johnson, who also is in the Army, but does not expect to be deployed. "I didn't feel like we [soldiers] were in real danger."

"You know, hundreds of thousands of soldiers are out there. You never think that one of your family members would be one of those to be taken captive," said a cousin, Tracy Thorne.

More than 200 people gathered Monday night for a community prayer service in Valley Center, Kan., to pray for missing 23-year-old Pfc. Patrick Miller, the troops and the people of Iraq. Miller is married with two young children.

Miller's half brother, Thomas Hershberger, 27, has said he wants the United States to finish the war "as fast as possible" so his brother can come home. As for his mother, "I haven't had a conversation with her without her crying," he said.

In Alamogordo, N.M., Natalie Hudson — the wife of POW Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23 — said Monday that Army officials had telephoned to reassure her that all possible steps would be taken to get Hudson home safely.

"They tried to keep it positive," she said. The couple started dating when she was a sophomore at Alamogordo High School. They have a 5-year-old daughter.

"He's been captured. They interviewed my son live from Iraq. I saw my son on the Filipino channel," said Anecita Hudson, Hudson's mother.

"From my point of view, he looked so scared," Hudson said. "I'm just praying that the other people [in the military] will get him out of there."

Three other members of the 507th were missing, including Pvt. Brandon Sloan, 19, of Bedford Heights, Ohio; Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 22, of Tuba City, Ariz.; and Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va.

The names of four other POWs were not released.