The Hidden Toll in Iraq: Meet Jeremiah Johnson

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By: Greg Mitchell

With all the focus in recent days on the deadly milestone in Iraq — with the death of the 3000 U.S. service member there — it is easy to forget that this is only one misleading measure of the human toll there, even if you limit your view merely to the American side.

There are, for example, the tens of thousands of injured, thousands suffering wounds and trauma that will cripple them the rest of their days. They don’t show up in the national papers very often but they turn up all the time in smaller dailies.

Latest Pentagon numbers reveals that over 13,000 American personnel have suffered injuries serious enough to require what’s known as “medical air transport.” Half of those involve accidents away from hostile fire.

Consider the following case. It focuses on a gravely injured soldier named Jeremiah Johnson — a familiar name to those who may recall the 1972 movie of that name starring Robert Redford.

But you can find another story like this any day of the week, and then some. This account comes from the Jan. 2 edition of the daily paper in Vancouver, Wash., The Columbian, written by its military affairs reporter Dean Baker. The photo on the paper’s home page shows a smiling, handsome, young man, dressed in fatigues. Another photo features Johnson with his wife and two young children. From his unit, 10 soldiers have been killed and 45 have been wounded since deploying to Iraq in October.

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A former Prairie High School baseball star was reported in critical condition and on life support Tuesday after a Dec. 26 accident in Baghdad.

Army Spc. Jeremiah Johnson, 23, suffered traumatic brain injuries when his Humvee rolled into a ditch and he was pinned under water for at least 10 minutes, said his mother, Elizabeth Johnson of Vancouver. She spoke by telephone from Germany where Johnson is a patient at the U.S. Army?s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

With her are her husband, David, and Jeremiah?s wife, Gale, 23.

The three family members are staying next door to the hospital in the Army?s Fisher House hotel.

The young couple?s two children, Isaiah, 4, and Rya, 2, are being cared for in Anchorage, Alaska, by Gale?s mother, Katherine Hanes, who flew from her home in Vancouver to be with them. Before Jeremiah?s unit was deployed to Iraq in October, he and Gale and their children were living at his home base, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

The parents said the Humvee rolled while on a night patrol, but the cause is under investigation. ?We don?t think it was a bomb,? said the soldier?s mother.

?There?s some hearsay that an axle broke, but we don?t know,? said his father.

Two soldiers died in the accident or soon after. The Department of Defense identified them as Army Spc. Joseph A. Strong, 21, of Lebanon, Ind., and Spc. Douglas Logan Tinsley, 21, of Chester, S.C. All three men were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division from Fort Richardson. Elizabeth Johnson said Strong was David?s best buddy.

All three men were pulled from the dirty water by the crew of a Humvee following them.

Johnson suffered hypothermia. His wounds were infected by the dirty water in the ditch.

?Jeremiah was completely underwater for 10 minutes, and massive brain damage was done to my wonderful son,? said Elizabeth Johnson.

?We?ll have another test tomorrow to check, but all that is left is just a little bit of brain activity in the brain stem, just for automatic breathing and heartbeat. We?re just trying to go one day at a time. This time is a blessing for us.?

Jeremiah Johnson graduated from Prairie High School in 2001, where he played center field on the baseball team and was honored as defensive player of the year. He also played Ryder Baseball for two years after turning 16. At Prairie, he played a year of football and took part in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps for two years.

?He?s had two dreams in his life,? said David Johnson. ?His first dream was to be a professional major league baseball player, and his second dream was to be in Special Forces. That?s why he joined the Army in the first place, and he received Special Forces training, but then went into the airborne infantry.?

He and Gale married right after high school. Jeremiah worked for a roofing company and for a grocery store before entering the Army.

?Thousands of people are praying for us,? said Elizabeth Johnson, who noted that Jeremiah?s story is on the Web site www.caringbridge.org.
She said neighbors and their employers are helping them in every way.

?The Army has taken remarkable care of us ? passports, flights overseas, housing and food and phone cards,? said Elizabeth Johnson. In Vancouver, church members have been providing dinners, gift cards, transportation to school and groceries for the children. ?We don?t have to worry about anything,? she said.

?We?ve had a lot of support. It?s tough, because in all likelihood, things will not improve. If anything, they are likely to deteriorate. We are asking God for a miracle of full recovery, but maybe God has a different plan than we do. We?ve got life decisions that have to be made. His wife will have the say.?
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UPDATE from The Oregonian in Portland on Thursday:

“Army Spc. Jeremiah Johnson, a former Clark County resident, left a medical directive against being kept in a persistent vegetative state. That didn’t ease the anguish of his family Wednesday when doctors invoked the name of Terri Schiavo, Johnson’s father said. ‘The picture the doctors painted today was pretty bleak,’ said David Johnson, adding, ‘In discussions with a neurologist, the implication was that possibly we needed to remove life support now, because if we don’t remove it now, we’re going to end up in a Terri Schiavo situation.'”

UPDATE on Friday:

Johnson passed away with his family by his side. They said that, as an organ donor, he would live on. He was at least the 3007th U.S. military fatality in Iraq.

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