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Iraq vet firm in his beliefs: this VFW life member is ready to head back to war, wounds permitting.

Paul Brondhaver has always had a soft spot in his heart for children. Since 1989, he has worked as director for various community, centers in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, most recently at the Mt. Washington Recreation Center.

So it comes as no surprise that when Brondhaver, a staff sergeant with the 216th Combat Engineer Battalion, Ohio Army National Guard, reported for duty, in Iraq, he honed in on the needs of Iraqi youth.

At first, he tried to get playground equipment shipped over from the States, but the cost proved prohibitive. With the help of the community center kids back ha Ohio, Brondhaver organized the "Socks for Paul" drive. So far, 6,000 pairs of children's socks have been shipped to Iraq.

When the 36-year-old husband and father of three was deployed in February, he told the children at the community center he'd be back and not to worry. Then came the unexpected. His 18month deployment was cut short on July 7, 2004.

Brondhaver's convoy was attacked just north of Baghdad between Balad and Samarra. The life member of Post 9630 in Willowville (his mother, Sandra, is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary) suffered no broken bones and lost no limbs. But by all accounts, he is lucky to be alive.

He has 300 holes perforating his body because of the shrapnel shower from a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) explosion. Brondhaver remembers hearing the whistle of the RPG just before being blown up into the air. He couldn't feel his left leg, nor could he see out of his left eye because of the shrapnel protruding from it.

He managed to crawl back to his Humvee and take up arms against the Iraqi insurgents. He says he took a moment to open the Bible he carries with him and said a quick prayer--a prayer that he believes saved his life.

"You're not supposed to live from a rocket-propelled grenade explosion," he said. "Without my faith in God, I wouldn't he sitting here. My only answer is that God got me through that."

Unfortunately, Brondhaver's driver, Pfc. Samuel Bowen, died in the attack. Calling Bowen's death "the most pain I've ever felt," Brondhaver said he won't rest until all of his troops are home.

"I feel guilty being home. My heart is still there," he said while recovering at Ft. Knox's Ireland Army Community Hospital. "This chapter of my life is not going to be complete until the soldiers of the 216th are back on American soil."

Since returning home, Brondhaver said he has been treated like a celebrity. In a ceremony held Aug. 13 at Ft. Knox, Ky., he received the Purple Heart. A few days later, he was able to meet privately with President George W. Bush who was speaking at VFW's National Convention in Cincinnati.

Before either of these monumental occasions, though, Brondhaver had some old friends he needed to see. Cheers greeted him as he stepped back into the Mt. Washington Recreation Center. He said it was important for the kids there to see that he is going to be okay.

He showed them slides of Iraq and answered many questions. Brondhaver thanked the youngsters for their support of the sock drive, saying, "We're doing a great thing over there in Iraq, helping children who can't help themselves."

Brondhaver's future in the National Guard is uncertain, as he is still recuperating from his wounds. (Doctors say it will take 15 years for the shrapnel to work itself out.) The 216th is scheduled to come home in June 2005. "I want to get better and get back over there," he said. "But if I can't, I will do everything that I possibly can from here to support them."

Name: Paul Brondhaver

Age: 36

Occupation: Director of the Mt. Washington Recreation Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Married: Yes

Views: Believes helping the children of Iraq is a worthwhile objective
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Title Annotation:young vets in focus
Author:Blankenship, Janie
Publication:VFW Magazine
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:648
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