By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2008 – A Marine who lost both legs in Iraq, a 61-year-old doctor who joined the Navy after his oldest son was killed in Iraq, a soldier and an airman wounded in Iraq, and a Marine whose unit was part of the troop surge in Iraq’s Anbar province will join first lady Laura Bush tonight during the president’s State of the Union address.
The servicemembers were selected as special guests for the annual address to both houses of Congress, President Bush’s eighth, and the last before he leaves office.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said today the president will discuss the vast improvements in Iraq during the past year and remind people that the challenges there continue. Bush is expected to push the Iraqis to do more to speed up progress and to warn against withdrawing U.S. troops there too quickly, she said.
“This is a chance for the president to remind people that it was a bold decision to send more troops into Iraq at a time when things were so dire, and it would be a really bad decision to rashly pull troops out at the moment,” Perino said.
Troops who have served in Iraq will be among the president’s specially invited guests who sit with the first lady during the address. They are Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Kinard, Army Staff Sgt. Craig Charloux, Air Force Senior Airman Diane Lopes and Staff Sgt. Andrew Nichols. Also invited are Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Krissoff and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Willard Milam.
Kinard, 25, of Spartanburg, S.C., is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who received his diploma from the president in 2005. He deployed to Iraq on Sept. 11, 2006, with the 2nd Marine Division’s 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Two months later, he was on a patrol when he was struck by an improvised explosive device. He lost both of his legs, one above the knee and the other at the hip, and received several other internal and external injuries. Kinard was flown to the United States, where he remains on active duty as an outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Lt Cmdr Bill Krissoff
Krissoff, who joined the Navy Medical Corps in November in response to his son’s death in Iraq, also will attend the State of the Union address. His oldest son, Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, was serving as a counterintelligence officer with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion when he was killed in December 2006.
Inspired by his son’s dedication and commitment, the elder Krissoff decided to join the military himself. When his recruiter initially told him it was unlikely he’d qualify because of his age, Krissoff refused to give up. He raised the issue during a private meeting with the commander in chief in Reno, Nev., and soon got the waiver he needed to begin the application process. Now commissioned in the Navy Medical Corps, Krissoff is preparing to deploy as an orthopedist in a Forward Resuscitative Surgical System, a Level II combat surgical team that treats injured Marines in the field.
Krissoff closed his private practice, and he and his wife, Christine, moved to the San Diego area, where he is assigned to 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group. His youngest son, Marine 2nd Lt. Austin Krissoff, is stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Despite his wounds, Charloux completed the raid, killing eight al Qaeda operatives. He returned from Iraq in November. His entire unit, 1st Calvary Division, returned to Fort Campbell, Ky., in January and is not being replaced.
One month into her deployment, Lopes was wounded by a rocket attack on the base. She suffered shrapnel and puncture wounds to her right arm and lower body and was transported to Walter Reed, where she continues to receive physical and occupational therapy.
Another Marine, Staff Sgt. Andrew Nichols, of Klamath Falls, Ore., will be among tonight’s guests. As infantry platoon commander for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, Nichols is responsible for his Marines’ training, welfare and tactical employment. He has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, most recently with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Anbar province in support of the troop surge.
Following their successful deployment, Nichols and his unit returned to their Camp Pendleton base in November without being replaced by another U.S. unit. Before redeploying, they turned over tactical control of their operating area to 1st Iraqi Army Division.
Another guest tonight will be Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Willard Milam, from Phoenix. Milam is a rescue swimmer credited with braving 40-degree waters in the Bering Sea to rescue four people adrift on a life raft after their boat sank in February. Milam spent six years in the Navy before entering the Coast Guard in 1992.
Other guests tonight include Eric Whitaker, a Foreign Service officer who leads a provincial reconstruction team in Baghdad, and Dr. Thomas “Tom” M. Stauffer, president, chief executive officer and professor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
An impressive group of extraordinary Americans. While searching for pictures, I was able to read more about them. And, how many knew about the American University in Afghanistan?