Archive for Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Answered prayers

Couple’s daughter back from Iraq — for awhile

September 15, 2004

Imagine living in a compound filled to the brim with murderers and rapists. Picture, if you can, residing in a region where you have to wear Kevlar and a helmet before going outside. Feature the prospect that at any time a mortar round could fall from the sky and destroy the building you're inside.

Now envision your child being there.

That's what Tom and Debbie Steinmetz, a Bonner Springs couple with close ties to Basehor, Bonner Springs and Linwood, have gone through every day for the last six months while their daughter, Army 1st Lt. Deanna Steinmetz, served as a nurse at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Although such a prospect may seem unthinkable to some and unbearable to most, the Steinmetzes have successfully navigated the dilemma using the only time-tested and proven formula they know -- faith.

"We pray constantly," said Debbie Steinmetz, adding that she and her husband, members of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Basehor, have a strong support group at home praying for the safety of their daughter. "We have so many good people sharing good thoughts."

And for good measure, Tom Steinmetz says the rosary each day.

Late Monday night, those positive thoughts and prayers were answered. Lt. Steinmetz arrived home for a two-week furlough.

Before she left Iraq, when contacted via e-mail, she said her answers to questions must be approved by the military's chain of command so she wouldn't unknowingly give out information "that could put us all in danger."

That's a precaution you must take when living in one of the most volatile regions in the world.

"It's a terrible, terrible place," Debbie Steinmetz said.

Her family says if she were home today, Deanna Steinmetz would give a vastly different description of Abu Ghraib than the nefarious reputation it has earned in America. In April, news broke from the prison that some American soldiers abused and degraded Iraqi prisoners. While the scandal certainly deserved attention, her family said Deanna is upset that the story overshadows the positive strides made by U.S. forces.

Her family says Deanna would tell anyone who'd listen about the much-needed hospital built at the prison. She'd speak of the outstanding health care Hussein's political enemies housed at Abu Ghraib, as well as U.S. friends and foes alike, have received while living under the banner of America's stars and stripes.

Mainly, though, she'd condemn the actions of a moral-less few and ask the public to not compare the mistakes of the reckless with the sacrifices made by the brave many.

"Her opinion was those (offending soldiers) were not representing what the U.S. military is doing over there," Debbie said. "Whether you're in the military or not, that's not how you treat a fellow human being."

A personal biography of Deanna Steinmetz, found through her unit's Website, may also explain some of her experiences while serving in Iraq.

"We've had to deal with things that people should never have to see or experience," she wrote. "I hope that most never see the amount of blood that we've seen in the few months that we've been here. I don't know if people realize how challenging it is to be taken away from your family and friends and the life you know and love, to be placed in a dorm-like living arrangement, in a strange land with people who want to kill you."

To her credit, Deanna Steinmetz, a clinical staff and charge nurse, holds no contempt for her enemies. That's someone else's job, she says. Hers is to provide the best care she and the hospital can for the patients before her.

"I still don't understand why the Iraqis are targeting their own people, but I've come to realize that it's not my place to judge people for their actions or beliefs. My job is to provide them the same care that I would provide for any American. It makes it all worthwhile when there's a patient who is crying and leaving the hospital, thanking us for all that we've done for him. I like to think that the little bit that we're doing in this hospital will change the beliefs of a few."

Deanna Steinmetz, a 1998 graduate of Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, attended Creighton University in Nebraska on a ROTC scholarship. She graduated from college with a degree in nursing. The leap to military life first began when she was young, her parents said. As a child, rare would be the occasion Deanna went to sleep without first watching a rerun of the Korean War-era sitcom,"M.A.S.H."

"She would not go to sleep without watching before bed," Debbie Steinmetz said.

At Immaculata, with the sons and daughters of Fort Leavenworth military brass as classmates, she began to think of serving her country as a career.

Before deploying to the Middle East, Deanna Steinmetz was stationed in Wuerzburg, Germany. She arrived at Abu Ghraib in February. Debbie Steinmetz said she and Tom had months to come to grips with their daughter taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the grace period didn't make her leaving any easier.

"We knew it was going to happen. We're not pleased about it, but it's her job. That's what she wanted to do."

While in Iraq, Deanna Steinmetz has standing orders from her mother to e-mail once a day. "I get an e-mail from her, if not every day, every couple of days," said Debbie Steinmetz, adding that her daughter writes home "even if it's just to say 'hi' or 'I'm OK.'"

One of the earlier messages indicated American forces at Abu Ghraib were taking 30 to 40 mortar attacks per day.

She made reference to the mortar raids in her biography when she wrote about "losing sleep because there are too many mortars coming in or being anxious because there are not any mortars coming in."

She wrote about frequent moments of "turning to a friend every time a door slams or an engine starts outside with the mutual look of 'was that a mortar?'"

Deanna Steinmetz will return to duty, possibly back to her post at Abu Ghraib, after her two-week break.

Whether her parents' prayers for her permanent return home will be answered is unknown and will remain so until she's away from war, away from harm's way.

"We just want her home safely," Debbie Steinmetz said. "It's going to be real hard to put her back on that plane."

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