19 Oct 2004 Soldier Covered by 286 Blogs Profiled in Stars and Stripes
Since April, by my count, blogs and websites have quoted and/or linked to comments sent to this blog by Army Spc. Joe Roche in Iraq at least 286 times.
As it is possibly the most favorable profile of a human being I have ever read in a newspaper, I guess it would be churlish of me to express regrets that Stars and Stripes did not mention the role of the blogosphere in the story of how so many Americans stateside read and heard Joe’s views these past months. After all, 286 blogs is quite a few, and I know Joe appreciates every single one of them (well, maybe not the coverage by Democrats.com).
So I won’t. Here, then, is the Stars and Stripes article:
A ‘Professor’ in a Class by HimselfGIESSEN, Germany – Guys like Joseph Roche don’t enlist every day.
In fact, his story is so novel that, at first, some of his colleagues didn’t know what to make of this man from Minnesota.
His age, education, demeanor, globe-trotting ways and olive-colored skin (his father is from India) raised eyebrows and got folks whispering. Some suspected Roche of being an Army undercover agent. Others thought he could even be a member of an al-Qaida sleeper cell.
“There were a lot of guys who were wondering,” Roche said. “I would tell them: ‘I am what you see.’ ”
For the last two years – and for the next two – Roche has been a member of the U.S. Army. It is a calling that came relatively late in life, but one the cerebral college graduate felt he had to answer.
“He barely made [the deadline],” said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Adelmann, the Minnesota recruiter who brought Roche into the fold.
Roche, who turns 37 next month, joined the Army just before his 35th birthday, the cutoff for new enlistees. Six months later he was in Iraq as a member of the 16th Engineer Battalion, based in Giessen.
During his 14-month tour to the Middle East, Roche distinguished himself in common and uncommon ways.
Supervisors note that Roche always accepted whatever job was given him. “There was never a complaint,” Staff Sgt. Ezrah Brown said, “Never. Not once.”
Brown, a 12-year veteran of the Army, called Roche “one of the best [soldiers] I’ve ever seen.”
About the only time Roche did complain – sort of – was earlier this year, when he wrote an eloquent letter to Stars and Stripes to counter the “bad news” coming out of Iraq. In it, he asked his fellow Americans “to keep the faith.”
The letter, which ran in the Be Our Guest section of the April 4 Sunday magazine, would soon endear him to tens of thousands of people, from his buddies in Baghdad to radio announcers back home, such as Rush Limbaugh, to the man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“Our troops know the historic importance of our work [in Iraq],” President Bush said in his acceptance speech last month at the Republican National Convention. “One Army specialist wrote home: ‘We are transforming a once-sick society into a hopeful place. The various terrorist enemies we are facing in Iraq are really aiming at you back in the United States. This is a test of will for our country. We soldiers of yours are doing great and scoring victories in confronting the evil terrorists.’
“That young man is right. Our men and women in uniform are doing a superb job for America,” the president said.
After the speech, the president’s staff sent an autographed copy of the speech to Roche, something he proudly produced during a recent visit to his apartment in Giessen.
“I said things people needed to hear and wanted to hear,” he said.
Speaking out publicly is something Roche has grown accustom to since junior high school.
As a young teen in Minneapolis, Roche spearheaded petition drives and gave political speeches on subjects such as prayer in schools and aid for the Nicaraguan contras.
After high school, Roche moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for seven years on conservative campaigns and issues. Eventually he returned to his roots to attend the University of Minnesota, earning a history degree.
“Talk to him about history, and you can learn so much,” Brown said.
Before departing for Iraq, the staff sergeant gave Roche a nickname: the professor. While Roche’s knowledge extends well beyond history, it is his forte, enough so that his superiors asked him before the unit deployed to brief younger soldiers about the intricacies of Iraq and the Middle East.
“He reminds me of the professor on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ ” Brown said, referring to the popular ’60s television show.
During the war, Roche was the driver for 1st Lt. Andrew Bischoff, then a platoon commander in Company C.
Bischoff described Roche as a shy, hard-working guy who is respected as much for his humility as for his knowledge.
“I’ve never seen anybody like him,” Bischoff said. “People like that sometimes come across as arrogant.”
Both now chuckle over how they would discuss current events and history as they drove around on missions. As they scanned the horizon for bad guys and improvised explosive devices, subjects such as the merits of the Prussian empire would help break the tension.
“It was like an interactive history channel,” Bischoff said.
Over the years, Roche has held a variety of jobs: bus boy, hotel manager, police dispatcher and security cop. Prior to joining the Army, he spent a year in Israel with Sar-El, a nonprofit, nonpolitical volunteer organization.
Roche was in Israel on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck New York City and the Pentagon. Roche, who is not Jewish, figured if he could give of himself in Israel, he should do the same for his homeland.
Upon his return, he walked into Adelmann’s office and declared his intention to enlist. A year later, as the clock was winding down, Roche followed through.
Adelmann, who spoke by telephone from his office near the University of Minnesota campus, said he would never forget Roche.
“Most people are like: ‘What’s in it for me? How much money can I get for college? How much of a bonus do I qualify for?’ ” he said.
“Joe just wanted to join.”
Back on April 7, Democrats.com expressed doubt that Joe could be real:
Rightwing Front Groups Disseminating Tokyo Rose-Type Propaganda as Our Soldiers DieThe National Center for Public Policy Research and other NeoCon front groups have been disseminating the following piece of propaganda this week as our soldiers die — an essay entitled “Keep the Faith: A Letter from Iraq,” allegedly by a soldier with the U.S. Army serving in the 16th Combat Engineer Battalion..” Progress is amazing…. Every day the Iraqi people stream out into the streets to cheer and wave at us as we drive by. When I’m on a foot patrol, walking among a crowd, countless people thank us — repeatedly…. This is why you hear bad news and may be receiving an incorrect picture… The reality is one of an ever-increasing defeat of the enemies we face…” etc. ad nauseum. We challenge soldiers with the 16th Engineers to verify the existence of a Joe Roche in their ranks…we suspect if there is, he may not realize he “wrote” this essay (remember the bogus letters sent to papers that had soldiers’ names falsely signed to them?
I think the existence of Joe is now totally verified.
Congratulations to Joe on this coverage in Stars and Stripes, and thanks again to all those in the blogosphere, talk radio and newspapers who shared Joe’s words of optimism about America’s mission in Iraq this year. And even more thank to those of you who participated in the still-ongoing care packages project inspired by Joe.