Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 24, 2003

Andrew Roufs experiences Iraq firsthand ­ and has the pictures to show for it

By Ryan Gueningsman

The images most of us have only seen on television and newspapers were day-to-day reality for Andrew Roufs of Winsted ­ a combat photographer for the Marines, deployed into the heart of Iraq at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in April.

Roufs is a graduate of Holy Trinity High School, and is the son of Frank and Terry Roufs of Winsted.

Roufs joined the Marines in October 2001. He attended St. Cloud Technical College for computer networking but, after a year of classes, he realized that he did not want to do computer networking.

"My best friend Sean Drew had already joined the Marine Corps, and was waiting to go to boot camp in what they call Delayed Entry Program," Roufs said. "He had mentioned it a few times and our recruiter called me and asked me if I wanted to come and talk with him, so I did, and the next day I started the paperwork."

Roufs' first duty station was at Camp Pendleton, Calif., with the First Marine Division Combat Camera and Printing unit. He went through about six months of different field training operations with different infantry units.

The main purpose of Roufs' division was to document the First Marine Division, and since that was a deployable unit, when the Iraqi situation arose, Roufs detached from his combat camera unit, and attached to First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (1st LAR Bn.), which was preparing for deployment to Iraq.

His unit left Jan. 17 on the USS Pearl Harbor, which was one of seven naval ships that carried Marines, equipment, and supplies, Roufs said. They were destined for Kuwait, and the trip lasted a little more than a month.

Upon arrival in Kuwait, they were offloaded and staged for several weeks of training and preparation, he said.

"The war started March 20, and we moved into Iraq," he said. "Throughout almost the whole war, the 1st LAR Bn. was in front."

Although Roufs never had to fire his weapons ­ an M9 pistol and an M-16a2 rifle ­ he was in two firefights.

"I never felt threatened during those firefights because I was surrounded by other light armored vehicles (LAVs)," he said.

"Actually, during those firefights, I became really pumped up with adrenaline and started singing some heavy metal songs while everyone was shooting," he said. "It was an awesome experience, watching Marines do what they are meant to do ­ win wars."

One thing that took a little bit of time to get used to was seeing bodies lying on the sides of roads.

"Seeing that first dead Iraqi soldier just laying at the side of the road was a shock," he said. "It was weird because in the United States when someone dies or is shot, there's ambulances and police that will take care of the body, but during the war those people weren't around ­ at least for Iraq's side. So it was different to see that."

For the United States troops, there are Navy corpsmen that take care of those who may be wounded or sick, he said.

Roufs also noted how happy Iraqi people were to see them when they passed through towns.

"Most I think just wanted food, but it felt good knowing we were there to help them," he said. "And knowing that you were there to shut down the regime of Saddam Hussein and his men, and basically free those people."

The war ended around April 22, Roufs said, and he left Iraq in April, headed once again to Kuwait. After spending the month of May there, he took a 26-hour flight to the March Air Force Base in California.

He arrived back home in Winsted the weekend after Winstock, and was able to stay home for 15 days, before heading back to Camp Pendleton.

In September, he received orders to leave there and head across the country to Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., where he is stationed today.

"Here, I take photos for the base newspaper and also take pictures of high school football for the Albany Herald," he said.

To be a photographer in the Marine Corps, troops are required to go to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Ft. Meade, Mary., Roufs said.

"DINFOS is where all the military media-type jobs for the military go to get their training, whether it be photography, videography, broadcasting, journalism, and many others," he said. "The photography course is relatively basic. We were taught using 35 millimeter film cameras and very little digital."

"Digital is what the Marine Corps uses now," he said, "so I had to learn most of my digital knowledge by practice."

The course is over a three-month period of time, and encompasses three years' worth of college course photography into three months, he said.

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