The untold story of Iraq unfolds for local family

By Ronald MacArthur

Hidden behind the search for weapons of mass destruction and the terrible news of suicide bombings in Iraq are stories of reservists called to active duty who are helping to rebuild a neglected country. One of those stories revolves around Army Reserve Lt. Col. John Charles Ross of Derwood, Md. Ross is the son of John E. and Pansie Ross, who live just south of Georgetown. Mrs. Ross is a 1944 graduate of Seaford High School. Ross (who is a 1976 graduate of West Point) was called to active duty for the first time in June 2003. “They tracked him down when he was on vacation in Myrtle Beach,” Mrs. Ross said. “He had to close down his contracting business and went to Iraq in November. It really surprised all of us.” He served for five years in the Army in Germany after graduation from West Point and has been in the Army Reserves ever since. Ross, 49, who is in the Army Corps of Engineers, is in charge of a unit that works on building projects in five districts south of Baghdad. “He works 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week and rarely gets a day off,” his mother said. Those projects cover a multitude of areas including water and sewer plants, electrical substations, roads, schools, governmental buildings, pump houses, trash dumps, and just about every other construction project imaginable. In most of the country, the basic infrastructure that we take for granted - sewer and water systems - are nonexistent. Ross works with a multi-national team comprised of men from Spain, Russia, and Poland. “And they can’t go anywhere without an armed escort,” Mr. Ross said. He added that their schedule is not always as planned due to the availability of an escort. He also travels with an interpreter. “He works with the citizens to help them set up their own construction companies to carry on with the projects once they get started,” Mrs. Ross said. His team helps to plan out the projects and then inspects them as they progress.
During one 47-day period, his team was on 120 different project sites in five different provinces. In all, he is involved with 200 projects. Ross is in contact with his family in Georgetown (including his sister Cathy Magee) and his wife Linda and sons Andrew, 15, and Michael, 13, in Maryland just about every other day via e-mail. Those e-mails contain plenty of photographs as well. His father smiles when he talks about receiving the e-mails on a regular basis passed to them from his daughter. Mr. Ross is a World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor. “I don’t understand all of this e-mail, but it’s great. It’s quit a contrast because in World War II, my family didn’t hear from me for a year at a time,” he said. On Christmas Day, family members went to his home in Maryland and gathered around the computer for instant messaging. “Then the messages cut off and the phone rang - it was John, and we were all really thrilled,” Mrs. Ross said. You can sense the overpowering task facing those rebuilding the country in Ross’ e-mails. In one he wrote: “What a mess. It’s been depressing this week when you know you personally can’t solve the problems or even have the money or assets to correct it.” Mrs. Ross said that her son was particularly excited when their construction projects included some schools. “He said that the children were so anxious to learn because under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein only the wealthy went to school,” she said. “Even the mothers come to school with the children because they want to learn also. He said that they have no concept of learning.” Mrs. Ross could read from his e-mails that although schools were being built, the supplies for the schools were hard to come by. She organized a small drive among her friends (including Eleanor Jamison and Eleanor Hickey from Seaford) and sent over several boxes of school supplies. His parents said that their son’s attitude toward his mission in Iraq has been positive since he learned he was called to active duty. “He’s been upbeat about it because that’s what he’s trained for,” his mother said. “His attitude about what he's doing helps us here at home a lot.” Each of his e-mails contain a countdown of the days he has remaining in Iraq. His family is hopeful that his tour of duty is over in March or April, but they are well aware that with the daunting mission facing those rebuilding Iraq, his tour time may be extended.

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