By Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt, 3rd BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs:
(El Paso, Texas, Dec. 7, 2017)
Theresa Marquez had no idea she would get more than papers after she assigned her English class an essay on women in combat.
She received an exciting surprise and educational experience for herself and the students.
Kaunetha Roberts, a Park University student in Marquez’s class, happened to be friends with Shoshana Johnson, the first African-American woman to become a prisoner of war. She was excited to share knowledge from a woman who was in combat.
Johnson, a former Fort Bliss Soldier, agreed to meet the class Nov. 29 to share her experiences before, during and after being captured in Iraq 14 years ago while serving with the 507th Maintenance Company.
Johnson, a Panamanian native, came to the U.S. with her parents at the age of 5 and traveled around the world with her father, who joined the military soon after he arrived.
Johnson joined the military and served at Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Bliss as a culinary specialist.
When Johnson’s unit began to prepare for a deployment to Iraq in 2003, she did not expect to encounter danger.
“I’m a cook in a maintenance company attached to a Patriot unit,” Johnson said. “The odds of anything happening to me were supposed to be zero.”
Johnson is a high-energy, vibrant woman who speaks with her hands and makes jokes, but her voice softened and trembled slightly when she reminisced about her time in Iraq.
“It seemed like the whole city came out to fight this maintenance company,” Johnson said. “We lost 11 and six of us were captured. You know, it ended up being one of the bloodiest days of conflict. We were taken to Baghdad, and we were interrogated and we were put into prison.”
During the Battle of Nasiriyah, Johnson received bullet wounds in both of her ankles. She spent 22 days as a POW. Her captors moved her seven times to avoid U.S. intelligence finding them. Johnson said that they took them to a prison, an insane asylum and people’s homes.
“Towards the end, they started putting us in people’s homes,” said Johnson. “That is when the big worry set in. If we are in people’s homes, how are they going to find us?”
Johnson added, “They were moving us in a red-crested ambulance to make finding us even harder.”
On Palm Sunday, Marines entered the home where Johnson and her fellow Soldiers were being held and rescued the six POWs.
“I have never been so glad to see some Marines in my life,” Johnson said. “They really took a chance. They got some intel from some Iraqis and they jumped on it. They did not call it up to higher to get an approval. They didn’t want to miss the opportunity or be told no.”
When they arrived home after being rescued, El Paso came out to support Fort Bliss and the POWs. Now, Johnson is looking for ways to give back to veterans, POWs and Soldiers.
Johnson captured her struggles as a Soldier, POW and person in her book, “I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen – My Journey Home.”
“If you pick up her story and read it, it’s an amazing account of what she went through,” Marquez said. “Not only do you find out who she is or who she was as a Soldier, you find out who she is as a person, as a sister, a daughter and a mother.”