Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Drew N. Jensen dies 'in Seattle of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire during combat operations May 7'

Even before he left on a first tour of Iraq back in 2003, Army Capt. Drew Jensen thought about what should happen if the war left him gravely injured. He did not want his life to be prolonged by artificial means such as ventilators, and stated that in Army medical papers, according to his mother, Mardie Jensen.

"For him, he felt it was the right decision," said Mardie Jensen. "It was something he was very aware of and talked with his buddies about a lot."

On May 7, deep into a second tour in Iraq, Jensen was shot in the neck, a wound that left him a quadriplegic dependent on machines to help him breathe. And on Friday — at the age of 27 — he died of those wounds after a ventilator was removed at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Seattle.

"Drew had great faith, and I know that he is in heaven," said Mardie Jensen. "The second thing that gives me comfort is he knew how much he was loved."

Mardie Jensen and her husband, Lance, are now back at their home in rural Western Oregon in the hill country east of Portland. As they prepare for a Sept. 20th funeral, they cherish the four months they were able to spend with their son after his injury, and want their son to be remembered for the way he lived — not how he died.

"There was something about Drew that touched people," Mardie Jensen said. "He was a good and talented person... a wonderful young man who was gone too soon."

Drew Jensen grew up in Western Oregon, the youngest of three sons born to Mardie Jensen, a school secretary, and Lance Jensen, now a retired teacher. As a boy, Drew Jensen loved to hike, ski and play soccer, and he was drawn to history by an eighth-grade social studies teacher who made models of Civil War battlefields. Jensen would later graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a history degree, near the top of his class, according to his parents.

As a young man, Jensen cared deeply about family, friends and the men who served under him. During his second tour of Iraq, the last group included 30 to 40 soldiers in a mortar platoon with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division out of Fort Lewis.

The 3rd Brigade patrols with eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles, and has lost 48 soldiers during its 2006-2007 deployment. Jensen was the only officer who fell in the line of duty during the brigade's 15 months in Iraq that are now almost ended, according to a Fort Lewis spokeswoman.

In Iraq, Jensen was always read to stand up for his soldiers, according to Mardi Jensen. In letters home, he wrote of his concern and respect for his soldiers, and how inspired he was by their service, his mother said. He was troubled by the death of one of his soldiers last September, and by the wounds sustained by others.

On May 7, Mardie Jensen said, her son was shot by a sniper as he darted out to rescue another soldier, who she believes was from another platoon. Capt. Jensen was medically evacuated to Germany, then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and finally to the VA's Puget Sound Health Care System hospital in Seattle, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.

During his final months of life, Mardie Jensen said, her son could talk with the aid of a medical device, known as a "leak speak," that partially deflated a ventilator cuff and allowed him to vocalize.

Through his hospital stay, Mardie Jensen said, her son did not complain, and was polite to hospital staff.

She said the VA staff were "absolutely wonderful," and seemed to bond with her son. She said they were "very thorough in everything they did," and took his death very hard. On his final day, the hospital was filled with family members, including his brothers and wife, Stacia.

By the time his funeral service is held at a Lutheran Church in Damascus, the mortar platoon soldiers are expected to have returned to Fort Lewis at the end of their 15-month tour of duty. Many of those soldiers are expected to come to the funeral.

"He was one of the best of the best, I think," said Lance Jensen of his son. "I don't think the Army can afford to lose very many more of them."

From the Seattle Times