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Published: Sunday, 10/9/2005

Friend stays in touch from Iraq

By FRANK CORSOE

BLADE SPORTS EDITOR

Lt. Col. Robert Mitrocsak is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help rebuild Iraq. As a deputy district engineer in Tikrit, he is assisting the Army complete 57 current projects totaling more than $150 million that have placed facilities in the Salah ad Din Province. Along with other brave Americans, he is helping the U.S. have a positive influence on social conditions facing the Iraqis.

That's the professional Mr. Mitrocsak, U.S. Army through and through.

The Bob Mitrocsak I know and refer to as 'Big Met' is the same friend I have had for 43 years.

That's the same kid I grew up with in Cherry Hill, N.J., where we attended St. Peter Celestine grade school and West High School together. That's the same kid who played on my rec softball team Cherry Valley Vandals and our world revolved around the Phillies and Connie Mack Stadium excursions and the fortunes and misfortunes of the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Big 5 college basketball. It is also the same kid who was the best man at my wedding.

When Mitrocsak was called up for his assignment at his office in the Pentagon in July, he got up, sought the global map to see the time zones so he can plot his strategy to keep up with the Philadelphia Eagles and their expected run to the Super Bowl.

In a recent phone conversation from Iraq, we spoke of the passing of former Phillies manager Gene Mauch, talked about the Phillies' famous '64 collapse, and, of course, the Eagles chances this season.

Let's call it a friendly diversion.

'The Birds will be in the Super Bowl and I want to make sure I can follow them,' Colonel Mitrocsak said. 'When I got my orders, I didn't immediately call my wife or my family or my mom, I just thought about the Eagles and what time in the early morning they would play, and where I could find a TV to watch them, or if my international short wave radio would be able to pull them in.'

I asked Bob, who arrived in Iraq on his 52nd birthday, about the reception he has received in Iraq. 'The Iraqi people are absolutely wonderful,' Colonel Mitrocsak said. 'They are very noble and dignified folks. They want to help rebuild their country. They want to do their best.'

Colonel Mitrocsak said that with the help of small local Iraqi contractors, Army and civilians, the U.S. has completed many civil infrastructure reconstruction projects. His unit has also constructed the Division Main Headquarters, which is the largest military project built to date during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bob works with combat engineers who clear the main supply routes of improvised explosive devices and land mines so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may continue its work on construction sites where a health clinic, a school, and a railroad station are in the works. He says, 'These combat engineers are doing a great job over here.'

'We work with the Salah ad Din Provincial Reconstruction Council and the goals of this council are to enable the Iraqi government to grow and sustain itself at the Provincial level,' Colonel Mitrocsak said. 'They are deciding which projects are needed for their communities, so the transition to Iraqi governance can become a strong reality.'

When we talked, he mostly wanted to talk about sports. It was as if we were in 6th grade again and were clowning around in class before being admonished by Mother Helen or Sister Tom. 'OK, you two goofballs, cut it out' is a phrase we've heard more than once in class.

I wanted to talk about his safety and the safety of others. He didn't seem too concerned about it. He knows it's a danger. He faces it and lives with it each and every day. My daughter, Beth, lost a close friend when he was killed along with members of the Ohio battalion in an early August attack in Iraq. Bob has met many soldiers from northern Ohio stationed at his FOB or Forward Operating Base. 'I meet kids from Toledo, Vermilion, Parma, and Cleveland over at the mess hall. To a man, they are great and dedicated soldiers. I'm very proud of their daily efforts,' he said. 'Over chow, we share stories about the Eagles and Browns, Indians, and Phillies, the 700 Level and the Dog Pound, and the Sixers' walking-wounded trade instead of drafting Brad Daugherty, only to find too much commonality in each others' endless misery, haunting past, and fierce loyalties.'

Bob talks of the value of intelligence updates he receives for projects so they may be completed. He talks about the sadness of the casualties of war. He speaks with pride about being a member of the U.S. Army in representing the United States.

He writes of being torn between being in Iraq when he knows he can help out in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. He has worked on Army projects across the world. He knows he can help the monumental rebuilding project facing New Orleans.

And on this Sunday, I know that in the face of all of the obstacles before him in Iraq and his desire to help out his country, he will be thinking about the Eagles.

And I will be thinking about him.

Contact Frank Corsoe at: fcorsoe@theblade.com or 419-724-6115.



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