Thursday, December 11, 2003

N.Ky. soldier thwarts attack


J.R. Ross credited with saving hundreds of lives in Iraq

By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] James L. Ross III in the 1999 Conner High School yearbook.
The world was calling James Lawrence Ross III a hero Wednesday, but in Northern Kentucky, they always called him J.R.

Ross, a 1999 graduate of Conner High School in Hebron, was credited with saving hundreds of his fellow soldiers from a suicide car bomber who tried to blow up a military base in northern Iraq.

"I am so proud, words can't describe it," said his mother, Sandy Gregg.

Ross called his mother in Taylor Mill early Wednesday to tell her about the attack.

Ross, 22, an Army specialist, fired at the car until it blew up just yards from the base's entrance.

"I've had a lot of people come up to me today to thank me for saving their lives," Ross told the Telegraph, a British newspaper. "But I tell them I was doing my job. It's a miracle no one was killed."

Ross, who has been in Iraq for eight months, was standing guard in a tower about 5 a.m. Tuesday when he noticed a suspicious car coming toward the base of 300 soldiers in Talafar, Iraq, according to news reports.

"I opened fire before he even hit our wire, and I kept firing until it blew up the vehicle. I let off almost 100 rounds," Ross said, according to Channelnewsasia.com. "I just kept thinking - get that vehicle stopped."

A 9-foot crater left by the bomb was 15 yards away from Ross's tower. At least 58 soldiers were injured, reports said.

The early morning call from Iraq shocked his mother.

"He didn't even get a scratch," she said. Her son was upset about the soldiers who were hurt, including five seriously, she said.

"We always tell him he's got two guardian angels watching over him," his mother said, referring to Ross's uncle and grandmother who died within days of each other last year.

Wednesday morning, Ross's sister Niki, 27, of Burlington saw a newspaper report about a bombing in Talafar.

It was just last week she learned her brother was there while chatting with him online.

A flight attendant for Comair, she was in Dayton, Ohio, and quickly called her mother who told her what happened.

"It's very weird ... somebody saying that my brother is a hero," she said. "He's just my little brother."

She said her brother wouldn't want to be called a hero, either.

"You don't go into it thinking that or wanting that to happen," Niki Ross said.

James Ross joined the army about two years ago and was stationed in South Korea for a year, his mother said. He was home for about a month before he was deployed to Iraq in April.

Ross, who will turn 23 the day after Christmas, is in the Army's 101st Airborne Division, based in Fort Campbell, Ky.

He grew up in Newport, and when his parents divorced when he was about 12, he moved to Boone County with his father, who now lives in Florida.

At Conner High School, Ross was a good student and a quiet kid, his teachers said.

"I guess I'm not terribly surprised," said Bill Engelman, Ross's high school English teacher. "I can imagine him doing what he needed to do under pressure, then really freaking out about it later."

Ross had always considered joining the military, his mother said. Both of his grandfathers were in the military, and when one became ill, Ross spent hours talking with him about his military career.

"He didn't want to go to college, he knew there were no jobs around here," she said. "He decided to make a career out of it."

Because his tour was to end in six months, Ross recently re-enlisted, his mother said. She told him a friend thought he was crazy for re-enlisting during a war.

"He said that the next time someone asks me that, 'Tell them I am over here protecting them.' "

E-mail bkelly@enquirer.com




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