Retracing Her Steps

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Brig. Gen. Cornum talks to Soldiers in the Taji Warrior Resiliency Campus’ movie theater about turning a disadvantage into an advantage. Her slide presentation on being resilient includes pictures from her life, to include pictures of her immediately after her release from Iraqi captivity, the tail section of the Black Hawk she was in when it was shot down and her reunion with her daughter.  (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Troth. CAB, 1st Inf. Div. PAO)

“Certainly, it’s a homecoming of sorts.”

That is how Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum described her first visit back to Iraq 19 ½ years to the day she was released as a prisoner of war.

The catalyst for her return to Iraq was an invitation.  Currently serving as Director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) for the Army, Cornum was the guest speaker for the grand opening of the Taji Warrior Resiliency Campus Taji, approximately 15 miles north of Baghdad.  The center is operated by the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and is the first of its kind in Iraq. Cornum was thankful for the brigade’s invitation, because it was an opportunity to speak to soldiers on resilience. 

The CSF concept was not around in 1991, but Cornum demonstrated great resilience back then, surviving eight days in captivity by Iraqi forces.  The goal of CSF is to improve a soldier’s “resilience” by focusing on five dimensions (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family).  Cornum credits her spiritual strength for getting her through her time in captivity.

“I had great confidence in the Army and felt we were doing (in Iraq) was right.  I also believed that if I stayed alive long enough, the Army would come and get me.”  The general also felt being able to put it in perspective was a key factor that helped her stay alive.

Cornum’s experience as a prisoner of war has helped her realize there is a need for CSF.  She is able to personalize the teachings of CSF and relate them to a real-life incident she’s experienced. 

“No matter how grave or mundane the situation is, I always try to take a disadvantage, and turn it into an advantage” she stated.  “I live my live every day like that.”

Although she was glad to be in Iraq again, Cornum does not consider the trip to be closure for her.  “It was an event.  I don’t look for closures to events, they just end,” she said.  The general said she was happy she had came back to Iraq to demonstrate that a person can return to the scene of a bad experience and be ok.  Cornum does not even hold animosity toward the men who held her captive.

Besides being a guest speaker, Cornum had other plans while she was in Iraq. 

“See the country and all of the progress,” Cornum said. “The last time I was here, I was blindfolded in the back of a truck so I didn’t see much.”

Story by: CPT Efrem Gibson, Public Affairs Officer-Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division