By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 28, 2010) -- While many watched President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address from their homes, several former Soldiers and a current one had seats near the first lady inside the U.S. Capitol Building.
Among those who sat with Michelle Obama during the speech were Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Rubin; Spc. Scott Vycital, now medically retired; and former Soldiers Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd, both of whom now work at Fort Hood, Texas.
An Army Ranger assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Rubin returned in December from Iraq. It was his sixth time deployed to the region, including tours in Afghanistan.
Just hours before the State of the Union, Rubin said if given the opportunity before or after the address to shake the president's hand and speak with him for a moment, he'd tell the president about what it means for him to serve in the Army.
"This country has a rich tradition of people fighting wars to defend the freedom of this country," Rubin said. "It's an honor to go to war for their country and fight for our freedom. Not everybody does it."
While saying he didn't want to try to predict ahead of time what the president would say in his speech, Rubin said he hoped there would be words indicating continued support for those who serve.
"As a serviceman, we are fighting the global war on terrorism in two different countries," Rubin said. "Anybody who is over there wants to hear that the troops will continue to be supported, that there will be funding for equipment, and that we will be supported overseas."
During his most recent deployment, Rubin was shot while attempting to rescue a fellow Ranger in As Sadiyah. For his actions there, Rubin was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor.
"One of my guys was shot in the leg," Rubin said. "I'm on the next street over getting ready to move on a target building and we heard the gunshots. We ran to their location, and they were under heavy gunfire."
Without thinking of their own safety, Rubin and his medic ran to the position of his downed Soldier to provide assistance. Rubin said considering the immediate safety and recovery of his fallen team member is second nature for him.
"That's one of my guys -- I'd give my life up for my men," he said. "Once I found out he was shot and I heard him screaming in pain, there was no decision making. It was move to his position now and save his life."
"Every one of my guys deserved a bronze start that night," Rubin said.
Spc. Scott Vycital, now medically retired, was also chosen to sit with the first lady at the president's address.
He said he thinks that after having been wounded in Iraq in 2004 -- sustaining injuries that led to deafness in one ear and paralysis on the side of his face, in addition to complications from post traumatic stress disorder -- his experiences with military medicine, Veterans Affairs and with veteran's support groups makes him knowledgeable about how wounded servicemembers can get better and move on with life.
"After being wounded in Iraq, I've been able to utilize a number of federal benefits ..." he said. Those benefits enabled recovery, he said, and helped him get home loans and find a career.
As a beneficiary of programs to help wounded veterans, he said he hoped the president would discuss continued support of those same programs.
"My heart lies in veterans services, and seeing that disabled veterans receive the opportunities that I've been lucky enough to receive," he said.
In February 2004, Vycital said his life took a serious turn with the injuries he sustained in Iraq.
"I thought I was capable of carrying on my own and that didn't turn out to be the case," he said. "I needed a helping hand -- a shoulder to lean on. After a number of years searching, I finally got that help. I hope other veterans that are coming home and have these terrible injuries can get the same help I did. These organizations -- we need to make sure they stay here and are even expanded."
Since leaving the Army in 2004, just months after his Iraqi injuries, Vycital has experienced the lows of PTSD, the struggle to find the courage to seek help -- with the urging of his wife, Jarah -- and finally, completion of a degree program at Colorado State University in December 2008.
Today, with the help of the Army's Wounded Warrior program, the Veterans Affairs, and the National Organization on Disability, he works as a financial specialist with the Federal Highway Administration.
Also sitting with the first lady were Fort Hood Police Officers Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd. Both helped stop a shooting spree in November at Hood by downing Maj. Nidal M. Hasan in an exchange of gunfire.
Munley -- a former Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Operations specialist in the Army -- is currently a federal officer serving on the Special Reaction Team for the Fort Hood Police Department. In November, she was wounded in the gun battle with Hasan but reportedly kept firing.
Todd enlisted in the Army as a military policeman in 1985. He was selected to attend Military Working Dog Handlers Course and later served as a K-9 handler at Fort Devens, Mass.: Fort Polk, La., and Wurezburg, Germany. His last two assignments were Grafenwoehr, Germany and Fort Hood, Texas. In 2007, he joined the Directorate of Emergency Services at Fort Hood and is currently the lead police officer for the Military Working Dog Branch there.