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Wednesday, April 23

5 former POWs leave hospital in Texas

By Diana Washington Valdez | El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas - The five former prisoners of war from Fort Bliss who were freed after three weeks of captivity in Iraq were released Wednesday from Beaumont Army Medical Center, where they underwent three days of medical checkups, military officials said.

The soldiers, all members of the 507th Maintenance Company, were allowed to leave the hospital about 4:30 p.m. MDT.

The former POWs, who were freed April 13 and returned Saturday to El Paso, are Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of El Paso; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, Texas; Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Alton, Texas; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; and Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.

At a news conference at Fort Bliss on Wednesday, officials said the former POWs left the hospital in high spirits and good health, eager to begin 30 days of relaxation.

"I have the pleasure of announcing that we have completed the medical exams of our returnees," hospital commander Col. Glenn Mitchell said during a news conference at Fort Bliss. "They have had enough of our poking and prodding. They are all in excellent health and excellent spirits."

Johnson and Hudson were seen leaving Fort Bliss in the late afternoon, presumably to rejoin their families.

The group's capture and subsequent release was one of the most emotional parts of the Iraq war, which began March 19. Four days into the conflict, on March 23, the 507th was ambushed near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Six members of the unit were prisoner. Their whereabouts were not known and the International Committee of the Red Cross was not able to check on their condition while they spent 21 days in captivity.

Nine members of the 507th were killed during the ambush. Two of the wounded 507th soldiers, Sgt. Curtis P. Campbell, 27, and Spc. James Grubb, 21, were treated earlier, and are convalescing in El Paso.

On April 1, U.S. special operations forces rescued one of the former prisoners, Pfc. Jessica Lynch of Palestine, W.Va. Lynch was whisked away in a helicopter after a firefight at a hospital in Nasiriyah. Her rescue made international news, but the condition of the other prisoners was not known until they were released unexpectedly north of Baghdad.

Military officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding the ambush. The support unit members were traveling with a supply convoy when they were attacked.

They were greeted Saturday at Biggs Army Airfield by a cheering crowd of about 2,000 people in a nationally televised homecoming.