Kevin Rosenblum ’04 is one of 98 subjects featured in the exhibit Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, a collection of portraits by President George W. Bush. The collection is on loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a nonprofit organization whose Military Service Initiative is focused on helping post-9/11 veterans and their families. The traveling exhibit is currently on display at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., through November 15.
According to the Kennedy Center and the George W. Bush Presidential Center websites, “The full-color oil portraits with stories and a 4-panel mural painted by President Bush of members of the United States military who have served our Nation with honor since 9/11—and whom he has come to know personally. Visitors to Portraits of Courage will…
- Learn the stories of each of the warriors featured in the exhibit.
- Glean an additional appreciation for the service and sacrifice of those who serve in the United States military.
- Understand the impacts of the wounds of war—both visible and invisible.”
“All of the subjects were chosen from a group called Team 43, and he painted me (and everyone else as far as I know) from pictures,” Rosenblum says. “We’ve all participated in one of the two sporting events put on by the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Military Service Initiative. The two events are the W100K, a three-day, 100-kilometer mountain bike ride, and the Warrior Open, a competitive golf tournament. Both are meant to showcase the importance of sport as part of the rehabilitation process for both visible and invisible wounds of war as well as show President Bush’s continued commitment to the wellbeing of those who he led as Commander in Chief.”
On October 24, Rosenblum and other soldiers whose portraits are featured in the exhibit will participate in a panel discussion at the Kennedy Center, hosted by the American Veteran’s Center, an organization focused on service, recovery, continued leadership and the contributions veterans are making as civilians.
“I’ve ridden in the W100K since 2015, which is the first time I met President Bush,” Rosenblum continues. “Not many people know it, but he’s an avid mountain biker, and pretty good too.” He will ride again this year on November 8-9.
According to Rosenblum, the goal of Team 43 is to inform and amplify the work that the Bush Center’s Military Service Initiative does around veteran’s issues, such as mental health, employment and the transition to civilian life. And while the introduction to the team is through the two sports programs, it really is more of a leadership development program.
Rosenblum participated in the ROTC program at Centre, and after graduating with a double degree in international studies and government, he was commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army.
He deployed to Iraq twice; first to Baghdad from 2005-06 and then to Kirkuk from 2007-08. He served as a rifle platoon leader, company executive officer and battalion logistics officer in the 10th Mountain Division. While on patrol during the first month of the deployment, Rosenblum’s platoon was ambushed with mortar and small arms fire in the Amariyah District of western Baghdad. He and eight others were wounded in the attack. Despite his injuries, Rosenblum was able to return to duty and lead his platoon for the remainder of the deployment.
“In September , I was in western Baghdad leading my platoon on patrol when a call came in that another American patrol had been hit by a car bomb,” Rosenblum recounts. “One of their vehicles was disabled and they wanted backup while they waited for a recovery vehicle to come out and tow away the destroyed high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV). Since my platoon was the closest, I volunteered to respond. We set up a perimeter around the other unit and pulled security while we waited for recovery. It took a lot longer than we anticipated for the recovery vehicles to get out and that gave the AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] insurgents time to set up an ambush. They hit us with mortars first and then a bit of small arms fire. The mortars did all the damage; very accurate fire. They must have had a spotter hidden somewhere.
“There were nine of us wounded in that mortar barrage, including me. It really just felt like a bunch of rocks kicked up and hit me in the right leg. It hurt, but there wasn’t much time to think about it. The ambush was over just as quick as it started. The insurgents knew they couldn’t fight a pitched battle against us, so this kind of thing was what they usually did. An improvised explosive device (IED) here, some mortars or small arms fire there, and then they’d melt back into the city. Still, we had a lot of casualties, so I called for our quick reaction force to take over the vehicle recovery operation and organized the evacuation back to our forward operating base, which was thankfully only a couple of miles away. It wasn’t until we got back on base and everything calmed down that my leg really started to hurt. One of my soldiers said, ‘Oh shit, LT, you’re hit.’ I looked down and saw that my pant leg was soaked in blood. From there, I was put on a MEDEVAC helicopter and taken to the combat support hospital in the Green Zone. An X-ray found a couple pieces of shrapnel in my leg, but the surgeon said it would do more damage to take it out, so he decided to leave it in. He said my body would either absorb it or push it out on it’s own. I spent the night at the hospital and went back to my unit the next day. I took a few days off, but it didn’t seem right that my platoon was out there without me (and anyway, I was getting kind of bored), so four days after I’d been wounded, I was back out leading my platoon, my leg wrapped in bandages underneath my uniform.”
His second tour was perhaps even harder.
“In 2007, I found myself back in Iraq, this time as the battalion’s logistics officer (S-4), which meant that, rather than leading 40 soldiers, I was managing logistics support for 900,” Rosenblum shares. “While this deployment lacked the physical danger of my first, it made up for it in mental and emotional stress. The S-4 is also the battalion’s mortuary affairs officer. This meant that my duties included formally identifying our soldiers killed in action and processing their personal effects for shipment back to their families. On top of having to do this multiple times during the deployment, one of my best friends was killed in November.
“We weren’t in the same unit anymore, and his platoon made a stop at my forward operating base. We got to catch up a bit, and then he was off again. The next time I saw him was when I was putting the body bag containing his remains onto a helicopter. The HMMWV he was riding in hit a huge IED, completely destroying it and killing all four soldiers inside. He died six days before his 31st birthday.”
Rosenblum left the Army in 2009 and found a job doing consulting work in Washington, D.C., but because of the culture of the Army at the time and the nature of a former commander showing no weakness, he found himself suffering the mental health issues he was experiencing in silence.
“As part of my evaluation for veterans benefits, I saw a doctor and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and advised to get professional help. I did not get professional help. That all changed when I met my wife, Genia. She introduced me to mountain biking and something clicked for me. The sport gave me a release I couldn’t find anywhere else in life. At first it was my therapy, and then it became the catalyst for me seeking therapy.”
Rosenblum urges others who may be suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues to reach out for help.
“I hope that anyone reading this who may be struggling with a mental health issue, and has avoided seeking help because of some perceived stigma, understands that help is out there, and it’s the best thing you can do for yourself,” Rosenblum says. “I avoided seeking professional help for years because I’d convinced myself that stoicism was a virtue, and living with PTSD was the price of my service. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.”
The desire to serve his country found a direction his freshman year at Centre.
“I’d always been interested in the armed forces. My paternal grandfather had served in WWII as an officer in the Army Air Corps. He was a navigator on B-24 Liberators in the Pacific theater. I idolized him for it, but hadn’t given military service much serious consideration until that visit to the University of Kentucky Army ROTC program. It made me realize that the opportunity to serve was important to me, and knowing that I could become an officer, a leader of soldiers was very appealing. It was actually my friend, Derek Hart ’04, who’s still serving in the Kentucky Army National Guard, who talked to me about joining.”
Rosenblum lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife, Genia, and their son, Elliott. He also volunteers with an organization called Peace of Adventure, where he pilots tandem mountain bikes with visually impaired cyclists as well as rides in support of cyclists using hand cycles.
“It’s really awesome, especially the tandem mountain biking.”
After the Kennedy Center, the exhibit will travel to various locations around the country in 2019-20.
by Cindy Long
October 23, 2019