Blast in Iraq injured soldier from Mattoon

MATTOON – An Iraqi explosive blew off his fingers and tore a hole in his shoulder, but Mattoon native Todd Rauch remains optimistic, his grandfather says.

Spc. Rauch, 20 years old and assigned to the 527th Military Police Company, was wounded early Aug. 21 while serving in Baghdad.

His parents and twin brother, Ryan, are now in Washington, D.C., at Walter Reed Medical Center, where Rauch is recovering after surgeons reattached the fingers of his right hand at a German hospital.

His grandfather, Jack Barton of Mattoon, said Rauch remains convinced he'll regain use of his dominant hand and is willing to do the necessary physical therapy.

"They told him he may not get any mobility back in his hand," Barton said. "But he's unstoppable. I called him Sunday, and he said, 'I can move my finger one centimeter.'"

The Army has not yet released a report on the incident, said a spokesman in Baghdad.

Rauch is a 2001 graduate of Mattoon High School who won awards in swimming competitions and the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. He worked as a life guard before he enlisted.

Barton said his grandson always wanted to be a military policeman like his Uncle Jackie "Bo" Barton.

As Barton understands it, his grandson was injured by an explosive operated from a distance.

"A week ago Wednesday night, they were teaching Iraqi cops how to scan for mines. When they were told which area they were going into, his group had gone over to make sure nothing was dangerous," Barton said.

Whether it was a land mine or grenade, a device exploded near Rauch.

"They realized something was wrong when Todd looked down and tried to pick up his weapon," Barton said. "He couldn't. All his fingers on his right hand were blown off."

Though Rauch's fingers appear to have been successfully reattached, the family still has worries.

"His wrist was shattered; that's our main worry. He's lost a lot of weight. He has several operations to go through and a lot of rehabilitation. When people ask what they can do to help, we say to pray for our grandson. That is our desire," Barton said.

Rauch will be able to spend 30 days in Mattoon once he is released from Walter Reed, and Barton hopes the town will give him a hero's welcome.

Rauch has put in more than his share of combat time, Barton said.

"If he had got to come back like the president said, after six months, he would have been back on a Saturday, and he was hurt the next Wednesday," Barton said. "But he didn't mind when they said he was extended. He laughed and said he just kind of figured he had six months more."

Barton said his grandson has a positive outlook that will get him through tests of his courage:

"Todd is a fighter. He's always looking up, always believes he can do anything."

You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at pwood@news-gazette.com.

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