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Invaluable friendship: Coincidence draws soldiers together

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By Katy Korkos

Brought together by circumstance, two men are serving their country in different ways, Capt. AJ Salazar as part of a legal team bringing justice to a war-torn country, and Lt. Eric Rudberg on the streets of Baghdad, bringing security to dangerous neighborhoods. Their meeting was a coincidence, but the friendship that grew out of it is invaluable to both men.When Councilor Jim Hall introduced Salazar to the council Oct. 30, there was more than a professional bond between the two men. “Capt. Salazar recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, where he served as part of the team that prosecutes terrorists in Iraqi courts,” Hall said. “While he was there, he was able to come to the aid of my nephew, Eric Rudberg, who is serving in the Army there.”Salazar is the chief deputy district attorney in the First Judicial District and a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. Hall and Salazar had spent some time talking about what role a district attorney might play in Los Alamos prosecutions a week before Salazar was deployed to Iraq in January. Hall told Salazar his son had been wounded in Iraq, and also that he had a nephew serving in the Army there. Salazar promised Hall that he would return safely, and when he came back to New Mexico, he presented the Los Alamos County Council with a flag that had flown over Baghdad on Memorial Day.“I will never look at the flag the same way again,” Salazar said. Salazar went on to tell the tale of how he met and became friends with Hall’s nephew just a few days after he arrived in Iraq for his second tour of duty as a prosecutor with the office of the Judge Advocate General.“We hit it off right away,” Salazar said. “We exchanged e-mails, and remained in contact, and we would see each other when he came into our area.”Rudberg took up the story via e-mail from Iraq, where he is still deployed: “Another soldier and I were up in the Green Zone to testify in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq against an arms trafficker whom we caught with a huge weapons cache,” Rudberg said. “Capt. Salazar had just arrived in country and was shadowing a fellow prosecutor to learn the ropes (the court system here is quite a bit different than back in the States). We got talking and he mentioned that he was from New Mexico. I mentioned that I had family in New Mexico, Los Alamos area, and he asked out of the blue, if it was Jim Hall. “Obviously this floored me. I said that Jim was my uncle and Capt. Salazar said that he had lunch with him a few days ago. After that we kept in e-mail contact and I would see him every once in a while when I was up in that area.”Salazar was born and raised and still lives in the small town of Alcalde, north of Espaola. He graduated from the School of Law at the University of New Mexico in 1993, and joined the Army Reserve in 2001. After specialized training in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he was first deployed to Iraq in November 2003, and served until January 2005, working within the military court system. In addition to being licensed attorneys in any state or territory of the United States, all military attorneys undergo specialized training to qualify as judge advocates, allowing them to act as trial or defense counsel at military courts-martial. His second deployment began in January 2007, and continued through the end of August of this year.Rudberg was raised in Arizona and was appointed to West Point, where he graduated in 2005 with a major in environmental engineering. He is a first lieutenant infantry officer and a platoon leader for a platoon of dismounted cavalry scouts, all of whom are men, part of the Fourth Brigade, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. “It is an airborne unit,” Rudberg wrote. “In other words, we specialize in jumping behind enemy lines. Over here we have never jumped, but rather do daily patrols.”The connection and friendship the two men formed proved invaluable when Rudberg’s platoon came under attack and Rudberg called Salazar for some help in getting supplies and food to the wounded men. Salazar said the most seriously wounded were evacuated immediately, but that Rudberg and others were housed in a tent outside the combat hospital, and were unable to leave to get their supplies and equipment.“They were essentially ambushed,” Salazar said. “A couple of the soldiers were evacuated so fast that their uniforms were cut off of them and they lost their IDs. They were having trouble getting food and supplies where they were housed, so when Eric called me, I was happy to help. I called my commanding officer and told him the situation, and we got a vehicle and filled it with supplies, and got new IDs issued for the men who had lost theirs.” “I’m honored and humbled that Eric thought enough of me to give me a call,” Salazar said. “It was really just the weirdest darn thing to run into AJ over here, really just a fluke, you know, but it sure was a blessing,” Rudberg wrote. “He helped my men and me out more than I think he knows.” “He’s a good leader and he took good care of his men. Eric and his soldiers are the best we have, and they’re doing an outstanding job,” Salazar said. ”I look at Eric like a brother. We will have a lifelong bond.”