An Iraq veteran carries a message

Double-amputee visiting school in Carroll today

September 15, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

A colorful poster that hangs on the wall in one of the classrooms at North Carroll Community School reads, "Turn an obstacle into an opportunity."

That motivational phrase has come into focus for the 85 children at the privately run school for pre-kindergarten through seventh grade in Westminster as they have been studying the value of perseverance. The pupils were preparing for today's visit with a nationally known Iraq veteran, Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, who is a double-amputee.

One of the school's founders, Scot Lynn, said that when he read a newspaper article this summer about Bagge - who lost parts of both legs in Iraq in June 2005 when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb near Kirkuk - he knew he had to get Bagge to visit North Carroll.

The news article was among many that documented Bagge's jog with President Bush in late June on the South Lawn of the White House. When the president visited Bagge and dozens of other wounded soldiers on New Year's Day at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Bagge told the president that he wanted to run with him someday.

Less than six months later, Bagge used two prosthetic legs as he jogged with Bush.

"It's what we're all about - determination," said Lynn, who searched the Internet to find a phone number for Bagge's brother, Peter, who put him in touch with Christian.

"He had two choices [after the amputation]. He could have become down and out," Lynn said. "But he has chosen to take what happened to him and persevere. It's an incredible story."

Bagge said he accepted Lynn's invitation in the hope that he could inspire the children with his story and share his experiences from around the world.

He knows that many children are aware of the war in Iraq. Some have family members serving in the war, but not all have heard stories like his firsthand.

"It means a lot to me that these kids would want to hear what I have to say," said Bagge, 24.

He said he plans to focus on four core principles: perseverance, freedom, goals and strength.

"I want them to know the importance of a positive attitude," Bagge said during a phone interview last week from the home he shares with his wife, Melissa, in San Antonio.

Tyler Rafferty, 12, said that when he started reading about Bagge's experience and talking about it with his teacher, April Baile, and other pupils, he was intrigued by Bagge's ability to learn to walk on prosthetics and then run with the president.

Tyler, who is in the "middle grades" class for sixth- and seventh-graders, said he thought about the things that would be much harder for him if he lost his legs, such as playing soccer.

"He has a lot of perseverance," Tyler said of Bagge. "If anything were to ever happen to me, I would think about how he made it. I would try to persevere and try to believe in myself and stay positive." In Karen Cigrang's intermediate-grades class, a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders discussed drawings they did to depict an obstacle they had overcome. Several children talked about their apprehensiveness when learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels, and how they had to be strong when it seemed scary.

Emily Metz, 8, held up a drawing in which she looked sad while learning to ride her bike, but her mother kept encouraging her.

"It's all about when we have these obstacles that we don't give up," Cigrang told her class. "And even if it's not us, we can offer encouragement to someone who is trying to overcome an obstacle."

To honor Bagge today, the children and staff members at North Carroll plan to give him a handmade quilt containing squares that reflect many of the lessons they have learned about him, his hardships and his courage.

Bagge, who recently received medical retirement from the military, said everyone needs to be inspired to find his or her purpose.

"President Bush told me that he thought I was an inspiration to the nation ... and that I was an inspiration to him," Bagge said. "That made me feel good, like there was a purpose behind what happened to me."

The public is invited to a free program scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today at the school, 531 Old Westminster Pike, Westminster. Information: 410-386-0655.

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