The Legion's Barry Searle greets Iraq war heroes, from left, Sambuu-Endon Shijirbaatar and Azzaya Ganbold Photo by Craig Roberts

Legion honors Mongolian war heroes

Two war heroes from the Mongolian Armed Forces were welcomed by members of The American Legion staff in Washington in June. Lt. Azzaya Ganbold and Senior Sgt. Sambuu-Endon Shijirbaatar were honored for their singular role in saving the lives of many Operation Iraqi Freedom coalition troops.

The career soldiers were accompanied to the Legion's Washington office by Col. Ganbat Turuu, the Mongolian Embassy's military attaché. He told the story of what happened at Camp Babylon in Iraq on Feb. 18, 2004:

"The Mongolian contingent was performing force protection in Iraq with the (Polish-commanded) Multinational Division Central-South. (Azzaya and Sambuu-Endon) were standing at their separate posts (when) suddenly a terrorist with a truck loaded with bombs - later determined to be 750 kilos of bombs - approached. First, they made some warning shots, then Azzaya noticed that the bomb-truck driver was accelerating his speed towards the (camp) wall. So, that is why he decided to shoot him. And the bombs exploded."There were about 3,000 troops (in the camp). It was at lunchtime and (the incident occurred) nearby the dining facility when the soldiers were getting ready to go there. So it was a very good thing the bomber was killed."

The Mongolian Armed Forces plans to double its troop strength in Afghanistan by November. When asked why his country has committed itself so strongly to joining with the United States in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Ganbat offered an answer rooted both in history and geographical reality: Mongolia is sandwiched between Russia and China.

"We must always be ready to defend our country," Ganbat said. "Our former military leader Genghis Kahn (who died in 1227) invaded many countries and conquered three-quarters of the known world at that time. Do you think it was because he enjoyed invading countries? No. It was because he wanted his troops to be always ready. It is the same today. In order to maintain troop readiness, we must keep our soldiers busy."

Some members of the visiting Mongolian military contingent expressed surprise at the number of younger staff - all war-era veterans - to whom they were introduced at D.C. office. It was explained by the Mongolians that no organization like The American Legion exists in their country, and a warrior there is not considered a veteran unless he or she has served at least 25 years in the military.

During their two-day visit to Washington, the Mongolian war heroes not only toured the monuments and other tourist sites, but laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, visited wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, called on the Sergeant Major of the Army at the Pentagon and were received by President Barack Obama.