From across the room in one of Saddam Hussein's former dictatorial digs, Mike Chavez watched the president of the United States get a lesson in pin protocol.
Barack Obama, Chavez learned, is a quick study.
"He actually pinned Purple Hearts on two soldiers," said Chavez, a 27-year-old Army staff sergeant from Newman. "It was the first time he'd pinned a medal on a soldier since he's been president. They had to give him a briefing on how to clip it on."
Valuable instruction, indeed. The last thing a soldier needs after recovering from one wound is to suffer a new one at the hands of a rookie commander-in-chief.
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No problem. Obama pinned the medals on without drawing blood. No need to award yet another Purple Heart.
Chavez was known as Chavez-Corona when he graduated from Orestimba High School in 2000. Today, count him among the 13 soldiers who met Obama last month during his first official visit to Iraq as president. Obama's five-hour swing into Iraq included a visit to Baghdad's Al-Paw Palace, now part of a compound called Camp Victory.
Chavez got to meet the president and chat for a few seconds before they posed for a couple of photos. This happened one month ago today and just a few weeks before Chavez ended his third tour of duty in Iraq, where he oversaw communications at Army headquarters.
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