Well, this is it, the one that I’ve been looking forward to - the final edition of the Iraq Updates is here. It is amazing how fast a year goes when you work 16h ours a day, 6 days a week and 12 hours on our “day of rest.” There are many here, as there are in Korea, who keep a deployment calendar where they start at 365 and scratch off a day until they hit zero and are then on their way home. That calendar typically works in Korea where your tour length is set. Over here, nothing is guaranteed. Case in point… the 172nd Stryker Brigade our of Alaska was in the redeployment process and had already sent some folks home when they were given the mission of supporting Operation Together Forward in Baghdad to gain control of the situation in Baghdad. The guys that had already made it home had to turn around and come back. What a morale buster.
My year over here has given me a new appreciation for lots of things. First and foremost, it is an appreciation for the American Soldier. Even though I’m one of them, I’ve always considered what we do to be more of a job with unusual requirements than anything else. I’ve been so wrong. For the younger enlisted kids who are still gladly signing up for additional enlistments, they put up with conditions that nobody in their right mind back home would tolerate and they do it for a small paycheck. They put up with less than optimal living conditions, medicore food, extremely harsh environmental conditions, missed birthdays/anniversaries/ births/first steps/first words/ graduations/weddings/funerals, double the national divorce rate and they do this on a daily basis all while someone out there is trying to kill them. Although they will grumble all the while they are going through it, most of them would and will come back here for a second, third or fourth tour without complaining too much. I have to say that I’ve been truly impressed by them.
Another thing that I’ve gained an appreciation for is the civilized society and domestic security we have back home. There is truly no price that can be put on this. When you look at the chaotic society over here and the lack of rule of law, it makes you wonder how they get along day to day. One comment that I’ve read in a couple of letters to the editor of the Stars and Stripes newspaper and such since I’ve been over here is, “Why should I appreciate America, what has it done for me?” This is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard. Spend a week or two over here living among the locals and see if you gain a new-found appreciation for what America has given you. You have the freedom to live wherever you want, worship God anyway that you want, the ability to conduct commerce in a free market with little to no corruption, the ability to walk down the street and not wonder if you are going to get shot in a drive-by shooting, kidnapped or blown up by a bomb, the ability to use as much electricity as you want 24 hours a day (as opposed to the 8 hours of electricity that you may/may not get over here), clean drinking water, an education….I could go on and on, but you get the point. Over here, most of this is a daily struggle.
When we first got over here, our FOB would receive mortar or rocket fire on a frequent basis. We’d all rush around, put on our body armor, make sure everyone was OK and then continue on. Then we caught the guy that was responsible for it. Months of quiet. The past several months, it has started back up again. This time, it is different. I don’t know if it is because we have gotten used to it or what, but now when we hear the booms of mortars/rockets/IEDs/car bombs/etc., we try to figure out if it is them firing at us or us at them. If it was them shooting at us, we just take it as a momentary interruption to what we were doing and then go about our way. No scurrying around and no body armor unless something detonates within a couple hundred yards of you.
There is much discussion back home right now about the situation over here and there will be more if it as the election nears. Some say that this is a quagmire and others say that we are making progress and will be out of here within the next several years (just announced a couple weeks ago to be around 2010). Since I’m not trying to get your vote, I’ll give you the opinion from the front lines. If we don’t stay over here to finish the job, we are basically spitting on the accomplishments that the military has fought and died for over the past three years and our next generation or two will pay the price. We have the opportunity to try and prevent an entire country from falling into chaos and being a tool for the Islamic extremists/terrorists from within and from the outside (Syria and Iran). We are making progress, albeit slow, towards a stable government and viable security forces over here every day, but you never hear about that in the media. Some days there are setbacks, but that is not unexpected. If we were to pull out now, everything that we’ve accomplished to this point would be ruined in a matter of months (or less) after our pullout. This country would descend into anarchy, uncontrolled civil war would erupt and the void of stability would be filled by unwanted outside influences. We would then probably be back here as part of a powerless U.N. peacekeeping force. Our kids will pay the price for it. On the other hand, if we can find the resolve to see this country start to provide a healthy and growing economy, a stable security environment and functioning government, it will be one less rogue government we will have to worry about in the future. This fight is far from over and it will be costly, but consider the cost of several more September 11th-like events. This fight for our national and global security has to be won out here; it is too late when the fight is at our shores, borders or in the airspace over our country. Until the politicians stop their petty bickering over whether there was adequate planning coming into this fight and get this figured out, we are all at risk.
One of the Soldiers in the section that is replacing mine is Muslim. We had an interesting conversation the other day. He said that when he went to the local vendor’s shops that we have set up in our hangar, they found out that he was Muslim. The first question out of all of their mouths was whether he was Shia or Sunni. That is how the Iraqis see everyone, Shia or Sunni. This will usually determine whether or not they will associate with you (or want to kill you). His response to all of them was the same, “It doesn’t matter, I’m Muslim - neither Shia nor Sunni.” They had a hard time getting past this. This is the mindset that has been in place since Saddam came to power and it is something that they will have to get past in the next generation or there will never be peace in this land.
Tonight, six days before we officially turn the mission over to our replacement unit, our Brigade Commander gathered all of the brigade staff officers to personally thank us for the hard work that we put in and the amazing things that we have done over here. He continued on with a couple of good quotes that I think are worthy of putting down here. “We are here to provide the people of Iraq an opportunity. They just have to decide if they want to seize the opportunity for a better life.” “We = are the thin line that separates them from a life of anarchy and killing or a prosperous future.” I think that summarizes our mission over here pretty well.
The key to solving the problems over here is in the hands of the Iraqis. We just try to keep them from killing each other every day and show them how a rule-of-law society operates. When they finally decide that they have had enough of the killings, put their desire for a peaceful life ahead of their own political power and corruption, then we will be on the road to a stable government and a prosperous country. Until then, we will just have put up with the politicians, military and police who are less corrupt or sectarian than the rest, as they are all corrupt or sectarian to some degree.
I have had the opportunity to serve with some very smart and talented people over here. If I had to come back, I’d want to do it with the same team we have in place now. Sure, we’ve had our arguments and disagreements, but we all are pulling in the same direction and that is what makes a successful unit. My Brigade Commander and Brigade Command Sergeant Major are a perfect pair and you couldn’t ask to work for a better team or anyone who cares more about Soldiers than they do. I have served with some great Soldiers over here, some of whom will not be coming home with us and some who will bear physical scars of their time over here. Please continue to keep them and their families in your prayers as it will take some of them a lifetime to try and recover from their injuries.
I want to thank all of you out there who have provided us and our families with encouragement, support, love, prayers and munchies this past year. They have made a difference. We watch the same mainstream news programs that you watch back home. To listen to them, you’d think that we had not done a single good thing over here and that the only worthy news is how many civilians and soldiers were killed that day in various bombings and shootings, which politician thinks that this is a lost cause or how the public doesn’t believe that we are doing the right thing over here. The letters and emails that I’ve gotten over paint a completely different picture. You’ve all told me that there is more support back home for our efforts over here than we are aware of. That is encouraging to know and makes it feel like our sacrifices are worth it. After we leave here, there will still be thousands of Soldiers, civilians and contractors over here continuing the fight. Please continue to keep them in your prayers and provide them whatever support you can.
God bless America
and the American Soldier! Keep the faith!
ALL GAVE SOME AND SOME GAVE ALL
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