Since I returned from Iraq I’m often asked about my experiences but sometimes feel at a loss for words. The media has done a relatively fair job of reporting and even though I was in and around Baghdad during the war, I heard most news about the war through various forms of media.
The Stars and Stripes and Army Times had a lot of letters to the editor and the reading was very interesting. One thing I noticed from reading the letters from the troops is that it didn’t have the usual gripes and complaints that I heard from other soldiers involved in Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom.
My unit was attached to a special forces unit prior to the war and we were well taken care of and had most of what we needed. It was rough at the start of the war but it was tough on all units who were considered front line at the time. We spent days at a time in dusty, hot fighting positions and assuming other various infantry-type duties.
When President Bush announced an official end to the war things did get better for us but morale was getting low because we had no idea if and when we were going home. We eventually were assigned to another army unit and this upset the men because they enjoyed the status and duty of being involved with special operations. However, the army took good care of us and morale rebounded.
We were granted individual leave home and to Germany. Any soldier who was stressed out was sent to Camp Doha, Kuwait, to recover. At our new location we had many of the same types of infantry duties that we had earlier so we fell into a healthy routine. Complaints did surface about duties at times but everyone at the base where I served pulled extra duty regardless of rank or occupation. It was not unusual to see an officer on KP duty or a finance person on guard duty. It’s no secret that commanders are short-handed and problems like the prison scandal can arise if care isn’t taken to properly train individuals for new duties.
Something that did trickle down from the media that also affected morale was a statement from the President himself. I can picture troops on check-point duty everywhere gritting their teeth when they heard, "bring ‘em on". (However, morale did rebound as our time for departure neared.)
Something noticed by departing troops was the treatment of the local Iraqi population by the troops replacing us. We had established good working relations with almost all the local Iraqis around our post. We had taught them how to make pizzas and sent them on sometimes dangerous missions to buy items at the Baghdad markets we couldn’t get at the base exchange. We knew the enemy was "out there" but we never thought of all locals as enemy. It’s a shame that a shortage of manpower or the actions of thugs could banish the pizza lady. No one was ever poisoned (that I know of) from eating food the locals provided and early on I ate whatever I could purchase.
We ran a fairly tight ship and, outside of a few stray rounds and rockets, never had any serious problems. Needless to say I was troubled to learn that our replacement unit had run off the locals and vendors from outside the base. As a soldier on checkpoint duty at times, I had always felt the vendors and such were an extra line of defence because they knew who the bad guys were.
It troubles many troops that people at home may not understand what is going on in Iraq at times because of some media inaccuracies. For example, Halliburton is a great company with a lot of hardworking people. Attack them and you attack the troops. They provide a good service and deserve every penny they get (I know, I was there).
Now that I’m safe at home I do find myself worrying about soldiers and Iraqis I left behind. Many of the Iraqis I know have family and friends overseas but they are trapped in Iraq. Soldiers are pulling longer tours now and that makes me feel a little guilty because we complained about being there one year.
But a big morale booster is troop support at home. Friends of mine who are involved in the peace movement sent care packages. A person who is obviously anti-war thanked me for going, (I think because he didn’t have to! LOL) but I took that as a compliment. People thank you for a thankless job that is at times very unpleasant, to say the least. Support for troops in harm’s way is greatly appreciated.
It is so important that a nation uses its troops wisely and has a good reason to go to war. War is a necessary evil because there are still many people in this world who desire to control the masses through fundamentalist doctrines that are the antithesis of freedom. We can also wage war by being sure to vote and use the democratic system that makes sovereign nations great. I hope for a free, democratic Iraq but unless and until the separation of church and state is clearly defined in Iraq's constitution, the future looks dim.
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