Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Things...They are a changin.....

My online friend from townhall chat room is a soldier in Iraq right now. He has an article at Tech Station right now. regarding America having enough troops in Iraq. I misposted earlier and said that he had written the following. I misunderstood him. But he did direct me to the following post by Chuck Holton:

TIKRIT, Iraq - Let's begin in Tikrit, the city best known as the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. We spent some time here on Forward Operating Base Danger, a sprawling compound of 68 palaces that Hussein built for his family.This island used to belong to Saddam's sons. But today, this area is a training center for new Iraqi security forces, which has graduated more than 1,500 new Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

The palace is now the headquarters for the 42nd Infantry Brigade, which is comprised of 23,000 active duty, guard, and reserve soldiers from 29 states. Its commander, Major General Joseph Taluto, laments that the mainstream media does not show the progress that is being made in the region.

"Nobody reports the attacks we stop,” Taluto said. “They don't report the SVBIEDs (car bombs) that we catch at a checkpoint. They don't talk about the thousands of people that we’ve arrested since we've been here in north central Iraq, and put in jail with evidence.

"In addition, the 42nd will soon be leaving this base in the hands of the new Iraqi government.

Forty miles down river is Samarra, a town of 200,000 in the heart of the Sunni Triangle.

There has not been much reported from here lately, either. In fact, our crew was the first media team to enter Samarra this year.

It is considered to be an insurgent stronghold, one of the most dangerous places in Iraq at this time, and the unit we were embedded with has lost an average of one soldier a month since it has been here. But even in this bleak city, progress is being made.

Forward Operating Base Brassfield-Mora is the command post for operations inside Samarra. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wald commands the unit.

Wald said, "If you talk to the average man on the street, they don't want coalition forces to leave. They love having the U.S. over here. We treat them with dignity and respect. We treat them fairly. We provide them with economic opportunity. We are all about making this a better place. The insurgents don't have that to offer them."

Pursuing this mission, the civil affairs team here has completed more than 150 humanitarian projects in the last nine months.

We saw an electrical power substation that the team is building. And while it may not look like much, it is one of the ways that the U.S. is working to help the Iraqi people get back on their feet, so that troops can come home. The substation will provide electricity for the city of Samarra.
And a water plant, paid for by coalition funds, pulls two million gallons a day out of the Tigris River and pumps it into the city.

A fire station in the city gets a new generator. And a new police station is being built.

But these projects are not without their setbacks. At this local college, the headmaster complains that the new lab building funded by the U.S. has been delayed by problems.

The headmaster said, "The contractor leave this building before about three months. I haven't seen him. I understand that the other side, guerilla, whatever they are, they ask him to give - you know - they want money. Now he leaves, I need this building because I have a lot of students."
This kind of challenge is being seen throughout the country. Much of the chaos seen in Iraq these days is as much from common criminals as it is from insurgents, which underscores the importance of these types of projects.

"Many of the people in Samara have no real economic opportunity right now,” Wald said, “as long as the insurgency stays the way it is. And so, instead of joining the Iraqi army for a few hundred dollars a month, they can put a roadside bomb out for $100. Whether they are effective or not, they can make more money doing that right now than they can in a legitimate enterprise.”

And so, while fighting the insurgency is a big priority, bringing economic stability to the people of Iraq is just as important.
Captain Radcliffe Antoine is a physician's assistant at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baquba. From his perspective, things are definitely getting better.

"I think the news gives you the picture that Iraq is on fire and it's burning down,” said Capt. Antoine. “And that's not what we find here day to day. Back in the March - April timeframe, we would generally see eight-10 people a week coming through with significant head/ thoracic/ abdominal injuries. And over the last few months, those numbers have decreased to the point where we'll go three, four weeks without seeing any injuries at all. The news [seems to] broadcast things that are sensational, and the everyday victories are not necessarily newsworthy in their eyes. To say that a school has been constructed - most people don't want to hear about that - but for us it's a steadfast improvement that we see day to day."
Wald stated, "This is the great thing about being an American. We have the ability to show other cultures hope. And we can show them exactly what it is to be free, to be able to have the right to choose what you want to do. Whether it's the right to religion, the right to free speech, the right to protest if you want without fear of being killed in public. We have the ability to show the rest of the world what freedom really is.”

While most of the soldiers we talked to believe our work here is far from over, all of them said that they believe a stable Iraq will eventually make the whole world safer. How long that will take, however, remains to be seen.