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Area military personnel speak out on mission in Iraq

Four years and two months after the mission supposedly was accomplished, more than 150,000 American troops will celebrate Independence Day in a land that knows no freedom from violence.

And yet so many serve proudly, war-weary but hopeful that the sacrifice of more than 3,500 American lives will be repaid with a reborn Iraq.

Proof can be found in the responses The Buffalo News received to an ad it placed this spring in Stars and Stripes, the venerable military newspaper, seeking comments from troops in Iraq from the Buffalo area and the rest of the state.

The News asked: "Do you think you're making a difference, or do you have doubts about U.S. chances of building a stable democracy in Iraq?"

And many of those American service members who replied spoke with a battle-hardened pride in the jobs they are doing, while acknowledging that more tough times lay ahead.

In some cases, they cite small victories they've won amid a raging guerrilla war.

Staff Sgt. Anthony Flores of Yonkers sees progress in the heart of Baghdad.

"People, everyday normal Iraqis, have returned to their homes and reopened their shops and have begun to rebuild their lives in what is now a more secure area," Flores wrote. "Children play soccer on the streets, and the roads are filled with people trying to live peacefully."

Of course, some troops serving in Iraq see things very differently. Technical Sgt. Thomas R. Mayes of Buffalo recounted the violence he saw and wrote:

"To the American People: Do not give George W. Bush any further U.S. dollars for this lost and unjust cause. This war is all about money."

But more often, troops said they knew they were fighting for a just cause, even if the fight turned out to be far harder than anyone expected.

"Time only will tell if we really made a difference over here," wrote Senior Airman Peter J. Tripi, a Kenmore native. "At least the Iraqi people are now given the opportunity to make a choice they never had before."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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