>Allowing Iraqis back at 'The Zig'
Captain Andrew L. Heymann, 258th Rear Area Operations Center, included some photos
with his message about "a 'good news' story regarding our efforts over here in Iraq:"
Here at LSA Adder-Tallil, just outside of an- Nasiriyah, we have the responsibility of being caretakers of the Ziggurat at Ur - a 6,000-year-old temple. A nearby structure is believed to be the home of Abraham.
One of the most revered sites for Iraqis, the Ziggurat has been off-limits [to Iraqis] for over 30 years - since Saddam came to power.
As the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection officer for LSA Adder-Tallil, my responsibilities are to ensure the safety, security and force protection of nearly 10,000 soldiers and civilians. One area of emphasis is controlling access to the installation. As such, I was responsible of setting up the first group of Host Nationals to tour "The Zig" in decades.
Forty students and professors from the local university arrived one Sunday morning, and, despite the intense heat and blowing dust, enjoyed a two-hour tour. Even here, with the war raging on outside our gates, we were able to stop and give something positive to the local community that they had long been denied and, hopefully, did a small part to bring our two societies together.
>Should we be there? Yes
Spc. Laura Tangen, stationed in Kirkuk with the 25th Infantry Division, has strong
feelings about the mission. Telling how she passed up a chance to express them once, she took the opportunity to do it here:
Ihad been back in the States for about thirty minutes when a stranger came up to me in [the] Atlanta airport and asked, "Do you think we should be in Iraq?"
Civil affairs classes quickly came to mind, and I started to reply with the standard, "I can not comment." But then I realized that I could answer this question, although it is slightly on the "gray" side.
I needed an answer that said I was proud of the work we are doing there, that I believed with all my heart we should be there, that told of the good things I see every day. I needed to tell of the schools being built, the clean water being supplied, and the actual hope of a future for the Iraqi people.
I needed to tell of the children who love to play soccer with the soldiers, the old women who teach us how to make their food, and how after working long days in the fields the men always have a smile for a passing convoy. I simply answered "Yes."
I know that the stranger will never understand the work we are doing there, not because he is ignorant, or the media is biased, but simply because he hasn't been here. The hope in a child's eyes is not something you can describe to someone who has never seen it. I think back on that moment now that I have been here [in Iraq] for three more months, and we've just been extended.
Now that I've lost friends and seen soldiers die, would I answer his question the same?
Yes. And, in the grand scheme of freeing an oppressed nation, does three more months really matter?
>It's simple: We're Americans
Senior Airman Peter J. Tripi is a Kenmore native now serving with the U.S. Air
Force 886th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron in Camp Bucca, Iraq. He takes the long view of the military mission there:
It's not easy looking for direction within an inconclusive, perhaps even misguided, situation. All this time fighting without any visible results of progress from either side, all the personal physical and emotional hardship endured over the years, supported with all the animosity the world has provided in view of this conflict, it would be insane as an American citizen, let alone as a soldier, not to ask yourself, "What's the point?"
We have lost many loved ones in Operation: Iraqi Freedom. The thought of that can be very overbearing at times, for anyone.
However, as American soldiers, we've voluntarily sacrificed [in] an endless effort to encourage the rise of a democracy throughout Iraq. With the selfless mindset of "no matter what happens, for however long, at whatever costs," we will fight to end terrorism and to safeguard any people in need, so they are at least afforded the opportunity to establish a stable system of government, or for life itself.
It's simple: We're Americans. Despite all the suffering, we pride ourselves on overcoming any hardship in order to take action defending and protecting what is right, whether domestic or abroad, regardless of what the odds against us are.
Time only will tell if we really made a difference over here. At least the Iraqi people are now given the opportunity to make a choice they never had before.
>Progress in a horrible place
Spec. Jonathan Cruz is from the Bronx, works in the intelligence field and is stationed
in Camp Corregidor, Ramadi, Iraq with the 1- 9 Infantry Regiment:
This is my second deployment to Ramadi. During my first deployment, Ramadi was the one place a soldier didn't want to get stationed. There were constant mortar attacks and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] left and right.
When I finished my first deployment, Ramadi was still a horrible place and one I never hoped to see again. Lo and behold, my unit received orders to deploy once again, my BDE [brigade] received orders to Baghdad, and I was very excited to know it was not Ramadi.
As luck would have it, my BN [battalion] was the only one chosen to go back to Ramadi out of my entire BDE. When we got here, everything was pretty much the same. There were constant mortar attacks and there were new types of IEDs.
Then around November of 2006, there was an attack on a local sheik, and we came to his defense. We helped him out and offered him our help if he helped us in return. Thanks to that one incident, local sheiks have helped out my unit. Attacks have decreased by over 80%. The last mortar attack was sometime in February, and the last IED attack was over 2 months ago.
The alliance with the sheiks has boosted my unit's credibility with the local populace. We have cleared the local districts of local insurgents,
>Finding ways to do some good
Sgt. Jae Min Yandow, a former Fredonia State student who is now a medic with Company
C, 203rd Forward Support Battalion, sent along a copy of a story from Army Task Force Marne's publication, The Dog Face Daily. It was titled, "203rd FSB medics bring hope, new leg to Iraqi boy." Yandow, who is from Rochester, describes the ups and downs of being in Iraq:
We recently went on a mission to refit a young Iraqi boy for a new prosthetic leg. He had his leg blown away by a roadside bomb a few years ago and was quickly outgrowing his old one.
We accomplish missions like this, and it gives us a real rewarding sense of satisfaction. Then there are missions when we provide medical support for convoys and wait to get blown up, all for some stupid gravel.
We think we are making a difference when we help, but only get roadside bombs in return. It is not national loyalty the Iraqis are after, it is money.
The best paying job currently is planting roadside bombs. For 600 dollars you can get any Iraqi to plant one targeting coalition forces. This [story] is just one brief example showing some good we are doing.
>All the wrong reasons
and the people around here love us for it. When we first got here, the streets were deserted, and now shops are reopening and the locals are coming back out with no fear.
Yes, I agree the media does portray all the bad things that have happened in Iraq, yet they won't mention how Ramadi has come a long way. They won't mention how we came as one unit and started this whole trend of teaming with sheiks.
It's sad how the media speaks about everything that is negative that the army has done, such as killing innocent people, yet they won't talk about how that same unit probably helped build a school and gave people some freedom to walk around the streets without any fear of being killed by an insurgent. If anything, I believe we have done a great thing for this city.
This city is now changing, with my unit and the rest of the units in Ramadi leading the way.
>Finding rhyme and reason in the war
Sgt. Russell Snyder, assigned to A Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion
in support of the 3rd Infantry Division on his second tour in Iraq, was born in Buffalo and has family here. He writes, "I think they would get a kick out of reading this short poem."
"The Road to al Qaim" In fallow fields the wheat still grows Though no one comes to tend the rows But tanks and Soldiers as they sweep Across the barren plain and seek To sow a seed of hope For evil still pervades the land And victory's not yet at hand But these young men from far away Are waiting for their judgment day In hope that each by God is blessed As they confront their greatest test Of courage and morality Where everyone has lost a friend Each man looks forward to the end Searching for the reason why So many people here must die For the shafts of wheat to rise once more And beauty to the land restore Technical Sgt. Thomas R. Mayes of Buffalo is a 17-year veteran and an Air Force reservist
stationed in Niagara Falls. He is assigned to the 447th Air Expeditionary Group. He does not like the mission in Iraq. Part of his message follows:
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 ... This war is not about terrorists.
There are newer, younger, lower middleclass and poorer soldiers here dying every day. They believe that they are here for a glorious cause. They are being blown away, assassinated, picked off and kidnapped at will. They drive on booby-trapped roads, they are going door to door in unchartered territory.
We send home almost 4 dead bodies a day in coffins back to the States. In Baghdad, there are no safe zones. Anyone of us, no matter where you are, could be a target.
I, like thousands of other U.S. troops, am following orders that most of us know are for the wrong reasons.
I have three months to go in Iraq. May God bless all United States Troops.
>We don't know when to fold 'em
Staff Sgt. Desmond J. Allen, 25, is in Balad, Iraq, but he was born and raised in Buffalo.
He now serves with the Homestead, Fla., Air Force Reserve and was on a 90-day tour in Iraq. He writes:
My job is a weapons loader. I load 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs, missiles and bullets on the F-16 fighter aircraft.
As far as the mission goes, I think the U.S. is here for more than just creating a democracy for the Iraqis. I call home to tell my family how I'm doing, and they tell me that gas prices are the same price as the No. 6 at Mc- Donald's. So are we here for other goals? Heck, yeah, we need that oil.
Being stationed here makes you appreciate all the simple things in life: Family, friends, cable, temperatures not in the 130s, Internet - all the things we fight for that make America America.
I think of this war like a poker game, we lose a few hands, but we're still the chip holder. We win a few more, but we just don't know how to sit it out, then fold and go home with our shirt on our back.
Do I think the U.S. will get the Iraqi government on its feet? Yes, but how long will it take and to what expense? More spending, more lost lives.
It seems that money fell out of the air for this war for another nation quicker than it did for Hurricane Katrina victims. Like I said, oil and blood don't mix.
Please keep us in your prayers; hope to see you all soon, and just maybe the Bills will win the Super Bowl in my lifetime.
>Hope in the heart of Baghdad
Staff Sgt. Anthony Flores is with B Troop 4th Squadron 9th Cavalry, and calls Yonkers home. He sees some rays of hope beginning to shine in the heart of Baghdad:
My unit is currently assigned in and around the Haifa Street area [of Baghdad]. When my unit first assumed patrol duties, dead bodies of executed Iraqis were commonly found in the streets. From one to several were found dumped like trash.
The insurgents used this tactic to elicit fear in both the Sunni and Shiite people that live in the area. After a fierce battle in which the insurgents were forced from the area by U.S. and Iraqi military, people returned to what were once empty streets where only stray dogs would roam even during daylight hours.
Since then, 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. Children play soccer on the streets and the roads are filled with people trying to live peacefully.
If not for the efforts and sacrifices of those of us who choose to serve, the bodies of the dead would still be accumulating on a daily basis. If that doesn't make a difference, then I don't know what else would qualify.
Helping people who are not capable of protecting themselves from those who have come to their country to fight American soldiers makes me feel as though we are doing the right thing here. It's about time.