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The Long war

Times are frustrating. We are trying to work with the Iraqi people. My position affords me opportunities to see this on various levels. I often ride or walk through the streets in Iraq on patrol. I can feel the vibe in the city. There are days when it feels as if I'm joyriding, sightseeing, or parading down the streets. And there are days when the hair on the back of my neck crawls. On occasion, I attend meetings with Iraqi officers or people on the street with complaints. Iraqi people have much fear and apprehension; there is a delicate balance of trust. The Marines and the Army have done damage in the cities we patrol, and our uniforms stand out. We are working with them, training them, giving them aid, handing out candy, toys, and toothbrushes for the kids. Under Saddam, the people knew what to expect. They feared him and knew the system was corrupt. Challenging the system got people shot or decapitated or their families hurt. Now soldiers in those same uniforms are trying to help them. The Iraqis have a newly elected government on top of old tribal customs, beliefs, politics, and corruption. The people do not know whom to trust, and my heart goes out to them. We rely on interpreters to accurately convey our thoughts and convictions. I watch as they talk, and I can see and feel their emotions, not knowing which way to turn. On the other hand, the terrorists wear no uniforms, change their tactics, and often work as sleepers to gain trust and access before committing to a suicide bomb.

I believe the Iraqis are good people and keep reminding myself how long it took the U.S. to become a united country. I now appreciate how diverse Americans are and see the things we take for granted. The American army is, after all, a microcosm of America held to a tighter standard by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We are here to provide a positive example for the Iraqis while respecting their beliefs. Doing so, we have given up more freedoms than being away from our families, and we live on cots in tents.

We received more upgrades to our body armor. With my helmet, vest, and crotch protector, I feel as if I am wearing samurai armor. Survivability and mobility are inversely proportional -- the more gear we put on, the less we can move, or want to move, in the heat. It takes time to break in and get used to before the gear becomes familiar and fluid. I think the tenets of Bushido have gone the way of the sword, more a decorative conversation piece than a warrior ethos.

There is a distinct difference between being a soldier and being a warrior. Although soldiering involves performing a job with a great deal of sacrifice, being a warrior really internalizes a commitment of mind, body, heart, and spirit. I don't think people understand why we are here or why we want to or should be here. It's not really for the combat patch, medals, oil, economy, et cetera. We hear there are still people home protesting the war and voting at town meetings for us to come home. We are not fighting Iraqis. We are fighting corruption and fear. I have talked to several Iraqis in positions of authority. They all say the insurgents are either non-Iraqi Muslims who fear democracy and American influence and think our presence here weakens the Muslim/tribal culture, or they are people who were in Saddam's back pocket and are upset because they no longer have power and riches. The Iraqis seem to want us here to help rebuild and bring them out of poverty.

I wish the war protestors could see into the eyes of the children here. Support the troops by supporting these people. We are all related. I am an idealist, and I am here. I do not want to go home because of the way people feel back home. I am not giving up my seat so someone can die in my place. I am here to make a difference. It may be to influence a handful of Iraqis and their children, so they do not grow up to hate Americans or become terrorists, or it may be to keep the guys in my unit alive. In any event, this is my path; I have to do the best I can.


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