Keep the faith – we are, the Iraqi people are

I’m in Baghdad, Iraq, as a soldier with the U.S. Army in the 16th Combat Engineer Battalion. The news stateside is awfully depressing and negative. The reality is we are accomplishing a tremendous amount here, and the Iraqi people are not only benefiting greatly but are enthusiastically supportive.

My job is mostly to be the driver of my platoon’s lead Humvee. In this capacity, I see the missions our Army is performing, and I interact closely with the Iraqi people. Because of this I know how successful and important our work is.

My battalion carries out dozens of missions all over the city that are improving peoples’ lives. We have restored schools and universities, hospitals, power plants, water systems, engineered new infrastructure projects, sent many Iraqi engineers onto large construction projects and much more. We have also brought security and order to many of Baghdad’s worst areas, once afflicted with chaos and brutality. And now our efforts to train vast numbers of Iraqis to police and secure the city’s basic law and order, as well as vital infrastructure, are beginning to bear fruit.

This is a vital mission transforming a once very sick society into a hopeful place. Dozens of newspapers, freedom of religious worship and expression, and educational improvements are flowering here like crazy. This is the work of the U.S. Army.

Our progress is amazing. Many places in this city that always knew only repression and terror from Saddam Hussein’s regime are now functioning more and more with hope and prosperity in their grasp.

Every day the Iraqi people stream out into the streets to cheer and wave at us as we drive by. When I’m on a foot patrol, walking among a crowd, countless people thank us repeatedly.

I realize the shocking image of a dead soldier and a burning car is more sellable than boring, detailed accounts of our rebuilding efforts. This is why you are only hearing bad news and receiving an incorrect picture.

Baghdad has more than 5 million inhabitants. If these people were in an uprising against the United States, which you might think is happening, we would be overwhelmed in hours. There are weapons everywhere, and though we are working hard to gather them all up, we simply can’t.

Our Army is carrying out around 1,700 convoys and patrols each day. If you do the math, this means only a tiny percentage are actually encountering hostile action. My unit covers some of the worst and most intense areas, and I have seen some of the most tragic attacks and hostility, such as the bombing of the United Nations headquarters. I’m not out of touch with the negative side of things. In fact, I think my unit has it harder than many other Army units in this whole operation. That said, despite attacks and the minority of rejection, the overall picture is one of extreme success and much thanks.

The various terrorist enemies we are facing in Iraq are really aiming at you back in the United States. This is a test of will for our country. We soldiers of yours are doing great and scoring victories, even in confronting the evil terrorists that have afflicted the Iraqi people, other allied forces and of course my fellow soldiers. The reality on the ground is one of an ever-increasing defeat of the enemies we face.

Our enemies are therefore more desperate. They are striking out more viscously and indiscriminately. I realize this is causing you stress, and I assure you it causes us stress too.

My time with the Israeli army gave me an ability to clearly see through the fog of conflict in Baghdad. I gained much understanding of the scope of conflict and depths of crises that can bring good people on all sides into mortal combat.

From what I saw in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, I assure you we are facing none of the hostility Israelis face. Here we are welcomed by most Iraqis.

I’m not trying to sound like a big tough guy. I’m scared every day, and pray before every mission for our safety and success. This is a combat zone because we are in the heart of the world’s leading terrorist birthing society. I remember well how families of suicide bombers, who attacked in Israel, received tens of thousands of dollars from Saddam for their kin’s horrendous crime. And most perniciously, a generation of Iraqis was growing up in a Stalinist worship of such terrorism.

Instead, Iraqis today are embracing freedom and the birth of democracy. With this comes a dedicated hope for the future. Kids are going to school to learn about the world, ideas and trades that will benefit this society.

Yes there are terrorists who wish to strike these things down, but this is the test of will we must defeat.

We can do this, as long as you keep faith with the soldiers in this war.

We are Americans, after all, and therefore we can and must win this test. That is all it is.

Joe Roche is a former Minnesota Daily columnist and University graduate deployed in Iraq. Send comments to [email protected]