A soldier’s perspective on Iraq

On 26 February 2009 I attended a presentation by Iraqi citizen and international journalist Haider Hamza that was co-sponsored by the campus life program I advise, the University of Minnesota Army ROTC Cadet Battalion. When Hillel, the eventâÄôs primary sponsor, invited my campus life program to participate in this event I knew that it would be a powerful experience. As a Soldier who deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in June 2003, I have some familiarity with the conflict in Iraq. Consequently, approximately 10 cadets and I were present for his talk. HaiderâÄôs slideshow presentation was definitely graphic, and the stories that accompanied many of his pictures painted an overall picture of tragedy, lawlessness, and destruction. It is important to note that when I arrived in Baghdad as a member of the 1st Armor Division, we assumed responsibility for ground taken by the initial invasion forces of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I personally observed the aftereffects of a force whose focus was only to destroy; a force that gave no thought to the future efforts necessary to rebuild what was destroyed. Consequently, while I was deeply saddened by the image of a Soldier from the invasion force purportedly about to execute five naked and unarmed men in one of HaiderâÄôs photos, I was not completely surprised. What I specifically told Alex Ebert, Daily Reporter, is that the invasion forceâÄôs thought process went no further than, âÄúWe will topple Saddam;âÄù that was the only mission they were given. It was the mission of subsequent units like mine to reconstruct Iraq; we started with no template, civilians paralyzed with fear, a shattered infrastructure, and the tools of war. From my perspective, our military is doing a hard task there and we are making progress towards peace in Iraq. Throughout HaiderâÄôs presentation, I reflected on my own experiences in that place and afterwards I gathered the cadets together. This is what I told them: âÄúYou are the protectors of your SoldiersâÄô souls; if you allow them to react to a loss with emotionally-charged rage, then even if you can prevent the law from officially condemning them, still you have damned them with eternal guilt for their dishonorable actions. Understand that as officers your primary mission is to build, not to destroy. Only you have the power to ensure that your Soldiers do not forget themselves, even for a moment. One act of lawlessness can undo 100 good acts.âÄù John Zillhardt University Employee