In Iraq, servicemembers' focus is on day-to-day duties, not politics
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DAGGER, Iraq — As more and more Americans seek a timeline explaining their country’s withdrawal from Iraq, Staff Sgt. Angela Williams thinks she knows what the next few years look like for her.
The 35-year-old from Greenwood, S.C., is on her second Iraq deployment in the past three years. She thinks she’ll be back in Iraq before she retires from the Army in six years.
“I expect if not once, at least twice,” she said as she swept the mess hall kitchen of FOB Dagger, home to the leadership of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“I see that we’re over here for a reason,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be settled anytime soon. There’s too many people willing to fight. When you make lives better, it’s worth it. But we are paying a high price for it.”
Back home, people are growing anxious about that high price. Since the March 2003 invasion, 1,740 servicemembers have died and 13,190 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon’s latest report.
More than half of Americans say the war in Iraq was a mistake and that Washington should set a timetable for removing troops, according to a poll last week by Gallup for USA Today and CNN.
The poll said about a third of Americans say they think the United States and its allies are winning the war against insurgents in Iraq, the lowest level of support recorded by Gallup. At the same time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found a solid majority of Americans believe U.S. troops should stay until civil order is restored. That in mind, President Bush addressed the nation last week to make his case for his Iraqi policy.
But few soldiers here have time to watch political speeches.
Williams heads a dozen soldiers whose main job is relaying food from a large base to the smaller mess hall at Dagger. Since deploying to Iraq in late January, these soldiers have made more than 500 food runs.
It’s not the high-profile work of infantry and armor battalions who spend hours each day on patrol and run into homemade bombs and gunfights. Still, Williams’ soldiers prepare for the worst on each trip. They bring armored Humvees with gunners along with the cargo trucks carrying food.
Serving three meals a day means working from 4:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with a two-hour break in the afternoon.
“This deployment is taking it out of me,” Williams said.
One of her soldiers, Pvt. Quincy Black, 32, from Sumter, S.C., has been in 14 months and gets out in 2007. He thinks he’ll probably come back to Iraq at least once in that time. He’s not planning on re-enlisting.
Spc. Dexter Cobbs, 23, of Jonesboro, Ark., is in his second year in the Army. He joined because he wanted to be a chef. In Iraq, much of the military’s food is prepared by private contractors, so the closest Cobbs gets is serving it out of commercial-sized insulated bins.
When asked what he’s cooked here in nearly six months, he laughs. “Microwave popcorn,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Cobbs said he believes the American government is doing the right thing in Iraq. Americans are lucky to have freedom, he said.
“We can’t keep it to ourselves,” Cobbs said.
He understands, though, the growing impatience at home.
“They think [change is] going to come quick,” he said.
Spc. Rhonda Hickson has been in the Army for four years and has deployed three times. She was in Afghanistan, in Iraq in 2003 and now is serving a year in Tikrit.
“I’ll probably make it a career,” said the 23-year-old from Scranton, S.C., who said the war in Iraq is helping to keep terrorists from attacking America. She’s willing to come back.
“You know it’s going to happen,” she said. “I try not to let things get to me. I guess that’s what keeps me going day to day.”
For Sgt. Tedrian Carlton, 34, of Hinesville, Ga., her kids keep her going.
Carlton grew up near Fort Stewart and always wanted to join the military. She finally signed up six years ago. She wishes the time here would hurry by so she could go back home to her two children. But, like Williams, she’s choosing the military as a career and she knows that means she’ll be back in Iraq in the coming years.
“I think Saddam [Hussein] was a threat,” she said. “And anybody that’s a threat to the U.S. — you can’t put a price on that.”
“I think the people at home, they want to know when it’s going to end,” she said. “I think the soldiers want to know, too. We deserve that. I think we’re owed to know when it’s going to end.”
She also senses that if the American presence — and losses of life — continue for many more years, more people will lose patience.
“If we left right now, it’d be terrible,” she said. “But if we leave in six years and nothing’s changed, it’d be worse.”