Some troops in Iraq encouraged, others disheartened by ISG report, Gates' testimony
BAGHDAD — Some of those participating in the war in Iraq are either happy to hear fresh talk about it from the States, or don’t really care what the people stateside are saying.
That both Robert Gates, the new secretary of defense, and members of the Iraq Study Group said last week that the United States is not winning the war was viewed as either encouraging, disheartening or irrelevant.
“I have some friends who are out there every day, and I don’t think they’re concerned with what the opinions are back in the States,” said Staff Sgt. John Trask, a lab technician at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone, commonly known as the Green Zone.
“For them, it comes to a point where you’re just trying to keep each other alive. It’s hard enough to concentrate on keeping out of harm’s way without worrying about what the politicians think.”
“I think it’s degrading to the morale of the soldiers who are out patrolling in the red zone constantly,” said Spc. Matthew Lewis, a histology technician at the hospital. “I think we’re definitely making progress, but if we’re winning the war, I’m not the guy looking at the big picture.”
Some thought that progress wasn’t coming as quickly as they’d like, and some welcomed fresh ideas.
“I’m happy to hear some honest observations based on what we are seeing here,” said Spc. Ronald Haley of the 356th Broadcast Operations Detachment. “When we hear that there may be a new approach, a new direction, that encourages the guys down here that the work we’ll be doing is going to be worthwhile.”
Army Sgt. Peter Yager, who is serving his second deployment in Iraq and has served one in Afghanistan, believed that language — Arabic, that is — was a big key to winning.
“We should focus more on setting up the Iraqi security forces than on fighting the insurgency,” said Yager, of Psychological Operations Task Force Iraq.
“If we think U.S. boots on the ground is the way to beat the insurgency, then we need a lot more of them, out in the street, and speaking Arabic, or we need to change the way we do things.”
Spc. Renee Rice, an operating room technician at the hospital, said that nobody wins in war, and that all sides had already suffered devastating losses.
“The best thing to do now is keep an eye on the mission and help these people,” Rice said. “If it means staying here a couple more years, then that’s what we have to do.”
Capt. Clay McVay, commander of the 15th Engineer Company based at LSA Anaconda, said he has not seen the debate back home affecting his troop’s morale or their performance. More than 60 percent of his soldiers are just out of advanced training and are focused on their jobs here in Iraq.
“These guys joined the Army knowing very well that they would be going to Iraq, and I think we’re better because of it,” McVay said. “Some of them are thrill-seekers and some of them have a powerful, patriotic sense of duty.”
He believes whatever course the United States takes, it has to be the right one because there won’t be another chance.
“Whether it’s a matter of pulling troops out or having them stay, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s way above my head to say which one is right. Whatever we do in the next two or three years though, we can’t be wrong.
“Everyone wants to do the right thing, but not everyone sees ‘right’ as being the same thing. I’ll support whatever the government says is right because they see more than I do, they see the bigger picture.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Monte Morin contributed to this story.