Troops angry but accepting as Bush skips Baghdad
Stars and Stripes June 8, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Army Spc. Timothy Counce didn’t necessarily need a personal hello from President Bush during the commander in chief’s Middle East tour over the past few days — but the fact that Bush flew over Baghdad without stopping to say thanks to the troops burns him up a bit.
“We’re the ones doing all the hard work, living in the sand every day, doing the shooting and getting shot at,” said Counce, 29, assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1166th Military Police Company out of Thomasville, Ala. “We’re the troops doing the job.”
His sentiment isn’t shared by all in his company, who provided security and convoy escort Saturday to civil engineers assessing public-work needs in a section of Baghdad called Medical City.
It’s been less than a month since the United States and coalition forces toppled the reigning Baath Party and leader Saddam Hussein — and the country just isn’t safe enough, countered a fellow MP, Spc. Bobby Ryals, 19, of Montgomery, Ala.
“If I was him, I wouldn’t land here,” added Spc. Ryan Bean, 18.
Troops were most frustrated by not knowing when they would pull up and head for home.
“There’s no indication when we might be going home,” said Sgt. Bill Atkins, 38. “We’ve heard August, we’ve heard December.
“And we’re a National Guard unit. Technically, National Guard is designed to operate at home, not go around the world. It’s frustrating because there are active-duty soldiers who signed up for this full time sitting home. This is part time for us.
“I’m not griping about it,” Atkins said. “I just don’t completely understand it.”
Opinions of Bush’s decision not to stop in Iraq were mixed among the active-duty forces of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 1st Armored Division. The company is out of Friedberg, Germany.
The president was smart not to land in a still-hostile nation, said Spc. Eduardo Salinis, 25, a soldier for two years.
But if Bush had stopped, Salinis would have thanked him for the opportunity to be in Iraq.
“I would have said: ‘Nice to meet you and thanks for sending us over here.’ Since March, I’ve wanted to do this. It’s my job and what I’m trained to do,” Salinis said.
But if Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair can come, and U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of Central Command, can come, so should Bush, said Sgt. Jermaine Ellington, 25.
“It would have been nice for him to show us his support by being here,” Ellington said.
Safe or not, Ryals was disappointed by one thing: knowing Bush flew over Baghdad.
“He could have at least dropped some hamburgers or something.”