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Mideast edition, Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Recently our unit held a memorial service for another one of our soldiers who was killed in action. This was his third tour in Iraq. He was 22 years old, married with two children.

As a soldier not unlike the many thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have deployed to this region, I trust neither his sacrifice nor his family’s loss could now or in the future be viewed as senseless. Alarmingly, politicians — and, it seems, a large majority of Americans — are calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops long before the job here is done.

We should all realize by now that there are a number of reasons why U.S. forces are committed to Iraq and the Middle East. We were attacked. Let us not forget Sept. 11. The madman dictator Sadam Hussein was still failing to fully comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. We all felt terribly vulnerable as a nation.

We should also embrace the fact that stability here and the availability of oil are high on the list of American interests. In decades past we’ve devoted a great deal more for far less. Given the circumstances, how could any responsible leader have gambled with our country’s security and future?

A withdrawal right now would be nothing short of a retreat and just shy of outright surrender. We can’t run. Our future, our reputation, our investment in lives and resources is at stake. Defeating the terrorist threat and establishing any semblance of democracy in the heartland of the Middle East isn’t going to be like picking up your No.4 at the drive-thru window of Burger King.

We’ve sowed the seeds of democracy. In time they will take root and spread like weeds in some country back lot. We’ve done it before where others said it could not be done. We should remember it took nearly 50 years to win the Cold War. Must we be reminded of what happened the last time America failed to rally behind both our military and its goals? It took nearly 20 years and Desert Storm before our nation recovered from that one.

Our foes are scared like crazy. They are fearful of the fact that we are achieving our goals in Iraq and elsewhere. They are trying to win this war the only way they can. Our adversaries seek to sway our collective will through their typical brand of terror and intimidation. America’s hesitation is in effect their call to arms and serves as motivation for terrorists to carry on their reign of mayhem. Make no mistake: The bad guys believe that if they can just hold on long enough that the American people will further lose faith resulting in the early withdraw of troops.

A withdrawal at this point would be viewed as weakness and could mean only one thing: The terrorists and extremists will have their victory.

I’ve heard it mentioned that our enemies are resolute in defeating our efforts with 1,000 cuts. As cliché as it sounds, we are defeating them with 1,001 steps forward. An Iraqi child who waves at a passing convoy is a small yet a very positive step forward. The re-establishment of a water pumping station or power station is a larger step forward. Decent Iraqi citizens going about their lives, the establishment of a new Iraqi police station or a successful recruiting drive filling the ranks of the Iraqi army is a common occurrence. Most notable of all is that Iraqis are voting. I was here during Operation Iraqi Freedom III and I assure you these things were not happening like they are now in OIF V. We are making progress and so are the Iraqi people and Iraq’s security forces.

We absolutely must accomplish our goals in Iraq. Sadly, it will result in the loss of more American lives and no doubt many more Iraqi lives. We will spend billions more dollars. Still, this is the only way Americans can in the future know that our sacrifices were not in vain.

Our servicemembers have enjoyed the awe-inspiring moral support of Americans at home, yet it is conflicting in some ways. Upon my return from OIF III there existed a demoralizing air of defeat. For those of us serving here, these attitudes are utterly detrimental and, at times, confusing. It seems most U.S. citizens support the soldier, but apparently not the objectives and goals we as soldiers are fighting to achieve. We heartily embrace the emotional support but we need that same patriotic backing to champion our call to arms. Let’s face it, victory in Iraq might never be achieved without the full support and understanding of the American people to carry us through.

Shouting from the bleachers “We love you, guys” is awesome. We must also hear chants of “Win, win, win!” and “United we stand, divided we fail.”

Let us not relinquish the sacrifices of those thousands of servicemembers who have died fighting for America’s causes in Iraq and elsewhere. Neither can we forget the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have perished here. And then there are the many thousands of gravely wounded men and women who must forever carry the burden of their service in this part of the world.

Regardless of how anyone feels about why we’re here or how this started, we are undeniably committed. If we leave Iraq before our objectives are met, then the most powerful and influential nation on Earth would be admitting defeat. America’s future, security and interests will be in serious jeopardy. An early withdrawal from Iraq is tantamount to leaving a falling comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy. Maybe worst of all, someone will have to face a mother or father, a daughter, a son, or the wife of a fallen servicemember to somehow justify why we gave up in light of the fact theirs gave all.

Sgt. Maj. Gerald T. Peil serves at Forward Operating Base Ramadi, Iraq.

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