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Reports on the war in Iraq and its impact on the country

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I live on St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia.  St. Simons is an affluent semi-resort community that counts among its population a number of veterans and more than its fair share of retired military officers. We, along with our neighbor, Sea Island, hosted the G-8 Conference in June 2004.  Because of our proximity to Ft. Stewart (home of the 3rd ID) and Jacksonville, FL (Mayport Naval Base and NAS JAX), the war is a topic that we hear a lot about. 

People here generally believe we are winning the war. They were very happy the day that Sadaam Hussein was taken into custody.  Locally, people tend to believe that Sadaam Hussein had connections to Al-Quaeda and therefore was somehow responsible for September 11, 2002.  I still hear talk that "weapons of mass destruction" will be found eventually.  Rarely does Osama bin Laden's name arise in conversation; it seems he is only discussed when he releases another one of his videotapes. 

St. Simons is a rather homogenous place— overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and Republican.  The mainland population is somewhat more diverse, but for the most part, the majority seem to support the President in the war against terror. There are detractors, but they do not have a platform from which to speak in this community. 

A few of my son's friends from his high school days are on active duty and are currently in Iraq as are a number of our family members, mostly cousins.  Some of my girlfriends' husbands are officers; two of them got out when it looked like they were going to have to go overseas. Another girlfriend is married to a Reservist; her husband has been deployed to Iraq and she has been left behind to care for their two young children.  A local cardiologist who is a also a Reservist had to close his medical practice in order to serve.  He has been in Iraq more than 18 months. 

Recently, I took my 80-year old father to our local Veteran's Day parade.  There was great community support for the veterans and the National Guard and active military who were participating in the parade.  People here tend to be very patriotic and, if in fact they were opposed to the war, would be reluctant to protest.  In a small town one has to watch what one says and does.  It could have a chilling effect on one's livelihood if one were expressing opinions counter to the popular ones. 

There seems to be a flurry of activity as we lead up to the Christmas holiday.  There are "drives" on all the local television and radio stations for people to donate items to send to military personnel serving overseas.  I haven't heard of any community-wide effort to help the families that remain here in the States, particularly those of Guard families who have, in many cases, had their earnings cut significantly.  However, people here, for all their talk about winning this war, still really only want one thing— for it to be over.  And soon.
—Mary Kessel Starr, St. Simons Island, Ga.

My brother invited me, this summer, to come work with him in Afghanistan. I was unsure as to whether or not this was a good idea, but after my mom told me that she thought I should go, I threw in the towel, quit my job, and moved out to Kabul. I had never been to the Middle East before, and I figured it would be a good learning experience. Since I’ve been here, I’ve made many friends in the community. We are working at the Medical University here in Kabul, setting up a computer network for the students, and assisting another American professor that works for our University in the States. As I walk the halls of the University, I am often used for English practice. The majority of the students, and even shop keepers around town, that I’ve talked to, are happy about the American presence here in Kabul. I have yet to meet one person who does not support President Karzai.

Since I have been here, I have followed the news coverage very carefully, and I must say that I’ve been fairly disappointed. There are a few things I think they’ve missed. Number one, Karzai is not a puppet for the Americans. Also remember that Karzai won the popular vote in this country by a landslide. I would remind you that these elections were not overseen by US military, it was the United Nations that oversaw these elections, and if you have doubts about whether or not they may have tampered with the vote, why don’t you look back at the past 10 years of UN history and see what their opinion is of the United States, particularly when it comes to “nation building.” His nearest competitor was only able to capture about 16% of the vote, does that sound like the result of a nation who does not stand behind their President? President Karzai depends, almost wholey, on the aid money coming into this country. Being that the majority of that money is coming out of the United States, of course he’s friendly toward our government. Remember, 60% of the United Nations total budget is paid through the tax dollars we all pay. So, one way to look at that is, 60% of every project done by the UN here is paid for by the United States.

The US military has funded multiple projects at our school, and is currently paying local workers to put a new roof on our school. President Karzai has just been given real power. Previously he was just a figure head, now he has the power he needs to do some serious reform. Having talked with high level friends at the Embassy, here in Kabul, I can tell you that he plans to get things moving in the right direction by removing the other figure heads that were placed in positions of power by the interim government. Expect positive change in the very near future. President Karzai is a bright man, and I think, with continued support from the International community, and epecially the US government, this nation may just surprrse the rest of the world with it’s rapid progress into the 21st century.  —John Jutzy, Kabul, Afghanistan and Bosie, ID

To set the scene:  My brother Gregg has two sons in Iraq, his oldest son, Christopher, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, and his youngest son, Nicholas, a Marine Reserve.  His middle son, Jake, is a mechanic for another brother's logging company-Gregg works for that brother as well, operating a slasher in the woods, sitting inside a cab while doing so and listening to NPR stations out of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  As my siblings and I did, Gregg's three sons grew up in our small northern Wisconsin town of Mellen, population around 1000, with more deer than people in the surrounding rural area.

Chris is scheduled to leave the Tikrit area for Germany after the Iraqi elections, Nick arrived south of Baghdad in early October.  We've been able to get email to and from Chris.  Nick has gone internet incommunicado since the Falluja offensive, with one snail mail letter arriving the Friday after Thanksgiving, dated 11/12 where Nick talks about having the one good meal since setting foot in Iraq-steak and lobster-to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday.  He told his dad he was reading The Federalist Papers in his spare time.  Considering his location, in the so-called Triangle of Death, we imagine how furiously busy he is, how much in harm's way, how few showers, how many meals of K-rations.  But can only imagine.

I can't possibly tell you how Nick's and Chris's deployment has affected family and friends in a space of 500 or less words, but you need to know this much:  In support and concern, we back home have created a network of crisscrossing phone and internet lines throughout the world.  I live in Seattle, for example, and my husband relays news to his mother in Moenchengladbach, Germany.  Gregg in Mellen is the hub.  Everyday, he comes in from the woods and around 4 p.m. emails the boys from the City Hall library.  He talks about having completed a job in Herbster, but that the next day he'll move the behemoth slasher to Upson.  He keeps the boys apprised of Maggie, their sister, who's a nurse in Wausau, three hours south.  He tells them how Kittifur, their ancient cat who grew up with them, hates the snow, but nevertheless gets forced out the door twice a day to eat.  And signing off, he reminds them to "comb their hair," or some such fatherly touch.  Tomorrow he'll write again.  Gregg then cc's the rest of the family, and I'm there with him.  He generously allows us to share in his interaction with his sons via the ethernet, where miraculously, words fly faster than we could lick an envelop to a land of violence and also hope.  We are joined together by a web of concern for our two young men and for the larger world, by love that we believe Nick and Chris will thrive on as long as we keep sending it.  For certain, Iraq is not Vietnam in one most important way:  the internet keeps us all in touch, and we are deeply grateful.
Barb Peters, Seattle, Wash.

I am Department Chair of Biomedical Electronics Technology at a Local College in Waco Texas. We train techncians to repair and calibrate medical equipment to save lives.

Traci, a bright, young student of mine who is in her first semester of Biomedical Electronics Engineering, waited after everybody left the class. "Mr. K, I am going to Iraq or Afghanistan."   When I met Traci I already could see her working on some of the most sophiscated medical equipment. It was easy to place her with an employer. She would have started around 30-40 K annual salary. She had a heck of an offer from to work as helicopter mechanic. "But Mr. K, I'll be making 75-135 K. I have a sick husband and lots of bills to pay, I can't afford to go to school. I am not making it."

Another student Jose, with gloomy face, came to me and said "Mr. K, I am dropping out of school to join the Army." When I asked why, he said "My girlfriend is pregnant, she does not have health insurance. I am going to marry her and join the Army and then I'll have health insurance." He said financial aid isn't paying his current bills.

William, another student upset about his grade from his instructor said, "I need a passing grade for this course. Mr. Ed is failing me. Plus, I am joining the Marines. I am looking for a direction in my life and I look forward to going to Iraq." "Are you sure?" I asked. "Yes, I am Mr. K I have never been good with school. This gives me what I always wanted to do."

Nick, one of my instructors recieved an e-mail and he shared it with me. His son wrote him from Iraq. He started working with us over a year ago. Every time I hear in the news that some of our solders have been killed, I always wonder how I am going to deal with his loss if something happened to his son.

This is just a sample of individuals who are around my community affected by the war in Iraq. All of them have some sense of duty and spirit of adventure. But one common denominator that affects them is a strong sense of financial need. The war economy seems to be benefiting all of them. But at I wonder at what cost? —Fred K, Waco, TX

I made a decision to come here because I have valuable skills that will help in the rebuilding of this country (Iraq). I had a pretty fair idea what to expect, but in all honesty there is no comparison.  While you are sitting in your snug little bedrooms, with the probability of a shower tomorrow, the water here is polluted. 

There is no sanitary drinking water, and thousands have no water or power at all.  Their schools have been bombed, they are in essence unable to go about their daily lives— lives that you and I take for granted every day.  The simplest things are hard here, like taking a shower, driving down the street, going to the airport, going to work. 

My work here is assist in the reporting functions for the program management office. Generally, I try to keep things organized so that the government can report the figures accurately.   In the meantime there is a war going on.  I work with an Iraqi girl in my office.   Every night she goes home “into the red zone.”  I’m lucky, I’m in the green (or international zone).  I’m in an area where I have military personnel to protect my interests. 
Iraqi people work with and for us do so for economic reasons—to survive.  And everyday someone hassles these people for working with us.  Truly they don’t understand freedom, something we take for granted too.  Freedom is the ability to make your own decisions without coercion. To understand that this freedom doesn’t exist everywhere is to understand the problem here. 

As time goes by here I find myself so grateful for so much of my life. But even more than that, say a prayer tonight, whether you are Iraqi, American, British, German.  Because ultimately, we are all human.  And only humanity will truly save this country.  I’m not sure the war is won yet. —Deirdre Widen, Mill Creek, Wash.

Our Thanksgiving was especially bittersweet this year, because my husband was home before deploying to Iraq.  This is his fourth deployment to the Middle East during this conflict, serving three separate tours in Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Five of our six children were able to visit with him for this short stint, but we all tried to make every moment count.  My husband is a chaplain, so it is his duty to keep the morale of everyone around him at optimum level.  Visiting with us has hopefully raised his morale at the same rate.  We will miss him desperately, but we know he has a duty to his country.  Our selflessness at home makes it easier for him to focus on the mission at hand.  He will serve, this time, with the 35th Signal Battalion from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We wish them well! 
Elaine Neetz, Fairbanks, Ala.

As we sat down to the Thanksgiving table this year, we are thankful that we have our son out of Iraq safe and sound. He is with his beloved wife traveling to Paris from Germany and enjoying the holiday. Last Thanksgiving, with him in Iraq, we were thankful at that time, he was safe and still alive, hoping everyday that the good Lord would spare his life. A piece of scrapnel in his spleen sent him to Germany a few weeks before he was supposed to leave Iraq with his unit. The affects of war have scared him for life and we pray for him to be able to overcome the nightmares and flashbacks he frequently relives, but thankful we still have him with us to enjoy many more thanksgivings in the years to come. —Randy Quarnberg, Tooele, UT

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