04 Apr 2004 Keep the Faith: A Letter from Iraq, by Joe Roche
I’m in Baghdad, Iraq.
I’m a soldier with the U.S. Army serving in the 16th Combat Engineer Battalion.
The news you are hearing stateside is awfully depressing and negative. The reality is we are accomplishing a tremendous amount here, and the Iraqi people are not only benefiting greatly, but are enthusiastically supportive.
My job is mostly to be the driver of my platoon’s lead Humvee. I see the missions our Army is performing, and I interact closely with the Iraqi people. Because of this, I know how successful and important our work is.
My battalion carries out dozens of missions all over the city — missions that are improving peoples’ lives. We have restored schools and universities, hospitals, power plants and water systems. We have engineered new infrastructure projects and much more. We have also brought security and order to many of Baghdad’s worst areas — areas once afflicted with chaos and brutality.
Our efforts to train vast numbers of Iraqis to police and secure the city’s basic law and order are bearing fruit.
Our mission is vital. We are transforming a once very sick society into a hopeful place. Dozens of newspapers and the concepts of freedom of religious worship and expression are flowering here. So, too, are educational improvements.
This is the work of the U.S. military.
Our progress is amazing. Many people who knew only repression and terror now have hope in their heart and prosperity in their grasp.
Every day the Iraqi people stream out into the streets to cheer and wave at us as we drive by. When I’m on a foot patrol, walking among a crowd, countless people thank us –repeatedly.
I realize the shocking image of a dead soldier or a burning car is more sellable than boring, detailed accounts of our rebuilding efforts. This is why you hear bad news and may be receiving an incorrect picture.
Baghdad has more than 5 million inhabitants. If these people were in an uprising against the United States, which you might think is happening, we would be overwhelmed in hours. There are weapons everywhere, and though we are working hard to gather them all, we simply can’t.
Our Army is carrying out approximately 1,700 convoys and patrols each day. Only a tiny percentage actually encounter hostile action. My unit covers some of the worst and most intense areas, and I have seen some of the most tragic attacks and hostility, such as the bombing of the United Nations headquarters. I’m not out of touch with the negative side of things. In fact, I think my unit has it harder than many other Army units in this whole operation. That said, despite some attacks, the overall picture is one of extreme success and much thanks.
The various terrorist enemies we are facing in Iraq are really aiming at you back in the United States. This is a test of will for our country. We soldiers of yours are doing great and scoring victories in confronting the evil terrorists.
The reality is one of an ever-increasing defeat of the enemies we face. Our enemies are therefore more desperate. They are striking out more viciously and indiscriminately. I realize this is causing Americans stress, and I assure you it causes us stress, too.
When I was a civilian, I spent time as a volunteer with the Israeli army. I assure you we are not facing the hostility Israelis face. Here in Iraq, we Americans are welcomed by most Iraqis.
I’m not trying to sound like a big tough guy. I’m scared every day, and pray before every mission for our safety and success. This is a combat zone. We are in the heart of the world’s leading terrorist birthing society. I remember well how families of suicide bombers who attacked in Israel received tens of thousands of dollars from Saddam for their kins’ horrendous crimes. A generation of Iraqis was growing up in a Stalinist worship of such terrorism.
They are no longer.
Instead, Iraqis today are embracing freedom and the birth of democracy. With this comes hope for the future.
Yes, there are terrorists who wish to strike these things down, but this is a test of will we must win.
We can do this, as long as Americans at home keep faith with the soldiers in this war.
We are Americans, after all. We can and must win this test. That is all it is.
Joe Roche serves with the U.S. Army’s 16th Combat Engineer Battalion in Iraq and is an adjunct fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington think-tank.