By Capt. Scott A. Leblond '95
NIGHT SKY in central Iraq has changed dramatically the last six-plus months.
The green hue that lets the scene unfold through night-vision devices
now radiates with lights speckling on the horizon. The black vastness
has given way to a land dotted with cities illuminated by electric lights
and the buzz of everyday life. The glow of oil fires and the concentration
of tracer fire that once served as navigational aids to pilots have vastly
diminished. Why is this picture of a return to normalcy not captured by
appreciate all that has happened in such a short time, one must look at
the entirety of events. A country oppressed for nearly 30 years by a ruthless
dictator, a land of immense natural resources and even more unbridled
beauty -- a proud, historic land where modern civilization coexists with
primitive cultures and wilderness -- has been liberated. To call it an
occupation is to belittle the necessity of U.S. involvement. That's like
calling insulin an energy booster for a diabetic. Without the stability
that the U.S.-led coalition provides, this country would perish in anarchy
and waste, preyed upon by the powerful interests of the states that once
claimed to have the best interests of the people at heart.
is one of emotional intensity and political divisiveness, but look anew
and try to see it from one who has boots on the ground.
Arab state, renowned as the birthplace of civilization, is home to roughly
25 million people. It has ruthlessly slaughtered its own people for decades
to bolster the power base for a tyrant, and the price has been heavy.
Internal strife between religious sects, races and socioeconomic classes
has flared since the ousting of Saddam Hussein. The internal squabbles
are nothing new and were expected. What was surprising to all, and preyed
upon by the media as a shortfall in coalition planning, was the decay
in the country's infrastructure while Saddam remained in power.
forces were amazed as they pushed toward their objectives -- not at the
military losses and destruction, but at the destitution that was apparently
rampant for years and the scenes of depravity that greeted soldiers at
every village. Basic services that the media claimed had been destroyed
by advancing combat forces lay in ruins after years of neglect. That is
not to remove all blame for military actions, but rest assured that every
unit commander at all levels ensured that minimum collateral damage would
be wrought. Foresight told each soldier that whatever was destroyed today
would need repair tomorrow, so operate with surgical precision. Every
effort was made to do just this.
forces were met by locals in towns such as Taji, Bayji and even as far
north as Tuz, unafraid to speak of past atrocities for the first time.
The stories held us in awe. Sheiks told of Saddam's anger at individuals
or towns and how he would cut utilities or seize town assets, inflicting
suffering upon all for mere transgressions by a few.
of his power was striking at the very bounds of reality -- he controlled
everything in Iraq through terror, and the results were appalling. With
each city liberated, the soldiers' visions of a quick return home diminished
and the monumental task ahead began to take form. The agencies of government
were also in shambles. A quasi-feudal approach embracing a sham of democracy
and a strong caste system was firmly entrenched. The benefits enjoyed
by even the lowest members of the clan in Tikrit, Saddam's own family,
were not possible for civil leaders in eastern towns like Khanaqin and
raised by international committees and propagated by the media is asinine
to everyone intimately familiar with the realities of present-day Iraq.
A democracy cannot be run by people who have no concept of free elections,
and those who live in Iraq have had no exposure to such ideas for years.
The seemingly simple task of electing city councils is a long, arduous
process that requires daily interaction between the Army's junior leadership
and town elders. The belief that Iraqis would be prepared to step up and
form their own functioning democracy was very idealistic.
what Iraq seemed to be missing most was the stabilizing power that Saddam
had provided. Though ends do not justify means, it is apparent that his
web of terror and ruthless treatment of any who opposed his views were
what kept the deteriorating country from dissolving prior to military
of Iraq's most ruthless criminals has led to problems for coalition forces.
Towns considered hotbeds of enemy activity were found to be housing organized
crime much like in other countries. It is also apparent that in such power
vacuums the cohabitation of Saddam sympathizers, Islamic radicals, anti-American
terrorists and those with ambitions of strengthening organized crime leads
to greater problems. These hostile elements, along with the large quantities
of weaponry and ammunition strewn about during the war, have combined
for the most difficult of situations. To put that into perspective, how
would crime flourish in the United States if massive quantities of heavy
machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and thousands of rounds
of ammunition were lying about the landscape?
of coalition forces to secure such items is an ongoing struggle. Fortunately,
new approaches to fight these threats have led to increased success.
previously mentioned can be gleaned from media sources and personal interaction
with those who have served in Iraq. The hardest part for soldiers on the
ground to understand is the lack of international assistance since the
end of major hostilities. Iraq is truly a situation where world politics
overshadow the basic practice of human decency that many of the institutions
of peace and assistance proclaim to spread.
It was a
given that after a second United Nations resolution was not obtained the
United States would lead the military vanguard with stalwart European
allies to ensure the end of Saddam's reign and any desires he might have
on proliferating weapons of mass destruction. By embedding media, the
scenes described above were relayed across the globe instantaneously,
and international momentum appeared to be changing. Then all goodwill
seemed to end.
Some of the
world's most well-known international aid organizations have left. Deteriorating
security is the cited reason, but how can countries like Angola, Liberia
and East Timor (of recent past) be seen in a better light than the developing
state of Iraq? The withdrawal and cessation of assistance is seen more
in the light of caving in to international political pressure. Even international
aid agencies have budgets, and a united front against the arrogant Coalition
of the Willing would send a message.
of all those countries that seemed to be speaking almost daily on behalf
of the impoverished Iraqis who would lose everything if war ravaged their
land? A majority of these very countries that spoke so loudly have their
names emblazoned on the ammunition crates and military hardware spread
throughout the country. Ironic when world leaders speak on television
of the coalition's floundering actions and how much better their versions
of reform would help, while improved explosive devices (IEDs) objectively
single out these nations as secondhand suppliers to opposition forces.
more energy criticizing a self-righteous segment of the world's nations,
let me instead speak of the pride soldiers have in the fact that such
a small Coalition of the Willing is assisting Iraqis in developing a greater
Iraqi state. Roughly 150,000 soldiers, mostly American, representing all
walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, are serving together to rebuild
a nation. Of further importance, the United States force is all volunteer.
Do not mistake this with "all desiring to be here," because such is not
the case; simple amenities like hot showers and sleep without mortar attacks
is much more desirous. However, almost every soldier has a burning pride
in the contribution that he or she has made and a unique story to tell
about making a difference.
the reporters capturing these stories? Where are the tales of forces that
swept in and ensured the capitulation of Iraqi forces, then set to work
the following week with newly unemployed Iraqi soldiers to repair generators
and water systems that had not worked in years? How come the camera crews
do not fight for better position to watch a newly assigned armor troop
commander sit down with a 70-year-old town elder and explain how to form
a city government -- one that will hold elections and be representative
of the townspeople? How come not a single soldier was required for media
control when American lieutenants trained former Peshmerga soldiers to
work side by side with former Iraqi soldiers (sworn enemies for years)
and become a formidable border security element? It seems such stories
of international significance would be relished amid the scenes of endless
mobs (in two towns) and terrorist attacks.
go on and on. A medical specialist who treats a fallen comrade and then
turns his attention to nationals caught in the blast since local medical
personnel will not respond while bullets are flying. The large-wheel drivers
who spend countless hours on the road in contentious areas and who are
known for giving contraband candy to children along the way, just to see
them smile. The combat engineer who spends all night conducting raids
to ensure that thugs are taken off the street, then works the entire next
day to repair a vital bridge blown up by Saddam loyalists bent on further
crippling a damaged society.
heroes are the true ambassadors of goodwill. They wear camouflage and
carry weapons and are the most formidable war machine the world has ever
seen, but now their focus is on helping a struggling nation rebuild itself
and ensure that all Iraqis realize that the term "super power" represents
more than just military might, it signifies hope.
live in conditions more rustic than the cities they repair. They are separated
from home and family. Yet they and their daily exploits are not shown
in the news unless some tragic event catches them in the wrong place at
the wrong time. These forces come mostly from middle America, are in their
early to mid-20s and have little college. Their peers at home have day
jobs in retail or labor and are portrayed as apathetic youngsters committed
more to improving DVD sales and video game rentals than to voting.
these soldiers are the backbone of the coalition nation-building effort,
and it is their work day in and day out that allows progress to be made
despite the ranting of international leaders who merely talk the talk
while these soldiers walk the walk.
in Iraq is not the bleak existence the media wishes to portray. Many areas
have been improved beyond pre-war levels of production: energy, oil and
food, for starters. Crime is decreasing (haven't read that lately?), and
coalition forces are beginning to win handily in the trenches. Soldiers
will unfortunately continue to die, but as nationals begin to share the
burden by utilizing newly formed police and military forces for security,
these tragic numbers will also decline.
success, three things need to occur. First, Iraqis interested in creating
a secure homeland need to take action. This is beginning to snowball in
areas where strong Saddam loyalists once reigned. The willingness of the
common Iraqi to come forward and provide valuable information and resources
to prevent attacks is on the rise. Many attacks have been thwarted, and
several raids have produced high yields based on assistance from brave
is a need for civil servants, from police to soldiers to teachers to doctors.
Only when more people take on such roles will communities be able to provide
their own humanitarian services and flourish.
an education system must be established that allows for all to excel in
fields of specialties, which will in turn benefit the country as a whole.
The removal of the Baath Party propaganda and warped itinerary will best
serve this function. Each day, great strides are being made in these areas,
but little makes its way to the media forefront.
from this equation is the need for the international community to rise
up and fulfill its obligations. As seen in the Bosnia operations, it is
apparent that if the world speaks with one voice, doors open for change.
Regardless of past failures, world powers need to provide the required
assistance that is now almost solely upon the shoulders of the Coalition
of the Willing. Too much is at stake for politics and empty rhetoric to
continue while calls for action receive only lip service.
needs to take notice of all the countries that have assisted despite finite
resources and sometimes against the malicious will of a vocal majority
at home. These leaders and those who support them are truly bearing the
torch for a better tomorrow while other "world leaders" merely
hide their inactions behind bureaucratic organizations and agencies that
claim to espouse the values of global brotherhood.
sky in central Iraq will be lit again tonight by thousands of electric
lights, and only the occasional tracer round will break the serene scene
as the heart of the Sunni Triangle is patrolled. As soldiers continue
to do their part in the ongoing operations one thing remains unchanged:
Our mission is clear and our resolve steadfast.
To all of
those who love and support us from afar, thank you for your patience and
confidence. No matter what is on the media, no matter how gloomy it looks,
nothing can break our spirit and our determination to accomplish the mission
and return home safely. Remember to always keep us in your thoughts and
prayers. Rest assured, you remain in ours -- always.
Leblond '95 is a Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot and commander of Echo
Troop from the 1-10 CAV, 4th Brigade at Fort Hood. He and wife Becky have
three children. These comments, written to family members after a night
of flying, were forwarded to the magazine in November by Scott's sister,
Nicole Leblond Davault '98. Send comments to email@example.com.
Frogs serving in our armed forces
Glenn Moore '90 earned a Bronze Star and two Army Air Medals as an
aviator in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was later
deployed to Iraq where he led Bravo Company 159th Aviation Regiment in
nearly every major battle in the war. He recently wrote: "The picture
of me holding my first-born son, Justin, was on the day of my return (from
Iraq). We had him delivered 10 days early via C-section so that I could
see him for a couple days before I left for Iraq. Leaving a crying 7-day-old
to go off to war was the toughest thing that I had ever done. So, that
day in the picture was an awesome and memorable day for me."
Lt. Jonathan Bender was deployed to Baghdad on March 17 as executive
officer for Charlie Company, 1-13 Armor Battalion. His unit was responsible
for patrols in a northwest sector of Baghdad. His daughter, Grace Louise,
was born July 10 at Fort Riley, Kan., where wife Laura Kilmer Bender '99
and Grace live.
full of memories. Room 115 in Winton-Scott Hall has been designated the
"CPT Tristan N. Aitken Memorial Classroom." Aitken, from
the class of 1995, was killed in action April 4, 2003, while leading a
convoy near Baghdad International Airport. The convoy was ambushed and
his vehicle struck with a rocket-propelled grenade. Rarely seen without
a smile, Aitken will be remembered for his accomplishments. His love for
people shall serve as inspiration for cadets, and for all.