Winter 2008
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TCU Magazine Feature

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Never Forget

A view from within

By Capt. Scott A. Leblond '95

THE 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 the media?

To truly 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.

The situation is one of emotional intensity and political divisiveness, but look anew and try to see it from one who has boots on the ground.

This war-torn 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.

Coalition 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.

Advancing 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.

The scope 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 Mandalyi.

The debate 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.

Ironically, 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 action.

His release 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?

The ability of coalition forces to secure such items is an ongoing struggle. Fortunately, new approaches to fight these threats have led to increased success.

Everything 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.

And what 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.

Without wasting 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.

Where are 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.

The stories 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.

These unheralded 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.

These heroes 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.

However, 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.

The situation 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.

To quicken 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 informants.

Second, there 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.

Finally, 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.

Not removed 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.

The world 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.

The night 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.

Capt. 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

Horned Frogs serving in our armed forces

Maj. 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."


1st 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.


Room 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.