The front page of my local newspaper, the Grand Rapids Press, features a story about a local guy just back from a year in Iraq.
“Homecoming” means a lot more today to Forest Hills Central High School graduate Ben Miller than it did when he was captain of the 1999 Rangers football team.
Five years ago, Miller scored three touchdowns in his team’s win over Lowell, and then had a nice time at the homecoming dance.
But it was nothing compared to the homecoming he had Friday afternoon, when the Army specialist returned to Grand Rapids from a year’s duty in Iraq. His duty station the past 12 months was in a small town named Ramadi, close to Fallujah, a hot spot for American troops as they aid in the rebuilding of the country. He is now on leave awaiting assignment.
He’s not all that impressed with news coverage of things over there.
“In the past year I’ve seen things and done things I never, ever, thought I’d see and do,” he said. “But I am proud of my service there, and I know what we are doing is important.
“We are in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. Sure, there are hot spots. But we have controlled them. Too much of what I’ve read or seen makes it sound like we are losing.
“We are doing the job, and we are eliminating the enemy. And while we are doing that, the people are rebuilding their country.”
Is he sure about that? I mean, I generally hear pretty much the opposite from the experts. What could a 23 year old possibly know about this, anyway?
Yes, folks. That’s SARCASM.
Although not every soldier back from Iraq has the same story to tell, the overwhelming majority of them seem to be along these lines. But it’s usually in the local papers in stories about local boys (and girls) that you read it. The Biggies generally ignore such trivial concerns as the experiences of those that have been there and seen with their own eyes. (Unless maybe it’s a reporter on assignment for a week or so who dashes out of the Green Zone hotels for a few minutes to gage the situation.) This guy was in Ramadi as a member of the Big Red One. He was on the front lines.
Miller does seem pretty impressed with the determination of the Iraqis to build a better life.
“I remember doing highway security and manning a checkpoint,” he said. “It was amazing to see the number of trucks heading into and out of Baghdad with building supplies.
“Steel, concrete, wood. Truck after truck. Nobody here ever hears about that. The firefights get the attention. We are at a disadvantage because we can’t just fire back into a neighborhood, because there are still civilians living there.
“If we take fire from a building, we can’t just light up the building because there are other people inside. But we are winning, we are securing the country. The situation is slowly working itself out, because we keep getting more and more of them (insurgents).”
“You should be there to hear from the people how grateful they are that we are there.”
Well, maybe all the US troops will be gone six months from Inauguration Day. Wonder what the poor oppressed Iraqis think of that?
“When you man a crossroads, there’s a lot of down time, so we talk back and forth with the translators,” Miller said. “And they tell us what life was like for those who weren’t part of the (Saddam Hussein) regime. Some of it is hard to believe.
“One day one of them reminded me that Saddam didn’t grab control overnight, that it took years for him to solidify his hold on power. He was telling me that we shouldn’t be expecting instant results to change it around either.”
This is a point that I’ve mentioned before. Sure, it would be nice if things were humming along a bit more smoothly over there, and it seems pretty clear that the going is a lot tougher than most folks expected. But even without an active insurgency we would barely have scratched the surface of the Iraqi rebuilding project. Those “Mission Accomplished” banners in May of 2003 meant the short-term military mission. That was accomplished and we now have basing and overflight rights in the middle of the hornets’ nest. Right where we wanted it.
Opponents of Bush like to pretend that the president was trying to sell the idea that everything in Iraq was finished. It’s a free country, so they’re allowed to be wrong if they want to. The long-term project of rebuilding Iraq and setting up a legitimate democracy will take years. Generations. We won’t know for sure until the babies in Iraq today are adults and running the country.
Miller has 15 months left of his active duty tour. When that’s over he will return to Grand Rapids and go to college.
“Before I enlisted, I had applied to Grand Rapids Community College,” he said. “But I knew I just wasn’t ready for that. In some ways, the year I spent in Iraq was the best year of my life, because of what it taught me about myself.
“We will complete the military mission, then really get involved in rebuilding that country.
“Something as insignificant as a cement truck could make all the difference. These people are rebuilding, carrying cement in buckets because they don’t have trucks. But they won’t be held back.
“That’s the kind of hope we’ve brought to them, and I am proud that I had a part in it.”
I don’t know him or his family. But I’m proud that he’s from my neck of the woods.
UPDATE: Doctorzhibloggo writes:
There are thoousands of these kids doing great and heroic work in Iraq and all of us, as Americans, should hold our heads high in the world and not worry what other piss ant countries and their UN cronies think.
So, uh, what do you REALLY think?