October 10, 2006
Name: SSG Emily Joy Schwenkler
Posting date: 10/10/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Salem, Oregon
It is extremely hard to be here and not question the people and events that led to our being here. I don't question my own personal choice to be here. I ran, not walked, to my local recruiter with the desire to serve my country. And I am much more fortunate than many soldiers serving here. I am on a large, well maintained FOB (Forward Operating Base) located smack dab in the middle of the Baghdad International Airport. I can go to Burger King every day, and I sleep in an air-conditioned trailer with internet access every night.
When I go out on missions, I get to see the way the "other half" lives. I have to wear all my gear, even while I'm fixing trucks in the 120 degree heat, convoy from place to place, sleep outside on a cot, run to the bunker when mortars go off, and experience the horrifying feeling of seeing an IED go off at the front of a seven-vehicle convoy (I was driving the rear vehicle) and wondering for seconds-that-felt-like-hours if someone I worked with and cared for was hurt or killed, while simultaneously breathing a guilty sigh of relief that it hadn't gone off seconds later on my truck.
The "security" problem going on in Baghdad right now translates into my husband, a heavy equipment operator, going out onto the Main Supply Routes and placing concrete barriers at traffic checkpoints leading into Baghdad in order to protect the Iraqi Army that man those checkpoints during the day.
Let me break it down to you as I see it...We tell the Iraqi people when they can leave their homes and for how long, when they can be on the road and when they can't. The majority of Iraqi people have no electricity, except for dangerous generators supplying too many people with less than sub-standard wiring. Iraq is a deeply divided country of people who went right back to hating each other as soon as their common enemy was ousted. Democracy will only give the upper hand to the majority, the Shiites (whose most radical sect, the Hezbollah, already hold 23 seats in the Lebanon parliament).
Meanwhile, the only thing the Iraqi people know is that a foreign army is occupying them to protect them against "insurgents" who, I'm saddened to say, would probably not be here if American forces weren't roaming the streets, searching people's homes and enforcing curfews.
I'm not so idealistic that I think all the conflict would simply vanish if we were to leave. History has proven otherwise. But there is no "winning" here. I can see the signs that our government is beginning to realize the same thing, beginning its modern-day version of "Vietnamization", training the Iraqi Army to take a more active role in its country's defense. (Right now, mechanics in my unit are training Iraqi Soldiers to fix their vehicles, and we've been informed that the training is "priority".) Nixon did the exact same thing at the end of the Vietnam War. After it was well established that we were fighting a losing battle, we slowly decreased the offensive measures, while touting morale-boosting press releases about the South Vietnamese people's ability to defend themselves.
I love the Army, I truly do. It has offered me incredible opportunities, and helped me come a long way from the crank-smoking high school drop-out that I was 15 years ago. And I love our country, even when I don't always agree with the people that run it. I'm desperately sorry to the people that have lost loved ones here.
My husband's job site was ambushed last week, and although no one was hurt, it has prompted a lot of these reflections. It was a terrible question to ask: If, God forbid, he had been hurt, what would it have been for? I read an article in Rolling Stone recently, about a reporter riding with some soldiers here in Iraq. He put it into words perfectly.
Those of us serving here simply can't afford to ask that question.