Twice in Iraq, and worth it: An American soldier writes

(See Editor’s Note) Dear Dr. Watson: Recent news reports have shown that less that 1% of our great nation has fought in Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. We have a population of over 310 million people and about 2.2 million soldiers have served in both wars. Defense Secretary Gates brought this fact to light at Duke trying to encourage more people to volunteer their service to this nation. Of the 2.2 million soldiers that have fought or are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan about half of them are from the Army. The Army is about the size of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines combined. So it is natural the Army bears the burden of these two wars.

Editor: Joshua Ruskiewicz was commissioned through ROTC as an Army 2nd lieutenant upon his graduation from CCU in May 2009. He had returned to college after prior enlisted service in Iraq, as explained below. His wife Cherise and young son Tiberius, 11 months old, currently reside at Fort Hood, Texas. This is from a letter he sent by email to William Watson, CCU history professor and Centennial Institute Fellow.

This is only my second deployment, and many soldiers have done upwards for four and five deployments. Is it fair that so few bear the burden for so many? Probably not, but each soldier knows that the person to his or her left or right is a volunteer. Maybe tough economic times have motivated more people to volunteer, but in order to volunteer, one has to understand the risks associated with the job. It is not only us who our volunteers though, our families bear the burden of our deployments. Our wives, husbands, children, and parents all deal with the deployment. They all wonder when will I talk to my soldier next? Is my soldier ok? Moms and dads become single parents for a year at a time. The deployed soldier misses a lot of firsts like teeth, words, steps, etc. We sacrifice a lot for this great nation and we are proud to do it. Tiberius is getting ready to take his first steps, he recently got his first teeth, and his first words came a couple weeks after I left and that has all been in the last 79 days. I still have around 290 to 376 days to go.

My first deployment was in 2003-2004. We came into the country to liberate it from Saddam Hussein and make the world a safer place. We went to fight the Iraqi Army and quickly found ourselves in a counterinsurgency. We went from fighting conventional warfare to counterinsurgency, which involves a whole different skill set. We still have to fight the insurgents and terrorist, but we also have to focus on the population. We have been asked to be fighters and nation builders. We interact with Provincial Council members, governors, judges, ministry officials, Iraqi Police, and the Iraqi Army. We are now advising and assisting the Iraqis to protect their country. The population is the key to winning in Iraq. We have helped to provide security with the surge in 2006. Now, we are here to close out a war that people said was unwinnable.

People wanted for us to leave Iraq in defeat, there were chants for us to leave Iraq immediately. We held on fought the fight and now are about to close out the Iraq War with a “W”. Was it always pretty? No. Are there rough patches ahead? Most likely. The biggest questions we now face are: will the US armed forces really leave on December 31, 2011? That answer depends on the formation of the new government. There are many Iraqis who want us to stay to continue to provide security. The other question is what happens when we do leave? That question is a lot harder to answer. The Iraqi Security Forces are more competent but the Shia/Sunni issue will always exist. And of course there is also the Kurdistan issue. The Iraqi Security Forces have to be able to look past the sectarian lines in order to provide security to the entire country when we leave. There are many problems that the Iraqi government needs to come together on and work as a nation to solve. Iraq is still a young democracy and I think for us to assume their democracy is going to advance quickly is naïve. The Iraqi’s are more competent than they were a few years ago.

For now though, I am ready to end this war, and be able to put a mark in the win column. This is a different kind of win though. In the World Wars, we were able to beat our enemies into submission by bombing them and beating their armies. This time we beat the Iraqi Army pretty quickly in March 2003—but win here is leaving a functioning country behind. It will not be perfect by any means, but they have the tools and the ability to run their country now. What they do with it is their fate now.

“Bear in mind your past battles and fight like brave men worthy of yourselves and your country.”—Publius Scipio Africanus

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