Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 5th edition

September 5, 2005: Soldiers from 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division hold a memorial ceremony for one of their fallen at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul.

September 5, 2002:

The standards by which war with Iraq must be judged

A key section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us, because of the evils and injustices that accompany war, to pray and to do all we can not to be drawn into armed conflict. Indeed, it goes further: “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.”

There are good reasons why many, including our own and the U.S. Government, regard the regime in Iraq as a threat to the security of the region and, presumably, the West. President Saddam Hussein has committed numerous atrocities against his own people. He has persistently refused to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions which require Iraq to surrender its weapons of mass destruction. There have been suggestions, but no proof to date, that he is intent on acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

Discussion among Western leaders today is now focused not just on the nature of the threat, and on the desirability of a regime change in Iraq, but whether that change should be enforced by outside military action: in other words, by beginning a war.

The Catechism sets out a number of rigorous conditions for an act of self-defense -- in this case a possible pre-emptive strike -- to be regarded as legitimate. One is that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”. It notes that “the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition”.

A war in Iraq would cause great destruction and suffering. It would also entail grave consequences for our own country and for the world. There is reason to be concerned that military intervention would set the Arab world against the West, and undermine efforts directed at peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.

The Prime Minister has now promised to publish evidence to support his growing conviction that the threat posed by Iraq is both grave and imminent, and that the regime must change itself or be changed. Without persuasive, preferably incontrovertible, evidence of this kind it is difficult to see how concerns in this country and abroad about this course of action could be allayed.

Then there are other, related and equally pressing, questions which must be addressed:

-- Is military action intended to neutralize a threat, to effect a regime change, or both?
-- Will military intervention stabilize or destabilize the region?
-- Will it advance or delay peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
-- Does it have the endorsement of the UN Security Council and, in the case of Britain, of the European Union? If not, what will be its effect on our efforts to establish a structure of international law which all nations will respect?

It seems to me that many British people will find it hard to support the British and US Governments in what is now being contemplated unless, in addition to the evidence promised by the Government, they can be given convincing answers to such questions.

But there is another possibility to consider. Head-on confrontation in a time of crisis may be unavoidable, but it is liable to create as many problems as it solves. Underlying causes also have to be addressed.

Soon after the dreadful events of September 11, I attended a meeting in Rome of bishops from all over the world. Great sympathy was conveyed to the U.S. bishops and, through them, to the American people. There were also present, however, bishops from some of the poorest countries in the world who, while fully sharing this sympathy for the U.S., reminded their fellow bishops of other kinds of atrocity. Millions were slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994, with no effective response from the international community.

The African bishops also drew our attention to the tragedy that thousands of children in their dioceses were dying every week for lack of food and potable drinking water. Weighed in the balance with the resources available to the world as a whole, such destitution is not just an awful human tragedy -- it is a terrible international injustice.

It would be easy to regard this tragedy as entirely separate from the “war against terrorism” or instability in the Middle East. But there is a connection. By pouring almost inconceivably massive resources into preparing for, and then prosecuting, military conflict, we inevitably divert funds from the war on world poverty. By so doing, we further endanger the fragile lives of millions of people, over and above those who become victims of conflict itself.

Perhaps the time has come to consider an unprecedented coalition of aid to the poorest peoples of the world -- to Africa in the first place, but also to the displaced and impoverished peoples of the Middle East. Would not that be a more far-reaching, sustainable and positive way to challenge both the evil of terrorism and the scandal of world poverty? Terrorism can never be portrayed or defended as a protest against poverty; but neither can it be defeated simply by force of arms. Even a decisive and “successful” war would create swaths of new victims and tend to deepen existing patterns of hostility. I am convinced that the might of generous self-sacrifice, rather than the might of arms, is the only way to construct a more just and more peaceful world.

There are occasions when a short-term response to an imminent threat serves an important preventive purpose. However, the problems of our planet cannot be solved by unilateral military action alone.

In a globalized world, the wisdom of specific actions or policies with international impact must ultimately be judged by the extent to which they improve the lot of all mankind, especially the poorest, and enhance the prospects for world peace. At present there are genuine reasons to doubt that military action against Iraq would pass that test.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Reporter

September 5, 2003:

Shi'ite exiles' return to Iraq raises fears of takeover bid

Fears are growing that the return to Iraq from Iranian exile today of the leader of the biggest anti-Saddam Shi'ite opposition group will galvanise his supporters into taking over towns and cities.

Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim's party in Iran heralded his arrival with pledges that Iraq's future belonged to Islam, comparing his return after 23 years with that of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution after 14 years in exile. "Making efforts to preserve Iraq's independence is our key challenge," al-Hakim told worshippers at Teheran University.

Thousands of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia forces have crossed into Iraq from Iran in recent weeks after years in exile, including 2,000 members of the radical Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the Arabic newspaper, Al Sharq al-Awsat, in London. It reported that they included fighters, clerics and students from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and several hundred recruits from the Revolutionary Guards' Quds corps.

Coalition officials hope that a natural mistrust of returning Iraqi exiles will work against them.

Note: Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim was killed by a car bomb in Najaf one week before publication of this article.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

September 5, 2004:

Analysis: Invoking 9/11 May Temper Views on Iraq War

At last week's Republican convention, President Bush and Vice President Cheney repeatedly linked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq, largely abandoning the rationale offered when the Bush administration invaded the Persian Gulf country.

Announcing the invasion on March 19, 2003, Bush said in a nationwide televised address that the United States "will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." Two days earlier, Bush had asserted in another address to the nation, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

But no such weapons were found after the invasion, and the subject was only fleetingly mentioned from the podium in Madison Square Garden. Instead, the war on Iraq was presented as a part of a seamless thread that stemmed directly from the terrorism of the Sept. 11 attacks. "We have fought the terrorists across the earth -- not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," Bush said, before listing Iraq along with the struggle against terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Ever since the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Bush administration has searched for explanations for how to defend the war, such as the need to bring freedom to the Middle East and to end the brutal nature of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government. With Bush's convention speech, the administration laid out its most sweeping case to date -- and campaign officials are betting voters will buy this retooled version of the need to go to war...

It is a familiar strategy. Bush and particularly Cheney have long suggested links between Hussein and terrorist groups, even al Qaeda. But investigations after the war, such as the inquiry by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, have largely disproved the alleged connections. Yet in their convention speeches, the president and the vice president linked Sept. 11 and Iraq even more tightly than before.

"In a campaign that has reached around the world, we have captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda," Cheney said, in quick succession mentioning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "In Iraq," he said, "we dealt with a gathering threat and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein"...

Other convention speakers also linked Iraq to the war on terrorism. "In any plan to destroy global terrorism, Saddam Hussein needed to be removed," former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said, dispensing with the failure to find banned weapons by declaring that Hussein "was himself a weapon of mass destruction"...

While Bush reached back to Sept. 11 to defend the war against Iraq, he gave few clues about how he would end combat and bring home the nearly 140,000 U.S. service members there. "Our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is clear: We will help new leaders to train their armies and move toward elections, and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible," Bush said. "And then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

NEVER TO RETURN: Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa was the 52nd American to die in Iraq; his story is one of nearly a thousand

Joshua Menusa ran giggling across the graveyard grass, gawking at a balloon, tugging at the string connecting it to a headstone not far from that of his father, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa.

He paused at his father's grave, scanning the words and dates chiseled into the marble: "IRAQ KIA, FEB 13 1970 - MAR 27 2003, PURPLE HEART, LOVING HUSBAND & DADDY." Then the green grass and sunshine beckoned again, and the little boy ran laughing, leaving his father's grave behind.

Eighteen months is an eternity when you're not yet 5 years old, a span that can dull the edge of the sharpest pain.

Eighteen months does not seem so long a time to Stacy Menusa, Joshua's mother.

"It's hard to believe it's been a year and a half," she said. "It feels like yesterday."

The pain is not as intense as it was the day her husband was killed, becoming the 52nd American to die in a war that has now claimed nearly 1,000. Her life has begun to move on, as it does for other families of those lost in the war. She lives in a new house purchased with her husband's insurance money, filled with pictures and keepsakes of her husband's life. She has begun taking a few college classes. And this week, her son will begin preschool.

Menusa worries that the tally of the dead is beginning to hide the individual lives lost -- lives that affected not only family members but uncounted others, through chance encounters and long friendships.

Lives like her husband's.

Born in the Philippines, Joe Menusa moved with his mother and stepfather, Virginia and Mike Kenny, to San Jose at age 10. He considered becoming a pilot, then an architect, and was an intern at IBM during his junior year at Silver Creek High School. One day, to his mother's consternation, the 18-year-old brought home a stack of pamphlets about military enlistment.

"I have boys," said Virginia Kenny. "The last thing I want is my kids to join the military and get hurt."

But her son, pointing out that money for college and good jobs were hard to come by, joined the Marine Corps on May 16, 1989.

Those first few years, Menusa traveled to Okinawa, trained to detect and remove mines, and served late in the first Gulf War -- although his only action involved preemptively striking a covert attacker that turned out to be a wayward camel, a story he told self-deprecatingly for years.

He excelled in the Marines, a fact confirmed by the rows of ribbons on his chest and the words of the Marines who served with him.

"He was always real squared away," said Jim Hallenbeck, who was with Menusa in Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County for several years, beginning in 1994. Hallenbeck said Menusa was meritoriously promoted to sergeant while he was there, an unusual honor that he said required the recipient be "one hell of a Marine."

But Menusa's excellence was not just in the physical and military skills so associated with Marines, Hallenbeck said, but in his concern for his fellow Marines, especially the younger ones.

There were no cliques in Menusa's platoon, Hallenbeck recalled, and nobody got in trouble, even though Menusa rarely raised his voice and -- highly unusual for a Marine -- never seemed to swear.

"He was a compassionate guy," Hallenbeck said. "Not a wear it on your sleeve kind of deal, but you got the impression he was the kind of guy who really cared about the guys that worked for him, really cared about his friends."

Menusa began dating Stacy Bernardo, whom he had known for two years around that time.

She finally agreed to visit him at Twentynine Palms for a evening of nightclubbing followed by a morning together at the base church. When the priest called for the parishioners to exchange the sign of peace, Menusa gave her their first kiss.

That was on March 27, 1994. Exactly nine years later, Menusa would be killed by an Iraqi bullet, thousands of miles from home.

They were nine good years. Menusa asked for Bernardo's hand at a Boyz II Men concert in 1995, and they married a few months later -- a Las Vegas wedding first, before he shipped out to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then the big church wedding in June 1996.

They moved, following his job, to the Hawaiian island of Oahu for two years, then returned to the area in Tracy. On Jan. 21, 2000, Joshua Nicholas Menusa was born.

The first thing she noticed about her son, Stacy Menusa said, was that he had his father's feet, with long toes. She continues to find new similarities in looks and personality.

At the time that his son was born, Menusa was working as a recruiter in the Bay Area, a job his wife said he was unsure about at first but came to love.

Tootie Dasher of Livermore recalled how Menusa kept her son, Nathan Moore, motivated when he had trouble with the Marines' written tests, and how he picked Moore for boot camp in April 2001, leaving plenty of time for last goodbyes and pictures on the lawn.

That day, she said, Menusa watched as she gave her son a crucifix as a going-away present.

"He said, 'Your family and your faith will see you through. Always respect that,' " she said. "With that, we knew we were putting him in good hands."

As much as he enjoyed recruiting, Menusa was glad when he was transferred to Camp Pendleton (San Diego County) in late 2002, his mother said -- he wanted a chance to exercise the leadership authority of a senior non- commissioned officer.

He got what he wanted. In mid-January, Menusa learned that his outfit -- the 3rd Platoon, Company B, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion -- would be among the first wave of troops sent to Kuwait to prepare for the war in Iraq.

"Everything's going to be OK," he told his wife. "I'm going to be fine. We're not going to be there that long anyway; it's going to be like last time."

"I took it to heart," she said. "I believed him."

Similar words failed to assure his mother

"I have a bad feeling on this one, Joe," she recalled telling him when Menusa visited his parents a few weeks before deploying.

"I'll be back, Mom."

"I hope so. But I have a feeling you'll be coming back in a box."

His last night with his family was spent fiddling with the home computer and having pizza and ice cream for dinner. Stacy Menusa remembered dropping her husband off at the base, watching as he and his son exchanged kisses.

She wept as she drove away, until she saw her son in the rear view mirror making goofy faces to make her laugh, "just like his daddy would."

Menusa called and wrote often from Kuwait, mostly about the boredom as they waited to cross the border. His last letter, dated March 15, said the most exciting thing that had happened recently was that he'd been able to get a cheeseburger at Hardee's.

"... if this thing don't happen before the end of April, we will be here a year maybe longer," he wrote. "I know it's not the news you wanted to hear but that's what I'm predicting."

Five days later, ground forces began crossing from Kuwait into Iraq. The last call Stacy Menusa received from her husband was on March 21. She wasn't home to receive it.

On March 27, Menusa was in a Marine column pushing north on Iraq's Highway 1. First Sgt. Bruce Cole, who was further back, recalled how the column moved in fits and starts, as the tanks up front pulverized the organized Iraqi resistance, leaving the amphibious tractors and humvees behind to deal with snipers in civilian clothing who would pop off a few rifle shots and run.

"I remember hearing over the radio that there was a casualty, and they were working on him," Cole said. "A gunny had been hit."

The chaos of their first combat engagement made it impossible to know which gunnery sergeant was hit, and how badly, Cole said. It wasn't until he himself took a bullet in the arm and was put in an armored ambulance, and Menusa's body was placed beside him, that he found out.

They didn't know each other, but Cole remembers fighting off the haze of morphine to join the chaplain in a prayer over the body of a brother Marine.

In Menusa's bronze star citation, the brief military narrative recounts how he took a junior Marine's spot atop the moving vehicle; how when the shooting began, he stayed atop the vehicle, directing fire to protect the unarmored bulldozers behind him until a bullet to the head took his life.

"That's what the job is," he said. "As NCOs and staff NCOs, we aren't commanders, and we don't command things. We have our role in the grand scheme of things, and that's to take care of our junior NCOs. ...

"Marines are people, just like everybody else. We have the same emotions, the same feelings. But you also understand that you have another 200 Marines that depend on you to be the rock that they cling to at certain times ... you have to focus on the mission ahead, or you could be next, or cause somebody else to be a casualty."

Lance Cpl. Ryan Yung had never met Menusa. He wasn't even in the same company, but in a transportation support group, driving a 7-ton truck. But his truck had a cover, so it made sense to him when a major walked up and told him they had a fallen brother in arms who was just killed and they couldn't get him out.

"I knew this would be the most important mission I would ever get," Yung said in an interview. "I wanted to give the gunny full respect, because I knew for a fact that's what the gunny would do for me. That's what being a Marine is all about."

Even that early in the war, Yung had seen some horrible things. But nothing compared, he said, to the look on the faces of Menusa's Marines when he got to the field hospital to pick up the body. He helped lift the body bag into the back of the truck and strapped it down.

It didn't seem like enough. So Yung ran to his pack, pulled out the American flag he'd brought from home. With the major's help, he folded it with perfect military precision, taped it to the outside of the body bag.

The next morning, Yung was sent to the front of the departing convoy. He said he will never forget that short drive, past the thousand-yard stares of ranked Marines who knew exactly what he was carrying. At about that time, Virginia Kenny was in an Applebee's, watching the war on CNN. It was only when the Marines tracked her down a day later, she said, that she realized she had watched the battle that killed her son.

Stacy Menusa found out from her in-laws, but it didn't seem real until the Marines came to give her the official word. They later told her that carrying that message was the hardest job they'd ever had.

Her job was to tell Joshua.

"Daddy went home to be with Jesus."

"He did?"

"Yeah. Daddy's with Jesus now."

"OK." He didn't weep.

Joseph Menusa came back April 6, 2003. His parents were at Los Angeles International Airport.
On the plane ride back to Tracy, Mike Kenny sat beside a woman reading the New York Times. The headline that day was "A NATION AT WAR: AMERICAN CASUALTIES." There were pictures, mug shots in uniform.

"That's my boy," Kenny said, quietly. She stared at him. Their talk during the flight helped, he said. A little.

Stacy Menusa saw her husband the next day, at the funeral home. She could tell someone had taken care of his body after he died; he looked good enough for an open casket. At the end of the funeral, when all the words had been spoken, Joshua finally cried for his father. As the pallbearers took the casket from the church, the little boy began screaming for his daddy, and the church wept with him.

"I think it's at that point he understood Joe wasn't coming home," Stacy Menusa said.

The first year was the hardest, Joseph Menusa's wife and parents said: the first Christmas without Joe, the first Father's Day without Joe, Joshua's birthday, the first without Joe, Joe's birthday .

Stacy Menusa still hasn't gone through the boxes of her husband's Iraq uniforms, still has all his old clothes in her closet. Virginia Kenny still keeps her son's watch, stained with his blood, on her nightstand; the alarm still goes off every day at 6:30 p.m., early morning in Iraq.

But other things have changed. Stacy Menusa, who once seemed withdrawn, the opposite of her outgoing husband, has given repeated interviews and spoken before crowds while she received keys to cities and proclamations that now hang on her wall. They are alongside her husband's citizenship, granted posthumously.

"That was my way of grieving, to talk about Joe," she said. "I wasn't sharing his death, I was sharing his life."

Besides, she said, "I have a little boy. If I sat in a shell and didn't get on with my life, how could I be a good mother to him?"

"Joe would expect that of me."

Joshua has changed some, too. For most of the past year, his mother said, he would talk often about his father, announcing that each American flag he saw was waving in his father's memory and informing his mother that his father was there, watching a movie or enjoying a car ride.

He doesn't do that as much now -- with preschool starting this week and seemingly every Thomas the Tank Engine toy at his command -- there are other distractions.

Then there's the way the rest of the world changed -- or was changed by Joseph Menusa.

Jim Hallenbeck, now out of the Marines, looks at his young daughter with even more love.

Tootie Dasher has even more pride in her son, now a corporal finishing his second deployment to Iraq.

And Lance Cpl. Yung returned from Iraq, bought a beagle, and named it Gunny, for the man whose face he never saw until he found it in his home newspaper. He thinks of Menusa every time he hears a bump in the back of his truck. While their mute friendship has made him appreciate life more, it also made him wonder at its capriciousness.

"I still to this day don't understand why I came home and he didn't," he said.

And there are the anonymous many, from all parts, who have dropped coins in bottles in restaurants and sent checks and mailed wishes to the family. They have assured Joshua Menusa's college education, and touched his family with handwritten words and handcrafted quilts.

"I can't believe how many people are affected by Joe," Mike Kenny said, standing before the house in Tracy among ribbons and flags of remembrance.

"Life will go on. But I want Joe to be remembered as a hero," he said. "Everybody should remember every one of them. They shouldn't pay any more attention to the first casualty as the last casualty. But they all should be remembered as heroes."

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

September 5, 2005:

Reality sets in as soldiers end training

FORT IRWIN, Calif. - Soldiers with rust-colored faces, leftovers from last night’s sandstorm, go about their tasks at this forward operating base for a training version of the Iraq war.

In heat already past 100 degrees at sunup, Maj. Ron Bolton sits beside a Humvee waiting for a ride. He’s the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s top engineer, a specialist in repairing the infrastructure of war-torn places like Iraq.

But today he worries about an engineering problem in Colorado Springs. His wife, Jannine, called the night before about heavy rainfall that flooded their basement.

“I can’t do anything for her, and that’s hard,” said Bolton, a 12-year veteran from Tyler, Texas, who has already served in Iraq and Kuwait.

As they prepare to ship out this fall for a yearlong tour in Iraq, soldiers of the 3rd Brigade say their service overseas will mean sacrifices at home — and they’re as worried about that as they are about their own safety.

They haven’t left U.S. soil, and the exact date of their deployment to Iraq hasn’t been set, but the month of mock combat in the Mojave desert that ended last week made more real their upcoming departure.

Soldiers said they now see more clearly what they’ll miss while away at war and what their families will face.

Many younger soldiers remain enthusiastic, even eager to fight in Iraq. But the Iraq veterans who make up more than half the soldiers in the brigade say although they’re ready for war, the enthusiasm they had during the 2003 invasion is gone.

“Combat will humble a person,” Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey explained. “Now they’re more true, quiet professionals than they were the last time.”

It’s clear it will be a year of lost opportunities for Bolton.

During this monthlong exercise, he missed his 5-year-old son’s first day of kindergarten.

It’s a life he chose; he dropped out of the Army once but returned after an 18-month sample of civilian life. The work in Iraq is far more satisfying than his brief stint with a Texas corporation that made door locks.

“But it’s hard knowing you’ll be away from your family,” Bolton said.

Across camp in a battalion headquarters tent, Dailey thinks about his 10-year-old son, Dakota, who misses his father.

“Last night he was crying himself to sleep,” Dailey said.

At 33, Dailey is young for his rank. He earned it by being what his boss, Lt. Col. Jeff Martindale, calls “the best enlisted soldier I’ve ever known.”

Like more than half his battalion, Dailey is an Iraq veteran. In the parlance of soldiers, he’s “seen the elephant,” a term of hazy origin that denotes those who have been to war.

Dailey wants to get the year in Iraq over with fast.

“You know you’re going, so you just want to go and get it done,” he said. “It’s like a project left sitting around the house that you’ve got to finish.”

Under a camouflage sun shade nearby, 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Forlano reflects on his life in Colorado Springs as he rests after a night training exercise. He has thought about getting his children ready for the time apart.

His 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter will each get extra hugs and kisses every night before he leaves. And the teenager, Nicholas, has already gotten a grim request from his dad.

“I tell him, if Dad gets killed in Iraq, this is what I want you to do,” Forlano said.

That’s a big load for a 14-year-old to bear, Forlano acknowledged, but Nicholas will have to step up if the worst happens because there’s no other choice.

“It’s just reality,” Forlano said.

Seven miles away at the brigade's headquarters in another camp at Fort Irwin, Maj. Tommy Boccardi, a Sierra High School graduate, takes a break from his work fending off enemies in this mock war.

The operations officer has seen big changes in the brigade. New computer systems show the location of every tank and truck on the battlefield.

“The capability of this Army to learn from its mistakes is amazing,” Boccardi said.

He’s ready and willing to go back, but he’s not looking forward to it. “I’ve seen the elephant; now I want to see my kids grow up,” said the father of three daughters.

Some soldiers are unabashedly eager to go back to Iraq and finish the job.

“It’s like being on a football team,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Edler. “You train day-in, dayout, and now we get to play the game.”

He’s been married for almost seven years and has a 20-month-old son. Their second child, a daughter, is due in December, when Edler expects to be in Iraq.

Edler and his wife agree on the war, despite the separations.

“She knows the Army comes first,” he said.

Nearby, in the shadow of a tent, Staff Sgt. Tema Stewart said she saw nothing but enthusiasm for war in her most recent assignment as a drill instructor.

“They said they joined the Army because they want to go fight,” she said of the hundreds of recruits she trained at Army basic training posts around the United States.

Stewart, who will go to Iraq as the brigade’s expert on terrain mapping, is looking forward to her deployment.

“They’re not living right” in Iraq, she said. “And we need to go in there and help them.”

Still, she knows it’s rough on the people who love her.

“I’ve talked to my mom and my family,” she said. “They don’t want me to go.”

At 1 a.m., the medical tent at the brigade’s main base is hopping. Simulated casualties arrive by the dozens in trucks and helicopters.

Sgt. Sheila Adair jokes with some medics, but she’s concerned for tired colleagues, many of whom are half her age. She’s been in the paramedic business for 20 years, including the past seven in the Army.

“She joined the Army to help her daughter pay for college. And while she doesn’t look forward to the coming year, she’s invigorated by the young soldiers surrounding her in the tent.

“They’re fresh, they’re young, and they absorb information like a sponge,” she said. “It’s like my second family.”

Later in the morning, at headquarters, Sgt. Maj. Guadalupe Aldama, a bachelor who has served tours in Bosnia and Kosovo, thinks about preparing young soldiers for the year in Iraq.

The work to get them ready falls along two tracks: One prepares them for fighting, and another prepares them for a year away from families.

“It’s tougher on them now,” Aldama said, reflecting on his own two-decade career that rarely involved combat. “You just try to make them understand that it’s their job.”

On the battlefield, he predicts, the soldiers will fare well. The month at Fort Irwin is drilling home hard lessons to give them the knowledge they’ll need in Iraq.

“We are now ready to go and use it,” Aldama said.

Read the rest at the Colorado Springs Gazette

September 5, 2006:

Rice Likens Iraq and Civil War Critics

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is drawing a parallel between the Iraq war and the Civil War. Both had their critics but both were justified, she says.

In both cases, it was the right decision to fight and see the wars through, Rice, who is black and is from Alabama, said in an interview with Essence Magazine.

Asked if she still thought the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 was right, considering the cost in lives and treasure, Rice said, "Absolutely."

Rice then offered a parallel between critics of the administration's Iraq policies and "people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War (in this country) to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold."

"I'm sure that there were people who said, "why don't we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves."

"Just because things are difficult, it does't mean that they are wrong or that you turn back," Rice told the magazine, which has a large audience among African-Americans.

Read the rest at the Washington Post