Operation Iraq: A Reflection

March 19, 2008 8:51:15 PM PDT
It's been a five year journey that has seen everything planned for at the outset of the war change: from the mission, the strategy, the allies, the enemies and the lives of thousands of Americans from our area, the men and women on the front lines when the war broke out.

Five Years Ago?

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "The war is obviously underway. And behind me now you hear the air sirens going off once again and the show of force that Saddam Hussein is trying to display here!"

"It's been a day of donning gas masks and chemical suits."

"Members of the 111th fighter wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard have been leaving their mark on Iraq."

"The main thing is to know where they are so that we're dropping our bombs in the right spot," said Mike Shenk from Perkasie, Bucks County.

"I just hope we can make the right decisions to bring us home safe," one soldier said.

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "We have reports tonight that American troops along with US Marines, Army Battalions, and British troops are moving across the border."

"We need to have everybody wide awake, no headphones, no nothing," the commander of 358 addressed to the troops.

As the convoy headed up north Father Mark Plaushin of the Army's 358th Civil Affairs Briggade of Norristown was asking for people's prayers back home.

"Keep the prayers coming because they can help us out a lot."

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "Images from the front line depict just how very dangerous the business of war can be."

"Convoy right in front of us got hit with an IED," said Nelson Fairman from Doylestown, Bucks County.

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "If he had chemical & biological weapons and many people here believe that he does, so far he has not used them."

"Bob Broody of Glenmore has a 2 1/2 and 7 year old back home growing up with out him."

"I was thinking about it, my little girl can sit in my arm and rest in my shoulder, by the time I get home she won't fit there so good anymore, I'm gonna miss that," said Broody.

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "The U.S. Message to the Iraqi people is that the troops are coming in as liberators, not conquerors."

"Near riots broke out as people tried to grab boxes of food being brought in from Kuwait."

"We are here to feed the hungry, water the thirsty, and protect the defenseless," said Col. Richard Buck of Hatfield, Montgomery County.

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "There's a war going on two fronts here: the war on the front lines and what is becoming increasingly obvious: the war for the hearts and souls of Iraqis."

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "After putting on a flack jacket it was time to hit the road to Tikrit. A dangerous and tension filled 20 minute ride where at any moment our convoy could come under attack."

Dann via videophone in Iraq: "A place where as an American solider, you often can't tell the difference between Iraqis who wanna kiss you and those who wanna kill you."

"You don't want to get too complacent," one soldier commented.

Present Day?

That was then and this is now.

Earlier this month we caught up with the same soldiers we were with in Iraq. We asked them to reflect on the last five years.

"I think there was an expectation for all of us that we would roll in and we would relive the people of the oppression of Saddam and that they would just like welcome us with open arms," Ed Fullmer from Media, Delaware County.

Tom Downey of Blue Bell, Montgomery County recalled, "and then we saw how things progressed and they got pretty dangerous until the recent surge."

The members of the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade said it was a deep injustice that the American public never heard much about all the work they did to help rebuild Iraq and liberate the people.

"There was a lot of work being done in Civil Affairs that you don't really hear about," said Vanessa Barron of Coatesville, Chester County.

"In terms of building schools in helping rebuild their infrastructure in their towns and their villages," said Paul Dougherty from Downingtown, Chester County.

But the 358th and their trace units paid the ultimate price in Iraq. They came home without one of their own.

And invariably you know we have to ask the question 'was it worth it?'

"Absolutely, with everybody that has gone over there we were doing the right that the Iraqi people are better off for what we've done," Downey said.

Kathy Brill of Overbrook Park agreed, "I think it's important that we finish the mission I think it will be disastrous if we pull out immediately."

Now that the U.S. has spent more time fighting in Iraq than in World War II, Americans are wondering what has changed? To those who took part in the U.S. effort, the answer is simple: everything.

The debate over the war's justification and those illusive weapons of mass destruction will continue but to those men and women whom we had the privilege to cover five years ago they left us with a sense of pride and commitment we will never forget!