excellent column about a minnesota marine.... http://www.startribune.com/stories/191/5641053.html Katherine Kersten: Reservist says protesters are breaking faith Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune September 29, 2005 KERSTEN0929 Cindy Sheehan made big news at the antiwar rally in Washington last weekend. Cameras clicked as graying Vietnam-era biggies -- Joan Baez, Jesse Jackson -- relived their glory days. Seven busloads of Minnesotans joined them, drawn from groups such as the DFL Party and Women Against Military Madness. Sheehan set the "outside the mainstream" tone. She has called the foreign terrorists in Iraq "freedom fighters." Now -- get this -- she is demanding that America pull our troops not only out of Iraq, but also out of "occupied New Orleans." Back in Minnesota, Marine Col. Jeff Vold watched the protest unfold. Unlike the demonstrators, Vold knows Iraq firsthand. A Reservist from Maple Grove, he returned last March from seven months in Fallujah and Ramadi, the heart of the violent Sunni Triangle. Vold's view is 180 degrees different from the protesters'. For years, he says, America took a passive approach to extremist threats. We learned the hard way that this emboldened terrorists and ultimately led to Sept. 11. Abandoning our mission in Iraq now, he says, would be both ill-advised and dangerous. Vold knows the painful cost of aborting a mission midstream. He was in Somalia in early 1994 when America turned tail. "We abandoned the Somali people because we took 18 casualties in October 1993," he said. "It was a shameful act." That same year, he sat in frustration on a troop ship off Kenya as hundreds of thousands of people were hacked to death in Rwanda. After the first Gulf War, he says, we left the Shiites to a bloody fate. "In Iraq, we're going to stay the course against the terrorists and give the people a chance at freedom and a representative government." Vold ticks off the extraordinary progress underway in Iraq. In Ramadi, he witnessed ordinary Iraqis braving mortar fire to vote in the January 2005 elections. In just two weeks, on Oct. 15, he adds, these courageous people will have another historic opportunity -- a chance to vote on Iraq's new constitution. Across Iraq, Americans and Iraqis are working together to reclaim the country from Baathists and terrorists. They are building or refurbishing schools, hospitals, roads and sewer systems. "The battle with the terrorists left Fallujah in rubble," says Vold. "But every day, people thanked us. 'We might have to rebuild our house,' they said, 'but you gave us back our city.' " Do the Washington protesters know about these great strides? Vold can't say. "When I got back from Iraq, I was disappointed -- astounded, really -- to read the news. The media was saying it's all a failure, while we saw successes around us every day." Vold puts the continuing sporadic violence in perspective. Most of Iraq, he says, is quiet. "Baghdad is a vibrant city, the size of Chicago's metro area. A bomb goes off -- it's a bad thing, but it's like we're sitting in Eden Prairie and a bomb goes off in Andover. The police investigate, people go about their business. Rush hour is one big traffic jam." Antiwar demonstrators sometimes claim that their prime motivation is concern for the safety of American troops. "Support the troops," the lawn signs say, "bring them home." But it doesn't work that way, says Vold. "I try not to take it personally. The reason I'm a Marine is to ensure this is a free country. But I don't think the protesters know the effect they're having on the soldiers. You're always tired, cold or hot, homesick. The last thing you need is a sense that people back home say your mission is doomed, when you see good things happening all the time." Vold adds that antiwar rhetoric sometimes implicitly portrays soldiers as dupes on a fool's errand. "We volunteered to go to Iraq. The guys over there, who know the situation best, are re-enlisting in great numbers. Most of the guys I served with think this is the best thing America has done in our careers." How did the Sheehan protest play in Iraq? Yesterday, I asked Vold's friend, Lt. Col. James MacVarish, an adviser to Iraqi troops in Fallujah. He told me in an e-mail that the Iraqis he works with believe such protests and the press they generate "play directly to the strengths of our mutual enemy." Iraqis "are absolutely astounded," he adds, "that we 'allow' that to continue." A few days ago, he had to give his Iraqi colleagues an hourlong civics lesson on freedom of the press. MacVarish says that the terrorists can't win militarily. So their strategy is to make the U.S. and Iraqi people "bleed a little every day." They hope that the resulting media attention will turn the tide of American opinion against the war, and make the political cost of sustaining it too high. "The more play the press gives Cindy Sheehan," MacVarish concludes, "the better the terrorists' chances are of ultimately succeeding here." What would a terrorist victory mean? "If we leave before the new government is established and the Iraqi Army is ready," says Vold, "the people will be at the mercy of the bad guys" -- beheaders and torturers, who blow up children. MacVarish minces no words: "If the terrorists win over here, stand by. There will be no stopping them anywhere in the world." Katherine Kersten is at firstname.lastname@example.org.