December 3, 2008

Former Cadets Reflect on Service in Iraq

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Last Thursday, the Iraqi Parliament ratified the Status of Forces Agreement, a deal to have U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2011. SOFA hits home for many Americans, especially those with family and friends serving in Iraq. But for some Cornell students and Ithacans, the war extends past the news and television reports into the hot Iraqi desert itself.
Major Richard E. Brown, a training instructor in Cornell’s ROTC program and Army Reservist, was deployed to Baghdad for the first time in 2004. He was deployed again this past October to the Forward Operations Base in Kalsu, Iraq, 30 miles south of Baghdad in the Babil province.
As a commander, Brown guides troops, attends meeting, supports the higher level of command and advises senior leadership on civil-military operations. He also meets with the local Iraqi government, tribal leaders and other important leaders. Since Babil is under Primary Iraqi Control, he deals with issues involving Iraqis’ direct security, governance and economy. However soldiers must patrol in order to maintain security and control weapons.
“Iraq is now secure and stable,” Brown stated in an e-mail. “These are not simple words to use. Secure — people generally feel safer and are expressing it by going to the market, schools and to work. There is a long way to go and security is still a fragile thing. Stable — most of the unrest in Sunni versus Shi’a or in the political struggle for power, or the destruction of Al Qaeda is either over or quieted down. Although there will always be violence to disrupt the peace this place is much different than it was in 2005.”
[img_assist|nid=33981|title=Front and center|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Brown has witnessed a shift in Iraq since his first time there due to many factors such as the troop surge, Sons of Iraq community policing groups, the destruction of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (A.Q.I) networks, the Iraqi Security Forces and the U.S.’s efforts to work more closely with local leadership. Compared with 2005, there is less tension and the “numbers are down.”
“There are less attacks on our forces, less murders, and less suicide attacks. I was expecting to hear the gunfire and mortar that I heard in 2005 when I got here but it has been quiet,” Brown wrote.
Major David Fosdick, currently a senior military science instructor in Cornell’s ROTC program, expressed concern that back in the U.S., people are less knowledgeable about the war.
“I think that many people, especially in Ithaca, don’t understand the war in Iraq and why we’re there and they sometimes have a misconception that it’s the soldiers that are keeping us there when the military just follows orders and goes where we need to go.”
Cornell’s ROTC program provides cadets with an assortment of training based on leadership development and practical field skills, whether cadets want to serve the country in the military or apply the skills to their future careers, Fosdick said. There are currently graduates and training officers from Cornell ROTC and partnership schools who are putting these skills to use while serving in Iraq.
Brown is serving alongside a few of his former ROTC students, including Captain Chris Remillard, Ithaca College ’03, Masters of Physical Therapy ’04. Remillard has been a Physical Therapist for the 4th Brigade, 3d Infantry Division in FOB Kalsu since October 2007.
FOB Kalsu has been hit three times with rockets since Remillard’s arrival, a vast improvement over 2006 when it was hit weekly by rockets and mortars, causing the deaths of many soldiers, Remillard stated in an e-mail.
Remillard runs a physical therapy unit in FOB Kalsu, in a tent, splitting his work between new evaluations, follow-ups and treatments. He was also on a committee that planned an Iraq and Afghanistan Physical Therapy Conference in October. Remillard will return home before Christmas.
“We are still here. Maybe not for long, but we are here. Everyday there are soldiers injured or killed. Just because things are calmer, or the press releases some information that makes it seem like I can go outside the wire without my rifle, helmet and vest, doesn’t mean the threat is any less,” he stated in an e-mail.
Another of Brown’s students, Lieutenant Robert J. Bollinger ’06 is also serving in Iraq. Bollinger leads a reconnaissance platoon and is responsible for planning and overseeing missions for 29 soldiers.
Bollinger initially joined the ROTC because of the scholarship benefits, but after Operation Iraqi Freedom began in his freshman year, he felt a greater obligation to serve.
“My platoon has remained safe and we have great food, and a comfortable place to live. One thing I can say is that the Iraqi people are very hospitable, we are treated like guests everywhere we go and I have enjoyed experiencing the change in culture,” Bollinger stated in an e-mail.
Although SOFA has set a course for the end of the war, there are mixed opinions about leaving and the U.S.’s time in Iraq.
“The Iraqi attitude towards us depends on who you ask. Everyone has a different opinion. Some are looking forward to us leaving, some want us to stay. There is no one, single general opinion,” Brown wrote.