Iraq (AFNS - 11/11/2011) -- On Veterans Day, when the nation
formally recognizes the contributions of millions of past and
present men and women in uniform, I want to pass on my sincere
appreciation for the conspicuously grateful American people.
I was speaking to my wife about this on Sunday night and I
reflected on how often she's stopped and asked how things are going
over here and thanked for her service -- and they ask her to thank
me. As one of the thousands of family members waiting at home, she
appreciates that. The folks she speaks to don't offer their opinion
about whether or not our military ought to be engaged in country "X"
or country "Y" -- they just thank her, and they ask her to thank me
and all of our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines over here, and
hope we make it home safely.
I'm eternally appreciative of
that attitude back home; it isn't lost on our men and women serving
here. It is what sustains them. Rest assured our Airmen serving here
will do everything in their power to ensure they get all our troops
So, it is of great interest to me for the
American public to have an accurate and complete perspective of what
their sons and daughters, husbands, wives, parents, friends and
neighbors are doing over here in Iraq in a very challenging time.
Our troops and their families have suffered during this mission and
sacrificed to provide this opportunity the Iraqis now have for some
time. But no one should believe this sacrifice was in vain.
Our legacy here really is the extraordinary opportunity for the
people of Iraq, but with that opportunity comes extraordinary
challenges. As I think about the potential of this nation, squarely
positioned in the middle of a very turbulent region, I can't help
but reflect on what's going on in our country right now. If you
think about it, on Tuesday, many went to the polls in the United
States to cast their vote in a variety of state and local-level
elections. We're also just within a year until our next U.S.
Presidential election. That is what we and the people of Iraq have
together provided this nation - this same opportunity to have a
As I ponder this from here in Baghdad and think about
all that we have in the U.S., I'm reminded of the significance of
living in a free democracy where individual citizens are afforded
the opportunity to go to the polls, cast their vote for a candidate
of their choice and to influence what happens to them. I'm also
reminded of the cost of both establishing and continuing a democracy
-- a democratic, inclusive system of government that Iraq now has.
It's not easy, but it is worth it.
I started this journey a
little more than 21 years ago. As an F-15 pilot, I led combat
missions over Iraq in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and
Southern Watch. I returned to Iraq in August 2010, as Operation
Iraqi Freedom ended and Operation New Dawn began.
past 15 months I've traveled Iraq visiting our Airmen and witnessed
a part of this country's transformation. I've looked at the palaces
and facilities the Saddam Hussein regime built and I've read the
history about what Iraqis went through during that tempestuous time.
There are Iraqis who are starting their own businesses, Iraqi
soldiers, sailors and airmen learning what it means to defend their
free nation and pan-Arab media everywhere publishing true and
sometimes controversial stories. That's powerful stuff and it's very
different from what I experienced in my first exposure to Iraq.
Was it worth it? I get that question a lot. Folks are asking:
"With the economic issues in the United States, why are we spending
all this money in Iraq?" Think about the region and think about the
recent Arab uprisings ... and what has being going on in the
'neighborhood' at the grassroots level ... think about what the
demonstrators were fighting for. Certainly they were demonstrating
for better conditions and various social programs. But, they were
also pleading for a democratically elected, inclusive government and
Iraq has one of those.
Iraq is still struggling as a
fledgling democracy and they are working their way through that. But
it is difficult to overstate the importance of a stable,
self-reliant Iraq and what that means to the region and to the
world. It has tremendous influence on what happens in the United
States from security to economics.
And certainly it's hard to
think about anything that has happened here over the last 21 years
without thinking about the nearly 4,500 Americans who gave the
ultimate sacrifice and the tens of thousands who have become
casualties. That's what brings it home.
And so on this
Veteran's Day, I thank you -- every service member, every family
member and every friend -- who has supported this from the beginning
to the 'new dawn.'
By USAF Maj. Gen. Russ Handy
Commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq,
Director, Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq
Air Force News Service
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