TCS Daily


A Daily Dose of Freedom

By Charles Matthew Rousseaux - August 5, 2004 12:00 AM

There's always a couple of them waiting in the e-mail inbox in the morning. Sometimes there's a troop of four or five. Many of them appear to have been sent late in the afternoon Iraqi time -- a public affairs officer tapping the "Send" icon before he heading back to the base, knowing that he or she is one day closer to coming home.

The press releases from the Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) aren't "news" in its purest sense. They don't detail events or expose scandal. Their pro-Coalition bias is assumed and they've probably been sent through multiple personal and professional filters.

Yet each CPIC release provides a different daily dose of freedom. Each is a different tale of service and sacrifice. Each tells the stories of the free people building the democratic state of Iraq -- their heartbreaks, their heroism, their dedication and even their deaths.

There are refreshing doses of normalcy. One e-mailed photo shows First Sgt. Kenneth Slovnik and Iraqi guardsmen enjoying a prospective feast at a village. Another photo shows Spc. Chris Ulen applying a "'Sponge Bob Square Pants' band-aid to a cut on the foot of a child."

The military aptitude for acronyms is everywhere. There are improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and their mobile brethren; vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). Iraqi National Guards are INGs while Anti-Iraqi forces are AIFs.

Many releases describe skirmishes and attacks. AIFs do not distinguish between Iraqis or Coalition members, soldiers or civilians. IEDs, especially along roadsides are common. VBIEDs pose a terrible threat.

But, slowly and imperfectly, the Iraqi wall against those attacks is being built. A release dated July 19 describes the first large-scale operation between ING and Iraqi police against insurgents. The raid itself seems to have been disappointing since the only things seized were illegal weapons. Another July 23 release announces the opening of the Al Kasik Military Training Base just northwest of Mosul, which will eventually be the home of the 3rd Division of the Iraq Armed Forces.

There are a lot of heroes among the soldiers already in action, but there seems to be little glory seeking. One release describes a skirmish that happened the night of July 20 in Samarra. A group of soldiers from the 1st infantry division began taking mortar and small arms fire at their observation point. Nothing is said of the bullets hissing by or mortar rounds exploding. Instead, the release simply says that the soldiers returned fire and called in tanks and close air support; and operations are ongoing. The only medal mentioned in a week's worth of releases is the award of a Silver Star with Valor to Staff Sgt. Raymond Bittinger for "valorous actions leading to the defeat of enemy forces and saving the lives of friendly forces." Mr. Bittinger is recorded as saying, "I consider myself a Soldier [capital in original], not a hero. I'm an infantryman. It's my duty; it's my job." Yes, it does sound a bit corny -- but it also rings true of most U.S. soldiers.

The closest any release comes to bragging is one from July 22, which describes a battle between AIF and Marines from the I Expeditionary Force, during which 14 Marines were wounded (most slightly) and 25 AIF killed, 25 captured and 17 wounded. The release concludes, "Engagements such as these deplete the potency of the AIF while sending a clear message that precise, lethal firepower will be brought to bear upon them when they choose to stand and fight."

The releases describing the deaths of soldiers are the most succinct and the most heartbreaking. One release from Fallujah on July 20 reads, "A Marine assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in action today in the Al Anbar Province while conducting security and stability operations." Others are similar. They almost always conclude with, "The name of the deceased is being withheld pending next of kin notification."

Shortly after that sentence is sent, there will be a solemn knock on the door; an unspeakable grief; a lonely last note of Taps fading into the sky. It has happened over 900 times since the war began. In the week surveyed, the sentence appeared six times, for a total of seven deaths.

It's easy to wonder if those sacrifices -- read about in the safety and comfort of an air-conditioned office -- are worth it. Ulysses S. Grant never doubted that the far more terrible sacrifices of the Civil War were. Seeing the social costs of the abhorrent institution of slavery, he observed in his memoirs, "The South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North." Grant concluded, "The war was expensive... but it was worth all it cost."

That comparison, and claim, seems apt in this new war. The battles won in Iraq and Afghanistan have deprived Al Qaeda -- the base -- of bases of succor and support. The millions of people in those former enemy strongholds are no longer slaves to tyranny but rather sons of freedom. They are allies; they are slowly becoming friends.

In an imperfect, but still telling way, the CPIC releases show that freedom is working; that the willing sacrifices made daily by the free people in Iraq -- regardless of their nationality -- are worth it. They are a daily demonstration of sacrifice; they are a daily dose of freedom.

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer for The Washington Times and a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station. E-mail mailto:crousseaux@washingtontimes.com.


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