Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

TOP STORY >>Colonel:U.S. must continue terror war

Leader staff writer

If America withdraws its forces from Iraq too soon, there will be more attacks like those five years ago on 9/11, according to Col. Mike Ross, commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade, Arkansas Army National Guard, at Camp Robinson. “You can’t put a timeline on stabilizing Iraq. It’s mission oriented. The insurgency eventually will go away under the burden of its own oppression. You can only kill so many of your own people before the people say ‘enough is enough’ and stand up,” Ross said. “My personal opinion is the only way we will lose this war is to pull out prematurely. It is a battle of wills,” Ross said, addressing the Jacksonville Rotary Club Monday.

America has more at stake today than it did in World War II, Ross said. Leaving Iraq would give al Qaeda the psychological edge to continue attacking America and enlist allies, he said. In March 2004, the 39th Infantry Brigade arrived in Iraq and spent 13 months in the sand, training Iraqi forces, fighting insurgents and rebuilding both urban and rural infrastructure. Arkansas soldiers provided medical care, rebuilt schools and built water-treatment facilities around Fallujah and Taji.

“That’s how you win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The little kids over there, they like electricity, they like televisions and air conditioning. We’re not going to change a lot of the mindset of the Iraqi people there today but we are changing the mindset of the future generations. They like having something to look forward to,” Ross told The Leader.
Before the U.S. arrived, hardly anyone in Iraq had electricity, much less a radio or television. Now electricity is available in most areas and many homes have a television satellite dish on the roof. Cars are becoming more common and Iraqis are learning to deal with traffic jams.

The soldiers of the 39th Infantry Brigade brought skills from their civilian jobs to help make a difference for Iraqis. Skills like welding, plumbing and electrical engineering are put to use. Upon returning from Iraq, Ross said he expected a 40 to 50 percent reenlistment rate. So far, it’s been closer to 80 percent.

The soldiers he talks to tell Ross their civilian jobs don’t seem as important as helping the people of Iraq. Besides Iraq, Arkansas soldiers have provided tornado and ice storm support within the state. Last year, more than 3,000 Arkansas soldiers went to the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some 1,700 Guard troops are mobilized for overseas missions in support of the global war on terror, as well as stateside in support of Operation Jump Start, a support mission to the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) to quell illegal immigration.