Do you see what I see?
Editor’s note: A few weeks ago we promised to have a letter from Marine Lt. Colonel Bern Krueger, a born-and-bred Vail local who is currently stationed in Iraq. Bern is currently a Commander based out of Edwards, Calif., but was called to Iraq because of a great need for fliers in that area. Here, in his own words, he describes what he sees during his nightly flights.AL ASAD, IRAQ — Flying around the Marines’ AO (Area of Operations) helping the people of Iraq establish their own democracy allows me an interesting perspective on a few things. What I have seen may not paint a complete picture of everything, but I figure it is pretty close. What I see is not what you see in the media on a daily basis and it is not what my family sees either. I try to paint a different picture for them, and I will try for you.I have been flying around here for a few months, generally along the trace of the Euphrates river from our base to Baghdad (hundred miles or so), and thereabouts. Almost all of it has been at night, utilizing the Night Vision Goggles (NVG) that give us an advantage over our enemy. What I see is monochromatic, various hues of green. Not nearly as vivid as what you see during the light of day, but vastly greater than what you see in the dark of night. My perspective is not from thousands of feet, but from hundreds, sometimes less. My perspective is not from miles away, but from directly over the villages and cities. It is not from on the ground, but close.I don’t see what you see on the news.What I see during the wee hours is relative calm. Water is life and that is where people live. Those that live out in the desert tending their sheep, as they did 2,000 years ago, depend on wells or other water sources.Life is mostly rural, strung along the rivers, the towns are small, the houses are single story and modest. There is much agriculture along the river; narrow plots 20 yards by a quarter mile. I assume those are family plots where what is grown is needed to live and what remains is taken to market. Date palm groves are everywhere, all else is nondescript. Sheep are numerous and tightly corralled by evening, a few cattle exist here and there. Pockets of wealth do exist, probably folks that were favored by Saddam. Those houses are more extravagant; plots of land are larger and mechanically maintained. The only movement I see is security patrols or military-escorted logistic convoys. Nighttime curfews keep the locals inside. The insurgents, hiding among the population, no doubt use the cover of darkness, and are difficult to detect.As I travel hundreds of miles each night, I don’t see the violence that you see in the media. Sure, it exists, and is very real to those near it. But it is sporadic, unorganized, and often isolated. It is not everywhere. There are not great pillars of smoke peppering the landscape. There are no riots or mass panic sweeping through the towns. There are no fiery infernos burning houses and schools to the ground, no barrages of mortar fire raining destruction upon the communities, and no raging mobs displaying hate or screaming anti-American propaganda. Sure, it is out there. But it is in small pockets, concentrated in small areas. Overall the country is quiet, silently and eagerly trying to repair an infrastructure damaged by war and neglect and trying to return to some sort of normalcy not seen in decades.Notably absent is any form of recreation, although one would not expect to see much at the hours we fly. I don’t believe one would see much during the day though. Here the lakes and rivers are void, the desert empty. In America the rivers and lakes would be choked with power boaters and jet skis; the desert would be filled with RVs and ATVs people exercising their liberty.Ah, liberty, that must be the key. You need the opportunity to earn fair wages, the option to save, and the freedom to spend. Maybe one day these proud people of Iraq will know liberty, and justice. Then they can learn to live. Not necessarily as we live, but without terror and intimidation. Free to make their own choices and pursue their own dreams. Free to have hope that their children can have greater opportunities. I can’t help but think as I look down that these people have the same desires that most of us have. They only need to be able to pursue them. The heavy hand of terror that Saddam Hussein wielded has been lifted; the perpetual intimidation from the cowards that fear liberty and justice must be vanquished.The coalition forces are here to help the Iraqi people realize their dreams, to help them move in the right direction, and to create momentum that they can sustain. Not easy work. But liberty and justice are never easy to earn and are more difficult to maintain. One only has to look at the history of our great country to realize the price. We can’t expect it to be easy in Iraq or anywhere else. It requires a commitment to freedom, one demonstrated by our country time and time again. Our Pledge of Allegiance does not state liberty and justice for ME; it proclaims “Liberty and Justice for ALL.” That is what I see. VT– Reach Bern Krueger through the Vail Trail by writing Editor Tom Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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