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Locals tell stories of war on terror

[9/11/03] Today, two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, eight of nine Vicksburg people deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom and related civilian reconstruction work have provided their thoughts on their plights in Iraq.

Those who penned their feelings from their assigned positions are Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, 49, who is commanding Task Force Restore Iraqi Oil; Col. Richard Jenkins, 44, Mississippi Valley Division deputy commander; John A. Ashley, 55, program manager; Joyce Montague, 45, health and security assistant; Walter L. Mattingly, 51, Vicksburg District mechanical engineering technician; Michael J. Bishop, 40, ERDC environmental research and physical scientist; and Myron Fancher, age and job description unavailable.

Following are some of the comments.

Brig. Gen. Robert Crear

“When you’re here on the ground, there is no doubt about the cause that brought us to Iraq n the global war on terrorism. This was definitely a training area for terrorists and terror. It is evident that Saddam’s regime was supporting terrorism. You still see pockets of terrorists, and you see how they harm people. The aftermath of Saddam Hussein is evident by the mass graves we have found and the huge caches of explosives and other military materials that are far beyond the quantities needed for normal defensive purposes.

“Our deployed Corps people are our most important assets. They are all volunteers. They make my job easy. They have great initiative, and they do what it takes to get the job done. Without these dedicated team members, our mission to restore Iraqi oil production to pre-war levels would be impossible. Their family members in Vicksburg, and Corps family members across the country, should be proud of the contributions their loved ones are making here daily.

“We are all working long hours; seven days a week. You miss the days of the week; every day is basically the same. I look forward to returning home and enjoying weekends, spending time with family and friends. My wife is home in Vicksburg now. If she reads this, tell her I know she has a birthday coming up, and I won’t forget!”

Col. Richard Jenkins

“Besides the resolve of the Coalition forces, the spirit of the Iraqi people, and the capabilities of our armed forces, I am amazed at the people we have in the Army Corps of Engineers. Many of these people are from Vicksburg or have Vicksburg ties. Their families and the city should be proud of the sacrifices and contributions these citizens are making. We, as soldiers, deploy when duty calls; they volunteered to serve where they do not have to be. I am honored to serve alongside these professionals. Additionally, it has been great serving with General Crear (I was his operations officer in the 4th Engineer Battalion at Fort Carson, Colo.).

“One of the most satisfying parts of this experience is meeting our Iraqi counterparts in the Ministry of Oil and its operating companies. These are ingenious, world-class engineers who take great pride in their oil infrastructure. Being in a position to assist them is a great privilege. In many ways this experience is similar to working with the East Europeans after the fall of the Iron Curtain. They are learning how to control their own destinies, make decisions without fear of reprisal and operate their companies based on sound business practices rather than cronyism or threats. Their enthusiasm is contagious and given a stable foundation, they will build a great country.”

Walter L. Mattingly

Mattingly administers part of the U.S. Agency for International Development reconstruction contract, including the reconstruction of some of Iraq’s schools.

“Going to the schools is wonderful. When we arrive, even with force protection, the children come from everywhere to see what is happening at their school. They gather around and look at us and touch us. Their curiosity level overruns, and questions come from everywhere. “Mister, mister,” is the call. We use digital cameras and take pictures that can be displayed immediately so they can see and laugh at their images. The children have already been won over. Theirs will be the generation to benefit the most from our actions in Iraq’s reconstruction today. They will have experienced freedom from the start.

“I miss everything about my regular life back home. My wife and family are foremost. My dogs and cats lounging in the back yard, and the smell of summer flowers as I look into a cloud-filled sky seems only a memory to me now. I haven’t seen a cloud here yet! I have come to better appreciate every aspect of my life in Vicksburg. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,”‘ is so true.”

Michael J. Bishop

Bishop is helping develop computer databases of maps, and he has also participated in missions to deliver food and supplies to Iraqis.

“The thing I miss the most in Vicksburg is the time I spend walking my dogs on Drummond Street. I am very fond of my dogs, my neighbors and my neighborhood. I will be ready for my daily walks when my deployment is over.”

Joyce Montague

Montague is on a 34-person MVD team working with the USAID. Based in Baghdad, she provides administrative assistance to the central and field offices of the Iraq Reconstruction Office.

“The first word that comes to my mind in describing the Iraqi people is strong’. My interaction with these people has been a positive experience. Most have told me, America is our only hope.’ There are professional engineers and architects who work in our offices who make $10 per day. Before the war, they did good to make $10 per week; if they were even able to work at all. They all wish for change here; change for the better. With patience and determination, it is my hope that they will one day experience the true meaning of freedom.”

John A. Ashley

Ashley is a project manager based in an IRO field office about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

“I miss my wife and grandkids. I also miss going to Warren Central and Mississippi State ball games. We have a foreign exchange student in our home. I miss not being there to help her at home and participating in her school activities, including Warren Central Band and Chorus.”

Wayne Stroupe

“It all boils down to one thing. If we can stabilize Iraq and get the Iraqi people set up to run their country on their own, it will give the whole area, the whole Middle East, hope. It can’t be America doing it; it has to be the Iraqi people. We need to help them at first, but then it has to be theirs. If this happens, it will all be worth it.

“I miss my family and many great friends and co-workers, my dogs, fishing, college football (I just can’t watch football at 4 a.m.!), and that ice cold beer in a frosty mug, right after you finish mowing the yard! And I miss GREEN! Green trees, green grass, just green!”

Myron Fancher

“Upon seeing the request for personnel needed in Iraq in March 2003, I was drawn to volunteer to actually contribute to a worthy and needy cause.

“I told my children on my first call home upon arriving in Basrah, that before they went to bed every night, to pray and ask God to please protect the brave men and women serving our country, to help the people of Iraq, and also to thank God they were fortunate to be born in the United States of America, where we all are truly blessed.”