Vicksburg soldier: Iraq has ‘two different stories’|[6/10/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 12, 2006

Other than finding its deserts expansive and its temperatures hot, Vicksburg resident Steven W. Rowland hasn’t found Iraq to be as bleak as was portrayed in the United States before his arrival in the war-torn country about six weeks ago.

&#8220From my personal observations and talking to the local nationals, there are almost two different stories,” said the 43-year-old Rowland in a telephone interview from Baghdad this week.

He is a first sergeant in the 412th Engineer Command and is on a year’s active duty with the U.S. Army.

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&#8220The news broadcasts don’t reflect enough on the good that is going on and the determination of the locals in making their democracy successful,” Rowland said.

He said the troops in Iraq have regular access to TV news broadcasts from CNN, the BBC and Fox.

Rowland has been in the military since he joined the Mississippi National Guard in 1983 and was a member of the 168th Engineer Group. He transferred to the Army Reserve and the 412th in 1995. He also served in the 155th Infantry based in Gloster and was activated for Operation Desert Storm.

Rowland, a conductor with Kansas City Southern Railway when not in uniform, is from a family of military influence. His oldest son, Nathan, 21, is in the Army serving at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. His 18-year-old son, Benjamin, who graduated from Vicksburg High School in May, has been awarded $68,000 in college tuition money from the Army and will report for training in July.

As a first sergeant in Baghdad, Rowland said he, in effect, wears three hats. One is as the de facto deputy mayor of the area in which he works.

&#8220I am my commander’s (who is in effect the mayor) right-hand man,” he said.

The second job is as a facilities manager for the community, and the third hat has him overseeing all of the housing, water, food and just about anything else the troops under Capt. Jack Parker’s command need.

The local residents, Rowland said, are also telling him their quality of life is getting better and the violence is becoming less. &#8220They are determined to make (democracy) happen.”

One thing that Rowland believes shows the determination of the Iraqis is the way they are responding to the recruitment of potential police officers.

&#8220They have lost over 2,500 (people) just applying to become police officers,” he said. &#8220That’s almost as many soldiers as we’ve lost. But they keep coming.”

One advance for more than half of the 28.8 million Iraqis living in 16 of the country’s 18 provinces, Rowland said, is a first alert system similar to a 911 system in the United States. With the system, Iraqis can summon help from police or health-care professionals.

Rowland said he also is impressed by the respect and trust being built between the Iraqis and the American forces. They are growing regularly, he said.

To that end, he said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a big role.

Some of the projects the Army is working on are: