‘Why I Serve’ Speakers Anxious to Share Deployment Experiences
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2007 Many of the troops fanning out across the country beginning this week to share their deployment experiences with civilian groups say they hope to share some of the “good news” stories that often don’t make it into the evening news.
The eight troops are participating in the Defense Department’s “Why I Serve” program, which gives men and women in uniform the opportunity to speak to groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to local Rotary Clubs to schools and retirement community organizations.
The concept originated with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wanted a way to help reconnect troops to the American people, Marine Maj. Matt Morgan, the program’s director, explained.
“So we took a number of ideas, and one of them was taking troops just returned from overseas and sending them out to the American people so they could talk to community organizations and groups and interface directly without the interference of filters,” Morgan said.
Army Staff Sgt. Jerome MacDonald, a combat medic who returned from Iraq in February 2006, said he and his fellow Why I Serve participants have “an incredible amount of different stories” to share about their time on the ground in the Middle East.
He said he’s excited about the opportunity to spend the next 90 days sharing those personal stories with people who may never have heard firsthand what it’s like to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I think it’s important to tell people what’s going on,” he said. “They can turn on CNN, but there’s someone on CNN telling them what they saw over there. This will be the soldier telling you, ‘This is what I saw; this is what I did.’”
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Lyndon Romeo said he hopes his firsthand accounts will give the American public new insights. “I can describe to them and get them to see what I saw,” he said. “They will see a personal side they wouldn’t otherwise see from a person who has been in the field and can relate to them on a one-on-one basis.”
For Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeramiah Poff, the Why I Serve program represents an opportunity to share personal stories about his interaction with the Iraqi people and day-to-day life while deployed. “I’m going to share with them my experiences, everything from the culture to the daily routine to living conditions, what it’s like, even how I feel to be in uniform, and how proud I am of what I do,” he said.
Air Force Master Sgt. Ruben Vazquez, a medical technician who will begin his Why I Serve tour this week speaking to a Colorado Boy Scout group, said he looks forward to sharing some of the good things happening in Iraq that never get covered in the news.
“You hear about body counts and explosions and about the negative things happening over there, but you don’t hear a lot about the positive things,” he said. “And I did see a lot of positive things when I was over there: a lot of construction, a lot of training, a lot of education, a lot of gifts coming from the states.
“It’s not something you see a lot in the media, the positive impact we are making,” he said.
Marine Cpl. Michael Good Jr. said he will tell the groups he addresses how much most Iraqis appreciate what U.S. troops are doing in their country. “I was there sweeping roads for bombs, and they were very appreciative of what we do, because a 3-year-old could be walking down the road, then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’” he said. “The insurgents don’t care who it is, a U.S. troop or an Iraqi civilian. They don’t care who they are going to kill.
“I was surprised at how appreciative some of the Iraqi people are that we are there,” he said.
Marine Corps 1st Lt. Richard Posselt, another program participant, said he is happy to get the chance to share his experiences training both Afghan and Iraqi security forces. “I want to get the message out that we are succeeding over there and making positive strides,” he said. “I’m excited about trying to talk to as many people as possible in the next three months and get the word out there.”
Posselt said he plans to tell people that he and his fellow troops believe in their mission. “We are there for the greater good of both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We are out here trying to make a difference, and we believe in what we are doing.”