Family, Public Support Critical to Iraq Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 23, 2005 Support from their families and the American people is helping U.S. servicemembers here accomplish a very difficult, challenging mission, the chief of staff for Multinational Force Iraq told the American Forces Press Service.
"You can't perform over here to your maximum capability unless you are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually well settled," said Marine Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Weber, speaking at the command's headquarters at Camp Victory. "And the way you get there is through the support you get from your family back home."
Weber said it's evident from the "amazing" performance he witnesses among troops here that they know they have the firm backing of their families as well as the American public.
DoD recognizes and provides that type of public support through efforts such as its "America Supports You" program.
"How much of an impact does it have?" Weber asked. "It's immeasurable. But it's a big factor."
Particularly in light of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans at home recognize the need for Operation Iraqi Freedom and support it, Weber said. "The American public has been educated. They understand that there is a purpose to what we are doing over here, a real purpose," he said. "It has a lot to do with the way we as Americans want to live, the quality of life we want to have and the freedoms we want to exercise and enjoy."
This support, he said, is critical to troops operating in a very different environment from the one they're accustomed to - one he said poses unique challenges and pressures.
"It's a very different environment over here," Weber said. "It's one thing to take young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines ... and say, 'See that hill over there? That's our objective. And we are going to fire our way to that hill and we are going to secure that objective.'"
But, Weber said, operations in Iraq are far less clear-cut. "We have many of these young kids in very, very challenging situations," he said. "They're standing checkpoints all hours of the day and night, patrolling in very strange and difficult and challenging areas, driving through the streets of Baghdad."
As they operate, Weber said, "it's the unknown out there." Troops, he said, find themselves constantly wondering: "Is this car driving up here the one with the bomb that is going to get me? Do I shoot or not shoot? Is that a friendly person over there, or is it somebody who is going to lure me in and set a trap for me? As I drive my vehicle down the road here, is that an (improvised explosive device) or is it not an IED?"
As they consider these possibilities, many junior troops - often corporals and even privates -- find themselves "making decisions on the spur of the moment that have strategic implications," Weber said.
Living in these circumstances "is a lot of pressure" and puts these troops under "a lot of strain," Weber said.
What helps them cope, he said, is the support they receive - through quality-of-life support provided here on the ground, and from their personal support systems at home. "And it's this kind of support that helps them deal with a lot of the mental stress over here," he said.
Weber said he's hopeful families and the American public will remain supportive, not only for the duration of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but also in the years to come, when veterans of the operation continue to need their support.
"We paid a price over there - a price in legs, arms, eyes, minds, deaths," Weber said. Some returning veterans "are going to carry the scars" of their service in Iraq for years to come "and are going to need our support," he said.
"I hope the nation doesn't ever forget these young men and women," he said. "We need to keep them in the forefront and honor them as heroes for what they are doing over there, and be sure that in five to 10 years from now, we haven't forgotten."