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Why We Serve: Afghans, Iraqis Appreciate Troops’ Efforts, NCO Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2007 – Most Afghans and Iraqis appreciate the efforts of U.S. troops deployed in their countries because they know the servicemembers are helping them obtain a better future, a veteran Army noncommissioned officer said.

“They’re glad to see you. You know you’ve made a difference and an impact,” Army Sgt. Daniel Alvarado, 36, said of the attitudes of Afghans and Iraqis he met during back-to-back tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alvarado is one of eight servicemembers who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa who have been selected to speak to American community groups and businesses across the nation as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public-outreach program.

“I love it. It’s absolutely great,” Alvarado said of the Why We Serve program. Some citizens seem misinformed about life in today’s U.S. military, he said. For example, some people believe most soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are billeted outside and sleep on the ground.

“They were under the impression that a lot of soldiers were living in the dirt and that living conditions were terrible,” Alvarado observed. Rather, he said, most soldiers live in tents that are air-conditioned or heated, as appropriate.

To back up his assertion that Afghan and Iraqi citizens appreciate U.S. troops’ efforts, the Vineland, N.J., native cited his most-recent overseas service last year in Afghanistan, when his unit was warmly welcomed back by a group of Afghans whose village had been harassed by the Taliban after the Americans departed on another mission.

Alvarado said his unit got word of the villagers’ plight and returned to take care of the Taliban.

The Afghans “were so happy and glad to see us, because they’d been afraid to go outside their own little village,” Alvarado, an engineering equipment mechanic, said.

Alvarado said he believes U.S. troops must confront terrorists operating in Afghanistan and Iraq to thwart them from attacking the United States again.

“We’re needed there. The moment we decide to pack up and go, we’re going to be chasing this thing again, if not this year, then the following year,” he asserted.

Alvarado joined the Army in 1995 after graduating from high school. Today, the veteran mechanic can repair a variety of military equipment, including bulldozers, earth scrapers, graders and even Abrams tanks, he said. However, he now wants to put his Spanish-language proficiency to use as an intelligence analyst.

“I want to do something fresh and challenging,” said Alvarado, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

Being a soldier is personally rewarding and unlike any other occupation, Alvarado said.

“I stay, because I feel I’m making a difference,” he said.

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