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Why We Serve: U.S. Helping Iraqis to Achieve Freedom, Marine Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2007 – When people ask him why the U.S. military should be helping Iraq establish a free and stable society, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy M. de Vries cites how France helped the American colonies gain their independence from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.

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

“If it wasn’t for the French support, with supplies and training and the naval blockade, we wouldn’t be the country that we are” today, de Vries pointed out.

U.S.-provided military, diplomatic and economic assistance is giving Iraqis “a good opportunity to experience more freedom than they’ve ever had,” after enduring decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, de Vries said during an interview with American Forces Press Service.

Last year, the 31-year-old noncommissioned officer spent 11 months overseas helping Iraqi soldiers to hone their logistics, weaponry and other skills. As a result, Iraqi troops are performing better across-the-board, de Vries, a military logistics chief, said.

Ongoing training and development of Iraq’s post-Saddam security forces is making “slow progress, but any progress is a good thing,” de Vries pointed out.

Canadian-born de Vries traveled a long road before joining the Marine Corps, moving to the United States with his parents from London, Ontario, in 1991. The de Vries family first lived in Macon, Ga., he recalled, before moving to Tennessee.

De Vries joined the Marines in 1994, after graduating from high school in his adopted hometown of Crossville, Tenn.

“I like the prestige and honor that come from being a Marine,” de Vries explained. “People always know what a Marine is.”

“I like being part of a big team,” de Vries added.

Why We Serve is “a great program,” de Vries said, noting the audiences he encounters on his speaking tours are made up of U.S. citizens “who just want to know and be involved with what their country is doing.”

“We definitely like what we do,” he said.

The Why We Serve program was the idea of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it began in the fall of 2006. Eight servicemembers, two from each branch of the military, are chosen to participate in the program each quarter.

De Vries has a ready answer when citizens ask him why the U.S. military is involved in Iraq.

“We’re there to provide freedom to a country that deserves it, that had been under the heel of a dictator for so many years,” de Vries said.

De Vries said he sees the logic in confronting terrorists overseas, rather than having to fight them in the homeland.

“No one likes to spend time away from their family,” he acknowledged. “In a perfect world, yeah, we wouldn’t have terrorism, and then we’d be at home.”

However, the reality is that dangerous terrorists operating overseas want to attack and kill Americans, he pointed out. “It is better that we take them out at the source,” de Vries said.

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