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Why We Serve: Army Major Cites Communication for Iraq Success

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2007 – An Army officer who commanded an infantry company in Iraq says enhanced communication with local Iraqis increased civic cooperation and boosted stability within his area of operations. 

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Army Maj. Cedric L. Burden poses for a photo in the Pentagon. This photo was taken before his Nov. 1 promotion. Defense Dept. photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Maj. Cedric L. Burden, 32, deployed to Iraq in September 2005 for a one-year tour of duty. Burden’s unit was responsible for conducting security operations in an area about 18 miles west of Kirkuk.

“It was more like Dodge City,” Burden said of the situation when he arrived in Iraq, comparing his area of operations to the wild Kansas frontier town of America’s Old West.

Burden said he quickly realized that mission success would be predicated on gaining the respect and trust of the Iraqi citizens he and his soldiers were pledged to protect. The then-captain directed his troops to get out of their vehicles during patrols and walk among and communicate with local residents.

“It showed that we’re here for security, but we didn’t want to ‘bully’ them off their own streets,” he explained.

Getting to know the Iraqi people was a turning point, Burden recalled. “We went from people not even speaking to us, to having Iraqis knowing our names,” he said.

As relations improved, more Iraqis came forward with information that was used to disrupt insurgent operations, and instances of violence decreased, the Gary, Ind.-born officer said.

Burden is among a group of 10 servicemembers who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa who have been selected to tell the military’s story to the American people at community, business, veterans and other gatherings as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public outreach program.

Why We Serve began in fall 2006 and was originally the idea of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace. Representatives from all the service branches participate in the program, which is conducted in quarterly segments. Burden and the other nine servicemembers in his group constitute the fifth iteration since the program began.

Burden, who wanted to be a soldier since he was a young child, also wants to tell speaking-tour audiences about the importance of supporting U.S. servicemembers. “It’s important to support soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen,” Burden said. “Freedom isn’t free, and someone has to do hard things during hard times.”

There “is no greater honor” than to serve your country in its time of need, the captain said.

Military service is “a noble thing to do, because it is being selfless,” Burden said.

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