Iraqi, Afghan Elections Signal Most Significant Progress in 2005
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2005 Free and fair elections in Iraq and Afghanistan represent the U.S. military's most significant accomplishment in 2005, the top U.S. enlisted servicemember said.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began 2005 in Iraq as the senior enlisted advisor for Multinational Corps Iraq. He witnessed the Jan. 30 elections there and said the event and subsequent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan are significant on many levels.
"I think elections are the key focus," Gainey said in an interview. "When you can go into an area that a week before people were shooting at you, and now you go out and see people lined up as far as your eyes can see ... voting and giving you 'the finger' -- the purple index finger -- it was amazing."
He said American servicemembers should take pride in this advance whether they were in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. "You were involved too, because you supported it," he said. "You supported the men and women that were there, so you're just as much a part of being there, and everyone needs to know that."
Gainey predicted 2006 will bring more involvement from Iraqis and Afghans in defending their own countries. "I think you're going to see the Iraqi army (and) the Afghan army take more responsibility, and I think they want to do that," he said. "I look forward to that. And I think everyone in the United States looks forward to them taking responsibility and us slowly pulling out when the time is right."
The sergeant major didn't try to predict when that time might be, and he said U.S. servicemembers don't try to predict either.
"Most of them don't worry about timelines. I think it's others who worry more about timelines," he said. "They worry about the mission at hand. They realize that as soon as the Iraqi or Afghanistan armies take more of the responsibilities for what's going on, they will come home. But I would bet you that any solider, sailor, Marine or airman you ask says that we'd rather stay and do it right than leave and have it wrong."
Gainey said he has seen significant and measurable progress in Iraq, particularly in 2005. He noted that in his early days in Iraq, casual observers didn't see children going to school or people out on the street. "Now you see kids going to school with books in their hands; you see businesses open, markets open; you see more cars on the street than Carter's got peanuts," he said with a tongue-in-cheek reference to former President Carter's peanut farmer family roots. "I think that is a positive thing. That is a real neat thing, just to see the way that (Iraqis are) living their lives."
Gainey's message to U.S. troops as 2005 gives way to 2006 is to keep their heads up and take pride in their accomplishments.
"On the days that they feel down -- because we all feel down -- they need to keep their heads up. They need to be proud of what they're doing. They need to realize that what they're doing is making history," whether it be in Iraq and Afghanistan or responding to natural disasters the world over, Gainey said. "That's the message I would tell them: be proud of who they are, because pride is contagious, and they're just throwing this pride all over the place, which is very good and makes me feel good about who I am ... and who we are."