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Our toops making a difference in the war on terror

November 4, 2007
The Altoona Mirror
By John B. Getz., Jr.

While our troops are fighting the Global War on Terror to protect our freedom and to provide a better way of life for others, many mainline media outlets are waging a strategic campaign on the home front to rally public and political support against the war.

When the media accurately provides both sides of a story without influencing readers toward a conclusion, news coverage creates informed discussion that is critical in a democracy. However, unbalanced news coverage places opinions and agendas ahead of objectivity. It’s interesting how “analysis” type stories and the use of “undisclosed or unnamed sources” serve as the basis for many stories against the war on terror.

Let me be crystal clear: I do not promote war, nor does the Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars to which I currently serve as state commander. War veterans know all too well about the horrors of armed conflict. We are the first to say that war should always be the last resort to accomplish a worthy cause. Preserving freedom and fighting terrorism are such causes. As President Kennedy stated, “The cost of freedom is always high…. and one path (the U.S. ) shall never choose is the path of surrender or submission…. There are risks and costs to a program of action—but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Media stories about lives lost are an important part of war coverage, but so should stories about both progress on the war front and why troops put their lives on the line to benefit others.

When you have an enemy of freedom that links killing innocent people with heavenly rewards you face a destructive and determined enemy that hides behind all that is good in this world to create death. Many troops will tell you that they are in uniform today to battle such an enemy where they live, train and hide.

From the many encounters that I have had with soldiers and parents, the message I hear is that our troops believe in the mission that they are fighting. Driving their service is a dedication to improving life abroad and making America safer. I recently spoke with a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard who reported that his troops see the difference they are making in Iraq, and many want to go back. He said that they want to do the job right and to finish the mission. On the national scene, I heard that wounded soldiers want to be deployed again to rejoin their units in this fight.

There are literally thousands of first-hand stories of how troops’ service is improving life in Iraq and how many Iraqis are showing their appreciation to them. Since embedded journalists are not reporting these stories—or at least most of these reports are not seeing the light of day—here are signs that significant progress has been made in Iraq and Afghanistan:

1. Due to the recent troop surge and more cooperation from citizens who are tired of suicide bombings and sectarian fighting, there’s been a significant drop in daily insurgent attacks, murders, IED events and violence during religious holidays. A Lt. Col with the Army’s 3rd Battalion recently said, “The (Iraqi people) are realizing that the mission will provide them better hope for the future.” U.S. death toll in Iraq for October was the lowest in nearly two years.

2. With the protection of coalition forces and local police, Iraqis have held three national elections, voted for a transitional government, and drafted and approved a democratic constitution.

3. The training of the Iraqi army and police continues as locals show greater dedication to keep peace.

4. Iraq now has a stable currency, an independent stock exchange and an independent Central Bank.

5. Many schools and hospitals are being built, teachers and health care workers have better resources

6. With more insurgent attacks being prevented, ongoing efforts to build the Iraqi infrastructure are delivering water, electric, oil and other resources.

7. Iraqi university students communicate and travel abroad more freely.

8. Iraqis have a growing free press.

9. More small businesses are opening in Iraq creating jobs and everyday conveniences are returning.

10. Afghani women have constitutional rights and are preparing for leadership roles in their communities.

In addition to the progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, the international community has benefitted largely from the success of the War on Terror. More than three-quarters of al-Qaida's known leaders and terrorist associates—and Saddam and his murderous sons—have been detained or killed thanks to the brave troops who tracked them down.

Our military men and women should be proud of the progress they have achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we should be proud of them. The PA Guard alone has deployed more than 16,000 troops in the war on terror; each one has a story to tell. Because of troop’s contributions to preserving and expanding freedom in the world, they have seen firsthand how Iraq is a better place and how terrorism has been hit hard through this mission.

Some Americans and politicians are tired of the war. It is interesting to note that there was also dissent on the home front during World War II. But just as the troops’ resolve during that critical worldwide battle against evil last century stayed strong, today’s service personnel are not wavering in their commitment to this mission. Re-enlistments among troops in Iraq remain high. Young people continue to volunteer for our Armed Forces and many recruitment goals are being met. Remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Many veterans of the War on Terror signed up to be a part of America’s military response to those attacks; their stories deserve to be told.

One Marine Gunner, commenting about training Iraqi security forces, proudly said, “I have never been in a position where I thought I was having a bigger impact. I believe that a stable, secure Iraq, at peace with itself and its neighbors, is critical to the security of America. Iraqi freedom, democracy and self-government may not look like America, but it will prove revolutionary in the Middle East.”

Many parents of those serving in the GWOT see their son’s or daughter’s role in the war as important to the future of freedom. Consider the mother of an Air Force sergeant who, despite suffering from cancer, told her daughter to go on her deployment to “fight the good fight. (I) believe that what you are doing is the ‘greater good.’” You also hear grieving parents find some comfort in knowing that their deceased son or daughter wanted to be fighting for freedom.

Recently, retired Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, who was shot down in 1995 while enforcing NATO’s no fly zone in Bosnia and who survived six days before being rescued, addressed Pennsylvania lawmakers and veterans groups. He spoke about how his friends in the GWOT believe in their mission and how they see the positive effect of their efforts. He also trumpeted the call for the best possible care for returning troops. While CNN named the O’Grady’s story as one of the top 25 stories over the last 25 years, apparently none of the local media thought his visit was worth covering.

Regardless of where you stand on the war, everyone should recognize that our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Reserve and Guard personnel are modern day volunteer patriots committing themselves to protecting freedom. They don’t like to be called heroes, but their actions are heroic.

I am proud of and thankful for everyone who serves in a military uniform. More Americans would appreciate them, too—and would treasure their very own freedom more—if they knew more about how our troops’ accomplishments protect freedom in America and in other nations. 

By John B. Getz. Jr. - Vietnam Veteran & State Commander of the PA Dept. of Veterans of Foreign Wars whose son served two tours in the War on Terror.

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