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Vets Offer Lawmakers Different War Picture

By Erika Cotton

(Sept. 8, 2004) -- Chief among concerns at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Wednesday, was how well the Iraqis were adjusting to America’s presence in their country.

“It had to be greater than 90 percent that saw us as liberators, not occupiers,” said Col. Michael Linnington, former brigade commander of the 101st Airborne Division.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy, former commander of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, agreed.

“They understood why we were there,” he said.

Lawmakers had reservations about what the soldiers said, however, citing a recent increase in insurgent activity.

Capt. Patrick Costello, from the 101st Airborne Division, said that a lot of the dissent was probably due to normal human impatience.

“People expect things to change overnight,” he said. “But we see the excitement again when we repair a medical facility or school or government building.”

Linnington said a good number of the insurgents are mostly young males looking for work to make money. He said that as they all work toward further restoration of Iraq, they will have more work to offer and hopefully the rebellions will decrease.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., asked the witnesses if they felt the news on the war being presented to Americans was representative of what was actually going on in Iraq.

“The news is dominated by more tragic events and the good news is overshadowed, but good things are happening,” Linnington said, adding that it is expected and necessary for news reporters to cover the losses and more catastrophic stories.

Costello said it has been difficult for him to watch the news since returning home because of the disparities.

“It is a complete misrepresentation,” he said.

Capt. Morgan Savage, former Marine Corps company commander of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, agreed that coverage in the states is not representative of everything going on in Iraq.

He said part of the goal is to win one individual at a time to complete the mission, whether it is rebuilding a school, caring for a hungry child or trying to keep peace. But, he added, that effort is not being reported.

“I haven’t seen any good news stories on news programs,” Savage said. “It’s too bad a lot of members of the press aren’t over there to see one family member won over at a time.”

Lawmakers also asked the soldiers about the percentage of casualties caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) within their units and whether they felt the rules of engagement were suitable for their needs.

The soldiers concurred that the rules of engagement are fine as they are.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., inquired about any mental fatigue the soldiers were experiencing and what was being done to take care of it.

“Our junior leaders are trained to pick up stress and often it’s just a matter of removing them from the immediacy of fighting,” Savage said. “We teach our Marines that it’s ok, quite alright, to ask for help.