UPDATE: Per request, here’s a slideshow of Joe Barrentine’s brilliant work from the past six weeks.
ARMY LIFE SUPPORT AREA, Kuwait – Joe took this photo of rusty bullets while riding in a Humvee with soldiers from Fort Lewis’ 17th Fires Brigade. As we prepare to leave the Middle East after more than six weeks, I think this photo represents the Iraq war, circa 2010: The potential for great violence abounds, but the country has quieted.
Joe and I visited two Stryker brigades, an intelligence brigade, an artillery brigade and I Corps during our time in Iraq, and without question we witnessed a different war than others from The News Tribune who have previously embedded. Soldiers place premiums on meeting with local leaders. Troops need to discuss infrastructure projects with the same expertise as battle tactics. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has dedicated an entire battalion to supporting the State Department-led Provincial Reconstruction Team. American soldiers sit in the operations center of Iraqi units, and Iraqi soldiers sit in American TOCs. And on the few offensive operations local soldiers still plan, Iraqi soldiers are involved throughout.
All that leads to that box of bullets rusting away. Most soldiers I talked to hadn’t shot once since they arrived, save for days at the range. Many are bored and say they’d rather be in Afghanistan. Others are like Staff Sgt. Brandon Bersey, a Spokane native with 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.
“Some guys don’t like this, don’t like doing this kind of work,” he said, “but I think we are able to do this because of the job we did before. I’ve been here three times before this one, and I want to see how it ends.”
That ending is far from certain. Insurgents remain capable of great acts of violence that serve as a reminder of Iraq’s volatility. Elections are looming; the politicking before and the selection of ministers after it will almost certainly bring more blood. And all this comes amid the American military’s plan to withdraw down to 50,000 troops by Aug. 31.
Joe and I went to Iraq because our newspaper believes this is still an important story. About 115,000 American troops (and countless contractors) remain in the country, and the war effort costs billions annually. The country’s long-term stability or chaos can bleed into its neighboring countries.
The sacrifice of 12,000 Fort Lewis troops will continue into summertime. These are important months ahead – for the soldiers, their families, the United States and the Middle East. And even though our embed has ended, The News Tribune will continue to cover the war.