25 October 2011

The Roads Ahead for Iraq and the Red Bull

For those Midwesterners still paying attention to the war in Iraq this week--you know, since the last U.S. "combat units" allegedly left that country back in August 2010--President Barack Obama's Oct. 21 announcement that all remaining U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end planted the hybrid seeds of hope and rumor.

"As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end—for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world," Obama said. "After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011."

In other words, "mission accomplished." Again.

The 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, however, is still engaged in the fight, with approximately 2,600 soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (1-34th BCT) deployed to Kuwait since May.

Given Obama's words, Minnesota's Red Bull families were quick to add two and two together to get 2,600 back by Christmas. But Uncle Sam doesn't work that way.

Early Saturday morning, Minnesota National Guard public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kevin Olson had to counter the rumors via Facebook: "There is no indication that today's announcement by the President will affect the Minnesota National Guard," he wrote. "More than 2,600 Soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, stationed in Kuwait, are expected to remain until May 2012 performing their important duties of providing security for bases in Kuwait and facilitating the draw down of US military forces and equipment from Iraq."

It's political snipe-hunting season in the land of the caucuses, and hacks and critics quickly claimed that Obama was deserting the Iraqi people, abandoning the strategic advantages presented by locating troops on Iraqi soil, and dishonoring the memories of more than 4,000 troops killed during the U.S. occupation.

Diplomats have been negotiating for years regarding the political and legal status of U.S. forces in a post-2011 Iraq. The sticky-tipping point proved to be whether U.S. troops would be subject to Iraqi law. What would happen if U.S. troops were required to defend themselves in court every time they defended themselves with bullets? On the other hand, why would a host government struggling to impose rule of law subject itself to indefinite occupation?

Yes, it smells. But it smells like democracy. It's a republic, if they can keep it.

Let the pols and pundits argue over campaign scraps. For Red Bull Nation, Obama's decision is neither a big win or an epic fail. It's just another day overseas, on the road and on mission. For example, as of earlier this month, Minnesota's Charlie Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment (1-194th C.A.B.) has traveled more than 100,000 miles in Iraq and has escorted over 4,000 trucks safely through the desert land of Iraq.

“It was one of those things that I wouldn’t change for the world,” said Army Spc. Luke A. Peterson, an armor crewman from Duluth, Minn. “Twenty years down the line when I’m talking to my kids and grand kids I can tell them where I was on the 10th anniversary of 9/11—in Iraq, helping to finish this war.”

“We will never forget the lives lost that September morning ten years ago,” Capt. John M. Hobot, Charlie Company commander. “We are going to finish the job we started here last deployment during the troop surge and leave proud with what we have accomplished in Iraq. Today is a day to reflect on what we really have in the United States, a society that accepts political differences and diversity among it’s people which is protected by the blanket of freedom and democracy. I wish the same for the people of Iraq during this transitional time as they move closer to a democratic free society.”

Approximately 50,000 troops remain in Iraq, along with their equipment and vehicles. They need to move out in less than 90 days.

Last Red Bull in country, be sure to turn off the lights.

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