By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
I'm a Minnesota guy, born and raised. I'm from Edina; I went to the Blake School in Minneapolis; I was the captain of the Macalester football team. After I graduated from Mac in '98, I spent a couple of years working for Norwest and Wells Fargo as an investment banker. I started law school at the University of Minnesota in the year 2000 and after about two months dropped out and enlisted in the Marine Corps. I was going to become a JAG attorney. But after I got bit by the bug to learn a little bit more about the Marine Corps, I decided I wanted to be a ground officer and go around the world with guns rather than deliver legal briefs in a courtroom.
I ended up as an intelligence officer with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I was an intelligence collections officer, one of several, with the 1st Marine Division, which is the infantry unit of the expeditionary force. Personally, most of my work in intelligence was done during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, here in the United States. I deployed to the Middle East in February of 2003. I was in Kuwait; I crossed over to Iraq the night the invasion began. Made it as far north as the north side of Baghdad, drove into Baghdad the day that Saddam's statue fell down. I basically was there for the events of the invasion and the fall of the regime.
Just after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" and the end of major combat operations, I was sent home because it looked like things were going to settle down, and my wife was pregnant and had some pregnancy issues. That was pretty much the end of my combat phase of the war, but the war was not over for me at that time. When I came back, I was still serving as an intelligence officer. My job was to support the troops in Iraq by putting together a lot of reporting from agencies and assets, and helping in an intelligence capacity through the computer and by communicating with the troops on the ground. It was also my job to call families when there were casualties--not deaths but injuries. That is a story that hasn't really been reported. You don't see those numbers. But there are now over 10,000 young Americans whose lives are forever changed by the injuries sustained there.
When I left Iraq, fully two-thirds of the Iraqi people supported our occupation of Iraq and wanted us there. Also at that time, the 1st Marine Division, the unit I'd been part of, did occupation duty in southern Iraq for four months, in what are now lawless areas where al-Sadr is. But during that four months, no Marines were killed in action. That's an important thing to note: What happened in Iraq to cause the Iraqi people to suddenly swing to--the last poll I saw said over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want the occupation forces gone tomorrow. And they see the coalition as actually creating more chaos and more insecurity in their country. For me personally, I fully supported President Bush, I fully supported the invasion of Iraq. I still support the liberation of the Iraqi people, but I came around to support John Kerry when I realized that this administration has erred time and time again. Even in the pursuit of their own end of a free Iraq, they're incompetently carrying out the plan.
I started to get doubts as I drove south from Baghdad into southern Iraq where we were going to do occupation duty. The Army forces were coming north at the time. At the time we drove into Baghdad, people were literally hugging and kissing the Marines. We had Marines wearing soft-covers instead of helmets. It was a very permissive environment at the time. I'm not going to say it was safe, but I will say that the Iraqi people genuinely appreciated us. The joy that we felt doing that, I've got to think it's only akin to what the WWII vets marching into Paris felt on the day that they liberated France.
But as we were driving south, there was a Shi'ite pilgrimage going on at the same time. It hadn't happened in over 20 years because of Saddam, but they actually got to exercise their religious freedom. As our Marines were driving south past these Shi'ite people waving and smiling, the Army was driving north, as I said. I expected to see construction equipment, or water, or supplies. Instead what I saw were combat troops--tanks moving up the highway. They had dismounted infantry along the side pushing Iraqi people off to the edge of the highway. It was at that time I started to have some doubts about how the occupation was going to go if we.... There was a window of opportunity where the Iraqi people genuinely wanted assistance, and we could have exploited that opportunity and used it to the advantage of the Iraqi people and of the U.S. forces in Iraq.