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Windom says U.S. forces making a difference in Iraq

| September 8, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

Home for 15 days after five months in Iraq, all Dave Windom could think about was food.

³Brenda laughed,² he said, recalling his wife¹s reaction. ³She said all I wanted to do was eat. I wanted to try the things I hadn¹t had for months, like Chinese food or Mexican food, a doughnut.²

Nearly everyone he has talked to since coming home has asked the same two questions, Windom said: ³Are we making progress?² and ³Do you think we should be there?²

The answer to both questions is ³Yes.²

The typical Iraqi, in a one-on-one conversation, agrees that the United States should be in Iraq, Windom said. Many Iraqis fear a takeover by warlords and a descent into complete chaos if U.S. troops pull out, he said.

³They want the power to work,² he said. ³They want the sewer to work. And they want a job.²

Progress is being made on those fronts, Windom said. His Washington National Guard unit, the First Battalion of the 161st Infantry, is attached to the First Cavalry Division and has helped set up 36 schools and four medical clinics since arriving in Iraq in early April. The big push now is on garbage, sewer and electricity.

Windom was recently promoted to sergeant major and is scheduled to serve another six months in Iraq. Along with helping to rebuild Iraq, his unit conducts infantry missions like patrolling the streets on the outskirts of Baghdad and hunting down insurgents firing mortars. It also carries out more peaceful daily tasks like supplying food, fuel and water and meeting with neighborhood councils to get the information needed to help the Iraqis rebuild their own infrastructure.

³More and more we¹re pushing the Iraqis to the forefront to at least get involved in fixing their stuff,² he said.

Iraqis tend to be entrepreneurial and creative when it comes to fixing things, Windom said.

³You¹ll find a guy who¹s a contractor but he¹s also a dentist,² he said.

Ingenuity in making do with what¹s available doesn¹t always lead to positive results in what U.S. troops refer to as ³the land of the not quite right.²

³Over here we say we MacGyvered something,² Windom said. ³Over there they Haji it. It¹s the same thing as MacGyvering only it doesn¹t work when you¹re done.²

Most Iraqis are more interested in practical things than in politics, Windom said.

³The average guy on the street just wants to be left alone to run his business,² he said. ³They just want the crime and the violence to end so when they build they can be sure it¹s going to be there the next day.²

News reports from Iraq tend to provide ³snapshots² that don¹t show the bigger picture, Windom said. He cited a recent peaceful protest demonstration he witnessed that received scant attention from the media. The fact that Iraqis were able to gather together to express their views, then go home, is a sign of progress along the path to democratization, Windom said.

³A year and a half ago that wouldn¹t have happened,² he said.

Windom is hopeful for a better future for Iraq. The country is blessed with abundant water and thriving agriculture along with plentiful oil reserves.

³They could really be something,² he said.