GW students, Iraq veterans, reflect on war, troop increase

It took a shot to the face from a sniper riffle and two tours of duty in Iraq for former GW student Todd Bowers’s opinion of the war to change. But now Bowers is wary of a proposed troop increase to the war-torn country.

“I was fully supportive of it at first,” he said. “It went from permissive to intense combat in a year a half. It caught me off guard.”

The service men and women are some of the most directly affected by President George W. Bush’s proposed surge of 21,500 U.S. troops which may be deployed to Iraq in the near future.

People who have served in the heart of the conflict, like Bowers, know first hand what a troop increase like the one Bush is proposing would mean for the war, and the troops fighting in it.

Bowers said an infantry increase would have been more effective earlier in the war and what’s needed now are information specialists and intelligence groups to establish stability in Iraq.

Having served from January to September 2003 during the initial invasion of Iraq, Bowers traveled from Kuwait to Baghdad as a civil affairs official. He joined the reserve to help pay for college and attended GW after he returned from service. Bowers will finish his senior year at George Mason, the university he plans to transfer to this fall.

In addition to receiving serious wounds from combat, Bowers said that serving in Iraq made the conflict much more personal because of his interactions with Iraqi civilians.

“People see the numbers of them getting killed, but I put a face to each of those,” he said.

In terms of the anti-war movement, Bowers said that the lack of support for the war can be difficult from a soldier’s perspective.

“It’s tough on morale, like it’s all for nothing. But we are making sacrifices so that people can protest the war. It’s rough to deal with, but it’s what we’re all about.”

GW junior David Austin, who recently returned from Iraq, felt differently about troop support.

“I want to thank everybody who shows continual support. The outpouring was really amazing. I encourage people to take time to contact someone over there,” Austin said, adding that receiving letters and e-mails from the home front really made an impact.

For Austin, who recently returned from his Iraq service in December, a troop surge signifies more than just a number, but individual stories of more than 20,000 serving in the war.

“I can’t reduce (my opinions) to for or against (the war). It’s really complicated,” he said. “I still have brothers and sisters in arms in harm’s way. Do I want them to be safe? Absolutely; anything to get them out of harm’s way.”

Austin was deployed in October 2005 to Camp Liberty in Baghdad, where he drove high-ranking military officials through bomb-laden streets on a daily basis. Stating that the United States entered the war in Iraq with great confidence, Austin discussed what the possible future is for Iraq. Ideally, he said, the United States should remove troops gradually, related to the Iraqis’ ability to sustain themselves.

“Confidence has dwindled; it’s happened to me, too. It’s going to take a lot longer for positive change, a lot more work,” Austin said.

GW Law School student Rich Murphy alone was responsible for 320 prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison when he served in Iraq. He expressed a tactical perspective on how troops half way across the world feel about the war.

“Me, alone, I could have used some help. I think any military commander is going to ask for more troops … Of course the commanders on the ground want more troops, they want to win,” said Murphy, a recent GW law school graduate.

“I think the surge is more about politics than about anything else because we’ve been in there the past four years,” Murphy said.

He was deployed to Iraq in May of 2003 and served until August 2004. He spent six months at Abu Ghraib prison, where accusations of human rights abuses have surfaced, and in Al Hillah, Iraq. He said there are both the advantages and disadvantages of a troop surge.

“We have moral obligation to lead them (the Iraqi people) off before we go. I’m not speaking for the army whatsoever as to whether that can be done, that is a very difficult mission,” Murphy said.

Highly invested in the humanitarian cause of the war, Murphy urged U.S. citizens to contemplate American military actions that would be best for the Iraqi people.

“We talk about these abstract terms – freedom, democracy – when in Iraq, it’s about basic security,” Murphy said. “We have to stop looking at it from an American-centric perspective. Will we stop looking at it from that perspective? Probably not.”

More troops means young men and women, like Murphy, risking their lives in Iraq. He has already observed a high rate of redeployment, giving examples of soldiers and Marines who have toured Iraq three to five times.

“It’s a tiny sliver of the population that has to bear this incredible burden … I’m not sure students realize that these cadets, when they’re 21 years old, perhaps a year after graduation, they might be in Iraq leading a platoon which could be 30 soldiers,” Murphy said.

Members of the U.S. Congress have proposed a resolution against Bush’s plan to increase troop levels, and it is gaining bi-partisan appeal. As the debate in Congress continues on the issue, so does Bush’s steadfast support of the proposal.

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