Tuesday, March 27, 2007

StarTribune piece

Since there's been some technical difficulties for some people trying to access my recent publishing success, I'm posting them here in their entirety. Included are links to the original StarTribune pages.

StarTribune, March 18
Dave Thul: In Iraq as in football, defense is crucial

As the debate over the war in Iraq rages, it is easy for many to forget what a big stake Minnesota has in the war right now. As we close out the fourth year since the invasion, another milestone is here that hits very close to home.
March is the month that many of the almost 3,000 Minnesota National Guardsmen were scheduled to come home. But after 12 months in Iraq, and a year and a half since we left home, our deployment has been extended by up to another four months. This also puts us right in the middle of the debate of the day, the surge plan to secure Baghdad. As Congress consumes itself with nonbinding resolutions and appropriations bills with just the right mix of carrots and sticks, one of the most important opinions is being overlooked -- that of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving here in Iraq.
I won't pretend to speak for everyone in uniform over here, and in fact no one ever could. There are as many opinions in the military as there are in the civilian world. But I can tell you that a majority of U.S. troops want to stay in Iraq and finish the mission. How do I know this? Two ways.
The first is anecdotally, from the men and women I work with and talk to every day. I have yet to meet someone who thinks the long-term good of the United States and the Middle East would be served by an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Many of us are tired and frustrated and miss our families and just want to go home. But we want to go home after transferring our area of responsibility to another unit, whether it is U.S. or Iraqi. We don't want to abandon our posts.
The second way I know that my fellow soldiers want to stay is that they have been saying so in a petition to Congress. At the AppealForCourage.org website, more than 1,500 service members in less than a month have signed an appeal for redress, the officially authorized method for the military to ask Congress to right a wrong, asking Congress to stop calling for retreat and to support our mission.
Day after day we see and hear our elected leaders in Washington telling us that the war is already lost or that it is not winnable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The essence of the military mission here is really quite simple. Train the Iraqi army and police to do the job that we are currently doing, give them the reins, and then take our leave. It is a slow job, but steady progress is being made. Already entire provinces of Iraq are under Iraqi military control. In more than 70 percent of the country, the Iraqi army and police are in the lead.
My dad, a lifelong Vikings fan who raised me the same way, once shared a bit of wisdom about football that I find remarkably pertinent to the situation in Iraq today. He told me that offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.
When we were invading Iraq, the media gave us nonstop coverage of every city that was secured and every Republican Guard unit that was destroyed or that surrendered. Great headlines about the offensive were everywhere. But over the past few years, we have settled into the day-to-day job of building up the Iraqi military -- the slow defensive work of keeping the peace and wearing down the terrorists. Boring to the media, yet crucial to victory.
There can be no compromises in Iraq, no negotiated peace. The enemy here is radical Islam, whether in the sectarian violence in Baghdad that seeks to draw all of the Middle East into open war, or the terrorists of Al-Qaida here in the Anbar province who are looking for a new home base since we kicked them out of Afghanistan. If we pull out before the job is done, we will face not only the same chaos and genocide that we saw after pulling out of Vietnam, but we will leave Iraq in a power vacuum with greedy and ambitious neighbors on all sides.
I've now been deployed 2½ years of the 3½ years since my daughter was born. I would love nothing more than to be at home sharing in her young life and enjoying a Minnesota summer. But I want to come home with honor, knowing that I have helped to make the world she will live in a little safer.

Sgt. Dave Thul is a Chaska resident serving in Al Asad, Iraq.

StarTribune, March 23
'We can finish the mission and come home with honor'
A National Guardsman from Chaska is promoting a petition for soldiers who want to finish the job in Iraq.

Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S. and Coalition forces' invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.
For 2½ of the four years since, David Thul, a 34-year-old Minnesota National Guard sergeant from Chaska, has been on active duty -- for a year in Kosovo and for the past year in Iraq.
Recently, Thul joined forces with a Navy lieutenant to send a letter to publications all over the United States, spreading the word that U.S. forces want to stay and finish the job in Iraq. They also have organized a petition drive to allow military personnel to make a formal "Appeal for Redress," the Department of Defense's sanctioned method for members of the military to communicate with Congress. In the petition they make this plea:
"As an American currently serving my nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat. I also respectfully urge my political leaders to actively oppose media efforts which embolden my enemy while demoralizing American support at home. The War in Iraq is a necessary and just effort to bring freedom to the Middle East and protect America from further attack."
As of Monday, more than 1,700 men and women had signed onto the document online at appealforcourage.org.
The Star Tribune corresponded with Thul by e-mail about his efforts to influence opinion on the home front. Following are his answers to questions we posed:
Q What is it you hope to accomplish through your letter-writing campaign and petition drive?
A We have two goals. The first is to let the folks at home know that we are winning this war, and that most U.S. troops want to see the mission completed. The second is to raise awareness among currently serving military about the Appeal. The more signatures we can gather, the more likely it is that we can persuade Congress to fully support us.
Q You call the effort an "Appeal for Courage." Does it seem from the vantage point of military personnel in Iraq that the American public -- or American politicians -- are wilting under the pressure of the war?
A It takes courage for the soldiers in Iraq to face the enemy every day. But it also takes courage for the folks at home and our elected leaders to stand against the tide of defeatism. A small group of people at home opposed to the war are shouting loudly enough to drown out all other points of view. I think if Americans hear from the troops serving on the ground in Iraq every day, they will see that this war is not only worth fighting for, but crucial to the long-term interests of the U.S.
Q You mention the media in your petition. How does the media's coverage "embolden the enemy"?
A Iraqi citizens have no experience with differing opinions from the media. Anything they heard on radio or TV was in line with what Saddam wanted them to hear. So when they hear on American TV that we should leave Iraq now, it keeps them from cooperating with us to improve security. When they hear American newspapers talking about alleged war crimes by U.S. troops, they wonder if we can be trusted.
Q Why do you think the media would do that?
A I think the news media is a business like any other. They have to make money to survive, especially in a time of tough competition. No one is arguing for censorship, but the media has to consider the unintended consequences of what they are reporting.
Q You personally have given up 2½ years with your now 3½-year-old daughter to serve there. Why do you want to stay longer? Haven't you already contributed enough?
A I'd like nothing more than to be back in Minnesota right now, getting the boat ready for summer and grilling out in the back yard. But it is because of my children that I serve. Like any parent, I would give my life to keep my kids safe. So a few years of my life isn't really that much to ask. My generation needs to finish the mission in Iraq now, so that our children's generation doesn't have to.
Q What is it in your background that has motivated you to do what you do?
A I was actually looking forward to getting out of the National Guard and having more free time until 9/11. Many people have tried to forget about the attacks and move on with their lives. But I believe that if we forget our history then we will be doomed to repeat it. When I have a long day over here, or things are going bad, I remember the passengers on United 93. With no training and very little hope, they fought back and saved untold lives. I try to live up to the example they set.
Q Is there any message you'd like to send to the people back home, for them to ponder in the days ahead?
A I would urge everyone to set politics aside and look at the war in Iraq dispassionately. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be terrible now, and tragic 20 years from now. With patience and support from home, we can finish the mission and come home with honor.

And in case you missed it, the Appeal for Courage is approaching 1900 signatures.

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