Among Soldiers and Families, Applause Mixes With Doubts

The New York Times

WELLINGTON, Colo., June 28 – Specialist Nicki Worrell said that she was not bitter or burdened with regrets about her service in Iraq and that the leg and arm wounds she suffered in August 2003 when a roadside bomb blasted the Humvee she was driving had mostly healed.

But what made her talk back to her television on Tuesday night was President Bush’s promise, repeated again and again in his speech to the nation, that the troops would come home when the job is done and freedom is fostered for the Iraqi people. She no longer believes that coming home is possible.

“We won’t ever leave,” said Specialist Worrell, a 23-year-old college student from a military family – grandfather in the Air Force, uncle in the Army – as she sat in her home here, her still slightly discolored left leg propped up on the couch.

Hearing the president declare that “we have a clear path forward,” a sampling of people across the country who, like Specialist Worrell, have been part of the mission in Iraq, expressed wide support for the troops, but some concern about the mission’s execution and its conclusion.

A petty officer in Florida applauded Mr. Bush for not setting a timetable for withdrawal, but some retired officers worried about whether enough was being done to shore up the ranks of recruits. An uncle of a wounded soldier saw similarities to Vietnam.

Here, Specialist Worrell, who watched the speech with her father, Cliff, 49, said Iraq had come to look a lot like South Korea, where she served for a year with the Army before going to Iraq. She is now in the inactive reserve.

What she saw in both places, she said, was a kind of battle between factions, with the United States stuck in the middle. Korea has become a hardship post across a no man’s land of tension, Specialist Worrell said, and she thinks the same thing will happen in Iraq.

“We are just protecting good Iraq from bad Iraq, and that’s always going to be there,” she said.

Specialist Worrell and her father did find some things to like in the speech.

“That last part was good, telling people to fly the flag, and thanking the soldiers,” said Mr. Worrell, a locomotive engineer for Union Pacific Railroad who described himself as a Democrat. Mr. Worrell also seconded the president’s position that it is better to fight terrorism abroad than it is on American soil.

“He’s right – I agree that we want to fight them over there not here,” he said.

Then Specialist Worrell spoke: “But you can’t destroy a country because you think they might come over here.”

Specialist Worrell said she came to love many of the people she met and was able to help during the 5½ months she spent in Iraq before she was injured. She said she agreed with Mr. Bush that building roads and schools was a positive contribution to the world.

“I don’t feel it was a waste because of the people I got to meet and help,” she said. “But we went over there for war, and now I think he’s just telling you what you want to hear.”

The Worrells also found themselves united by what they said was a bedrock position: that people always support the soldiers in the field no matter what. Politics is politics, they said, but the people risking their lives deserve nothing but respect.

“We support our troops,” Mr. Worrell said.

Facing Possible Return

By The New York Times

WESTON, Fla., June 28 – Petty Officer Second Class Jesus Garcia was happy to be stationed on his couch on Tuesday, his cocker spaniel at his side and his air conditioning humming in the sticky Florida night.

Yet Petty Officer Garcia, who was deployed in Iraq for seven months last year as reservist with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 and who is possibly facing a return, watched approvingly as President Bush said he would not set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“The public wants a public date, but he’s right,” said Mr. Garcia, who returned from Iraq in October. “He hit it on the head. We’ve got to stay there, and our mission will be complete when we feel the Iraqis are ready.”

Petty Officer Garcia, whose battalion moved heavy equipment around the country, does not want to return to Iraq. In April 2004, he said, insurgents bombed a convoy he was traveling in, killing two members of his battalion. Days later, five more died when mortar fire hit their base. But he supports Mr. Bush’s plan even if it means he must go back.

“I didn’t watch seven of my buddies die just to withdraw without finishing the job,” he said, adding that among other things, that would make terrorists think they could attack the United States again.

As a human being, yes, “bring our boys back home,” he said. “But this nation was built on standing up for itself. The terrorists came in and trashed our house, and it’s on us to take care of them so it doesn’t happen again.”

Petty Officer Garcia was born in Monterrey, Mexico, came to the United States at 12 and became a citizen at 23. He got a high school education and worked as a crane assembly operator at Port Everglades. A reservist he met on the job told him that the military could use his skill, and after the 2001 attacks, he signed up despite objections from his wife.

“It gave me a sense of achievement,” he said.

Petty Officer Garcia said he thought the day when Iraqi soldiers could defend their country without help was not too far off.

“When I was there, they were very, very green,” he said. “But they’re smart, they learn very quickly, and from what I saw, they are eager to stand on their own.”

Does he believe critics of the war who say Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

“I remember hearing that in the movie ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ ” he said. “But in the end, it’s all one big net. The bottom line is terrorists are everywhere out there, and all this stuff that came out afterwards about whether we should be in Iraq – you know what? What’s done is done. We are in there, so let’s finish the job and let them get back on their feet.”


Support From Relatives

By The New York Times

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga., June 28 – Many people with relatives serving in Iraq said they were impressed with the president’s speech, his enumeration of goals, his assertion of improvement, his reiteration of the need to combat terrorists.

Not Rolando Thorne, whose nephew, Sgt. Guillermo Thorne, 23, of the Army, was injured in a mortar attack about two weeks ago and is still in Iraq, with pieces of shrapnel in his foot and back. Mr. Thorne is concerned that Sergeant Thorne has not been hospitalized or evacuated.

Watching in his living room here in Stone Mountain, a suburb of Atlanta, Mr. Thorne took notes, snorting at lines like “It is worth it” and “Progress is being made.”

“It was a recruitment speech,” Mr. Thorne said flatly. “He only made two or three comments about ‘Rah rah, we’re really supporting you.’ But towards the end, it was really like, ‘Thank you to those of you who re-enlisted.’ ”

Mr. Thorne, 56, a health care management consultant, admits that he is not predisposed to liking President Bush and says he supports the troops but not the war. He frets, he said, over reports that soldiers do not have proper equipment.

The war also brings up memories of the Vietnam era, when his brother, Sergeant Thorne’s father, was fighting. “I’ve been through this before,” he said. “Watching the news, panicking when the phone rings in the middle of the night and stuff like that. That’s how we live.”

But to Terry Kennedy of Dublin, Ga., whose 19-year-old son, Robert Ray Kennedy, is a private who was deployed last fall, the speech was an antidote to discouraging news reports and politicians who second-guess the president’s judgment.

“It reinspired me,” Ms. Kennedy said. “I hate that my son’s over there, but I’m grateful he’s willing to be over there.”

She is also glad the president showcased the progress being made by the Iraqi forces, something she thinks most American do not know about. She said her son has told her of a marked improvement in their effectiveness since November, when he was in Falluja.

Several people said they thought the speech was directed more at winning over a doubting public than boosting the morale of the troops.

“I think his purpose was to let the public who don’t know what’s going on, to let them know where he stands on it and why he’s doing what he’s doing,” said Wayne Cain, the police chief in Dublin, Ga., who has sent his son and two members of his force to Iraq. His son Luke, 22, is a Marine who was stationed in Iraq for seven months and will return in January.

“The families of all the military people are going through a lot,” said Chief Cain, who blames what he says is the news media’s preoccupation with the negative for the flagging support for the war. “But most of us have accepted it, and most of us back what he’s doing and back our families that are there.”


Recruiting Goals

Among retired senior officers from the Army’s recruiting command, who watched the speech in living rooms from Olympia, Wash., to Huntsville, Ala., the president received praise for highlighting the troops’ sacrifice, and criticism for failing to offer specific proposals that would help veterans and recruiters persuade young people to join.

Maj. Gen. Evan R. Gaddis, who retired in 2000 as head of the recruiting command for the Army, said the speech made clear that “we’re not going to make this a half commitment, we’re not going to make another Vietnam.”

But General Gaddis said the president should have gone further, telling veterans and future recruits that they will be appreciated when they come home.

“We have to let people joining know that if they make this sacrifice, we will take care of them,” General Gaddis said in a telephone interview from his home in Vienna, Va. “They need to increase medical benefits for both active and reserve and anyone else, because they’re not seeing that commitment.”

Sgt. Maj. Roger Leturno, who retired in September 2003 after serving as the senior enlisted adviser to General Gaddis and two successors at the recruiting command, said the president’s rejection of a timetable for withdrawal would also make it harder for recruiters to persuade young people to join.

“You have a percent of kids out there will join regardless,” said Sergeant Major Leturno, who watched the speech at home in Colorado Springs with his 20-year-old daughter, Maggie, a member of the Colorado National Guard. “But that’s not the problem.”

“A recruiter is trying to get the ones on the fence or on the other side of the fence,” he said. “He may have gotten some of the fence-sitters, but I don’t think he got the ones on the other side.”

Col. David Slotwinski, a former chief of staff for recruiting who retired in 2004 and watched the speech from his home in Olympia, said: “He just did a great rehash of everything that’s been said so far.

“The last part of it, where he came out strong and thanked the troops, that was well done. But in the end, there still was not really that call for service. There was no call to arms. He didn’t say ‘America, I need your sons and daughters to support us in the fight.’ “

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