Live from Falluja
Basehor area Marine believes in his mission
Last week, a flurry of national reports surfaced regarding the war in Iraq. President Bush, typically optimistic in his views on the war, admitted U.S. involvement in the Middle East was "tough" going. Members of his own GOP claimed the situation was worse than the White House would admit.
Even that old U.S. nemesis, Saddam Hussein, chimed in as a report became public that he still claims he's president of the rebuilding country.
From the Beltway of Washington to the living rooms of homes nationwide, it seems most everyone has an opinion on the continuing conflict in Iraq. However, if you want the word straight from the camel's mouth, from someone with boots on the ground, read on.
Tony Rider, a Shawnee resident, owner of Mr. Goodcents Subs and Pastas in Bonner Springs, and a friend of communities in Basehor and Linwood, is currently serving a tour of duty as a Marine reservist in Falluja. He is a staff sergeant and section leader of an anti-tank platoon from the 24th Marine Unit based at Richards Gebaur in Belton, Mo.
This is his third tour of duty in what's become one of the deadliest corners of the world. As a soldier fighting for the freedom of oppressed people, Rider's more than well-versed on the happenings overseas.
Below is an interview Rider recently gave the newspaper via the Internet.
Describe the conditions. What's the environment like?
The conditions are hot. It's currently averaging 110 degrees. June has been windy and there are numerous sand storms. The wind/sand storms lessen in July, but temperatures will climb up in the range of 120 degrees.
Do you and your men face danger routinely?
I am in the infantry and our job is to locate, close and destroy the enemy. The war now is different than the push to Baghdad. We are trying to help a country stand back up on its feet and secure its safety for its people as well as train them to provide their own security.
This is difficult because there is no clearly defined enemy. We might be helping people one day and those same people might be insurgents by night. I know we have talked to guys that we know are bad, but we do not have enough information to detain them. The enemy is transparent unless we catch them in the act. I sometimes feel like a police officer, trying to collect info/intelligence to detain people and take them off the streets.
We have to have positive identification in order to shoot. The only way to do this is to catch them in the act and it's difficult because their weapons of choice are roadside bombs and they remote-detonate these things.
If we get ambushed, it is a different story. We travel everywhere in Humvee's and are constantly in danger from roadside bombs.
When we are at our base camp, we are considerably safer, but still have the occasional threat of getting mortared.
Morale is good. We are approaching the halfway point on our deployment. My job will become more difficult if complacency starts to set in. My own morale is great. I really enjoy leading and teaching junior Marines.
A story recently appeared on CNN.com that indicated many high-ranking Republicans feel the White House is misguided in its assertions that the war is going smoothly. What is your view? Are we winning? Can we win?
Like I said before, this war today is difficult. In my opinion, things are going well. Do we take a few steps backwards? Yes, but we take more steps forward than backwards. The American and Iraqi people must be patient. What we are trying to do, to help the Iraqi people and get their government functioning, is not going to happen overnight.
I feel we are winning. We are helping them form a new and stronger government, training their security personnel, providing safety to the people and taking people off the streets that want to do harm to both Iraqis and Americans. We will win this war on terror. We have no other choice -- the safety of our citizens is depending on us.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll indicated approximately 51 percent of Americans believe the United States should have stayed out of Iraq. You've been steadfast in your belief that American forces are doing the right thing. Do you still support the war as wholeheartedly as you have before?
No, my feelings have not changed. We have to find and root these extremists out that want to harm our way of life. The insurgents hate Americans and everything we stand for. They will do whatever it takes to do us harm. Trust me, I know first-hand.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was recently quoted as saying it will be "at least" two years before U.S. troops can pull out of Iraq. Are you prepared to stay that long if need be?
We will definitely be here for a while. How long is for the politicians to decide both in our country and Iraq, and also for the Iraqi people to decide.
What do you miss from home?
I, like many others, am homesick. I miss my wife and kids tremendously. ... I miss everything from home, mostly playing with and holding my kids. I am missing a lot of milestones in their lives -- ones that I cannot make up. However, it is worth it to me -- I am helping secure their safety in our own country.
I miss making my wife laugh at my childish ways. Plus, I would love to have a Penny Club on wheat with pepper jack cheese.
Many people, from returning soldiers to Washington politicos, have lambasted the American press for not reporting enough of the good works U.S. forces have completed while in Iraq. What part of the message do you believe is not making its way back home?
They are not reporting enough of the things we are doing to make the lives of Iraqi people better -- the medical care we try to provide them, the schools we build and the security we provide, especially for the families and kids. The biggest thing they do not report enough on is the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces and their families make.
The conditions over here are hot, sandy and dangerous. Each day could be your last. There are a lot of Americans that do not realize just how hard it is over here and how hard we are working to do our jobs with pride. It seems as if some people take so much for granted.
On the other hand, I am still amazed at the support we do get. People we do not even know write and send packages to us. That is what makes me feel good and proud, we expect our friends and families to support us, but strangers? That's something you don't expect and when it happens, it's great.
A recent article appearing in GQ magazine quotes U.S. soldiers who are guarding Saddam Hussein as saying the ousted Iraqi dictator still believes he's president of Iraq and that his people still support him. What is your view? Do the Iraqi people still back Hussein?
He lives in a completely different world and always has. Why should he change now? There are a few supporters, but even the insurgents aren't fighting for him, they're fighting for the extremists' beliefs and the "anti-American" campaign. The insurgents are fighting because they hate us and what we stand for.
The Iraqi people know they are better off without him. They may not like us here as an occupational force and they want us gone as quickly as can be, but most of them know without us, the country is right back at war again. This time it would be civil war.
The Iraqi people want what every American family wants -- to raise their kids in a safe and secure place without the worry of being harmed. They just want to take care of their family the best they can. They definitely seem happier compared to when I was here two years ago. They want normalcy in their lives, but they can't have it until Iraq is run completely by Iraqis.
How does this tour compare to your previous tours overseas?
Every deployment is different. I am so much more involved in the fight against terrorism this time. Plus, I am older, more mature and have so much more responsibility. Last time, I was in charge of a platoon of 14. Now, I have 38 Marines that are depending on me to guide them and make decisions that will give them the best chance to prevail and to get home safely. I sometimes feel an enormous weight on my shoulders, but I know God has put me here for a reason. I hope I don't let Him down or my men. So far so good. I am proud of what I am doing and am confident in my abilities to lead.