EDITOR’S DESK: Talking to our soldiers

       Whatever your personal beliefs about the war in Iraq, I don't think there can be any debate about the courage, readiness and high standards of our soldiers.
       I had the privilege this past week to talk to two returning veterans. One of them, Westsider Timothy Gibson, has his story told in a news article that starts on Page 1 of this issue.
       The other veteran is not a Westsider but certainly deserves more than passing mention. His name is Col. Randy Fritz. While many of his military peers were involved in the firefights that have drawn so much media attention over the past year, he was quietly leading a civil affairs unit in working on scores of schools and water systems in rural areas about an hour's drive north of Baghdad.
       For many Iraqis, he would later tell me, the pipes his unit laid are bringing them the first fresh water they have ever known. In one town, people had been getting their water from an algae-lined ditch. “There was this one little girl who would carry two old gasoline cans down to the ditch and fill them up,” he said. “I saw her every day.”
        I first found out about Randy last August. At the time, I was still editor of the Tri-Lakes Tribune in Monument - that was before the little light came on in my head that it made no sense to commute 25 miles north to try to be a community newsman and in the process leave behind the community I really cared about (the Westside).
       But to get back to Randy, he was sending out e-mails back then to any media he could think of, trying to tell his story. But he couldn't find any publication that thought rebuilding Iraq was newsworthy. So I e-mailed a response that because he was a Palmer Lake resident (thus making him local in the Tri-Lakes), I wanted to know more.
        I've been communicating with Randy by e-mail since - now and then writing about him or running something he's written (see issue 1 of the Pioneer for a sample of the latter).
       Finally, a week or so ago, he e-mailed to say he was back home.
       So we got together for lunch. He told some interesting stories. But, like most civilians, I suppose, I was most captivated by the harrowing stuff. In Iraq, it's harrowing just to drive somewhere, as everybody knows from the constant, grisly reports of roadside bombs. Randy's outfit, though, drove those same roads and came through unscathed. “I don't know if our unit was lucky or good,” he commented. “Every day we'd evaluate the intelligence. One thing we realized was that the highway bombs were going off between 9 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. So we didn't drive then.” When they did drive, he said, they had a gun out the window and kept alert, looking for irregularities in the terrain or the vehicles around them.
        Randy doesn't know Tim Gibson, but they share a firm conviction that America is doing the right thing in Iraq. Tim spoke of the importance of bringing freedom, Randy of “removing the roots of terrorism.” Both believe the great majority of Iraqis support the American mission and that we should see it through, despite the perils.
       Do you disagree? Maybe you should talk to one of these returning soldiers. One thing for sure - they've learned to value the freedom that allows different views.

- K.J.