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thedrifter
04-19-07, 07:13 AM
Local Marines say coalition only thing holding Iraq together
BY ROBERT MOORE, Tribune Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series about the impressions of three Morristown police officers who served in Iraq on the war and its effects.

While the bloodletting in Iraq continues unabated, three Morristown soldiers who served there see the U.S. military presence there as the only glue that’s holding the war-torn country together.

Remove American soldiers now, they say, and the conflict in Iraq certainly will certainly degenerate into more robust civil strife, and possibly into a regional war.

That’s the assessment of John Fassler, Patrick Vaught and Troy Wallen, all members of the Morristown Police Department who served in Iraq with their National Guard in Iraq in late 2004 and 2005.

"The Iranians are mostly Shia," Vaught said. "They back the Shia. Saudi Arabia backs the Sunnis. If we leave now, we’ve got the Sunnis and the Shia going at it. You may have Iran and Saudi going at it. Then you’ve got the Kurds. You’d have a mess."

The three, all former Marines, spent their tours of duty mostly in Kurd-dominated northern Iraq, but the north also has its share of factional strife, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.

Fassler, whose up-armored Hummer was hit with an IED, says one obstacle coalition forces had to overcome was the perception that the foreign soldiers were responsible for the bloodshed.

"I don’t understand some of the Iraqi mentality," Fassler said. "An IED is involved, and innocent Iraqis are killed, and instead of blaming the terrorists, they turn it around on the coalition. To me, I just don’t understand that.

"I guess they’re thinking that if we weren’t there, it wouldn’t be happening, but I don’t agree with that." Fassler added. "I think it would be worse. We’re the only thing that’s keeping that country from total chaos."

Wallen agrees, but added that the time he spent with the U.S. Marines in Somalia could have given him a different perspective on the Iraq War.

"It wasn’t my first rodeo," Wallen said. "I didn’t go in expecting a cake walk or anything like that. We were all in the Marine Corps, and we knew what was expected of us there."

Wallen says that in his mind, the Iraqis were already "liberated" when he and other members of the 278th Armored Cavalry regiment arrived to conduct security operations and supervise elections that led to the ratification of an Iraqi constitution.

Fassler says the actions and attitudes of "liberated" Iraqis are what sometimes troubled him the most while he was in Iraq and continues to trouble him to this day.

"I think it’s going to take more getting the Iraqi people involved," said Fassler. "I don’t think they’re totally committed to this.

"Our forefathers used the same tactics on the British to run them out and they were successful in doing so, but they united together to make it happen," Fassler added. "I think the Iraqis are going to have to unite – We’ve had enough of this terrorism and they want it out."

Vaught, who also was a soldier in Somalia, says despite the problems that plague soldiers on the battleground, they’re not affected by political debate about the wisdom of a military conflict.

"They’re going to do what they have to do," Vaught said. "They’re going to do what they need to do. If Hillary (Clinton) or (Barak) Obama or (John) Murtha or anybody else — Republican, Democrat or independent — say, ‘You can’t do this.’

"If they say that to a Marine or a soldier or and airman or whoever, they’re going to prove them wrong."

Wallen also maintains that politicians who claim that criticism of the war effort has a negative impact on soldiers’ morale are off base.

"Soldiers, they could care less," Wallen said. "They don’t pay attention to that."

Ellie