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10-29-08, 07:56 AM #1
Marine fights for ‘stable and prosperous Iraq’
Marine fights for ‘stable and prosperous Iraq’
Glendale resident is due to return from the Middle East next year, unless he re-enlists — again.
By Jeremy Oberstein
Published: Last Updated Monday, October 27, 2008 10:22 PM PDT
GLENDALE — For 17 months, Marine Col. James McGinley has been in the trenches of a dangerous and unpopular Iraq war, where violence has ebbed and flowed.
But throughout McGinley’s tenure, the Glendale resident’s resolve for Operation Iraqi Freedom has been strengthened by a mission he says is of great importance.
“A stable and prosperous Iraq will act as a calming anchor point for the rest of the Middle East,” McGinley said from his Baghdad base Friday. “Over time, I would like to see the future of the United States and the future of Iraq inextricably intertwined in a continuing strong friendship and strong relationship that I think will be good for the nation of Iraq and good for the U.S., too.”
McGinley, 49, first left for Iraq in 2006 with the 1st Marine Expedition Force as a transition team leader in Ramadi, 68 miles west of Baghdad. While overseeing a broad range of military personnel — in the Marine Corps, Army and Navy — McGinley worked to bolster the Iraqi army, sought to improve border security and helped establish the nation’s police department.
He reenlisted in 2007, again in May 2008 and will remain in Iraq until the middle of 2009 — when he plans to return to Glendale.
While he looks forward to his homecoming, to a time when he can “walk down Brand Boulevard and eat at Porto’s [Bakery],” McGinley is concentrating on the task at hand.
McGinley serves as chief of staff for the Iraq Assistance Group, Marines who help build the country’s infrastructure and assist the military and police. His duties have eased lately as violence has declined in what were some of Iraq’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Sniper attacks, civilian casualties and military deaths have dropped 85% since last summer, their lowest level since March 2004, he said.
“What that does is allow a pause to focus on the building of various different institutions, and for us, the concentration of the Iraq Assistance Group is on the professionalism and the building of Iraq’s security forces,” he said.
The reduction in violence has allowed Iraqi citizens to lead a more normal life and is a sea change from McGinley’s previous tour of duty in the region.
“You’ll see children out playing and people shopping on the streets,” he said. “To me, it’s almost like a culture shock from the last time I was here.”
But even as violence has lessened in Iraq, public perception in the U.S. against the war in Iraq is still palpable.
A recent Gallup poll showed 58% of Americans surveyed thought it was a mistake for the United States to send troops to Iraq, while news coverage of the war has dropped with decreasing interest levels from the media and the public.
The latter point, McGinley said, has been hard for troops to stomach as they continue to notice an increasing disparity in their mission and the coverage it receives.
“There is a frustration for U.S. service personnel right across the board when they come over and work extremely hard and have unbelievable success,” he said. “And yet, when they read the newspaper and have an entirely disconnected view of the success that’s going on here, I think that does develop a very deep frustration because they feel their story is not getting out, and their hard work is not being recognized.”
McGinley’s comment came about a week before the U.S. general election, a race he was precluded from commenting about due to his military status.
Republican candidate Sen. John McCain enjoys overwhelming support from troops throughout all branches of the armed forces, according to a survey conducted in October by Military Times, a news outlet aimed at active-duty members of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
McCain led his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, 68% to 23% in the survey.
The proximity to the election has stirred interest in the armed forces, where advertisements on the military’s various media outlets have been running to help inform troops about their absentee-ballot options, McGinley said.
Voting-assistance officers have also been placed in each unit, and information about the candidates and various ballot measures in each state have been airing on television and the radio.
While many look forward to the elections, McGinley paused to focus on a mission earlier this month in which American troops were paired with a contingent of Armenian troops.
A slew of Armenian combat engineers helped clear 130,000 square miles of terrain that had been riddled with land mines, while medical personnel performed 300 surgeries on military and civilian patients, he said.
The experience reminded him of the relationships he forged back home with Glendale’s sizable Armenian population.
“[The Armenian troops] made a very significant contribution to the effort,” he said. “Many people would be heartened to know of the partnership and friendship that was shown by the Armenian mission supporting coalition forces in Iraq.”
But after 17 months in a war zone and 33 months away from his wife, the colonel admits that the stress on his family has been difficult.
While that may preclude McGinley from reenlisting again, his commitment to the war in Iraq remains strong at a time he feels is a seminal moment in that nation’s history.
“I’ll see what my wife says, but for me, I think this is the time to be in Iraq,” he said. “Marines should be out forward-deployed and tending to the needs of the nation.”
Such service has endeared McGinley to local civic leaders who praised the Marine for his sacrifices.
“He chose service to this country over making money,” said former Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian, a friend of McGinley’s, whom he has known for five years. “
He’s to be commended for what he does. How much more can you ask for a person at this stage of the game? He has other choices but chooses to serve the military and this country.
“I admire people like that.”
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