‘We need to continue our presence in Iraq to ensure that our gains that have been made thus far can be sustainable.’

Amadeus Smith

Normally when Abbey Pickett heard the sound of bombs perforating the air at the station in Ba’qubah, Iraq, it was difficult to tell whether they were coming in or going out. But one night in the city in central Iraq, Pickett, a former specialist in the Wisconsin National Guard, knew the bombs were coming in.

Fort Motorhorse, as the troops would call it, was under attack.

“It was dark out and the first one fell and you just knew it was coming in because it shook everything,” Pickett said. “It shook your whole body.”

When the second bomb hit, Pickett was only about 50 feet away.

The station was in a frenzy, some soldiers panic-stricken from the attack.

Pickett said one woman insisted that her bones were popping out of her arms.

“She was fine, just hysterical,” she said.

Pickett found a man who had taken shrapnel to an artery. With his arm gushing blood, Pickett used her shirt to apply pressure to the wound until he could be transferred to a hospital. The base, at that point, didn’t have any first aid kits or blood for transfusions.

This is only a part of life in Iraq, she said. While experiences vary, Pickett spent most of the time trying to find things to do.

“I stopped wearing a watch a week into it,” she said, explaining the agony of counting the days.

Pickett missed colors — she missed variety. The environment in Iraq, she said, is “so bleak.”

The return home

Pickett said making the transition to Iraq was easy because it was quick and everyone in her combat support engineer unit was going through the same motions.

The hard part was returning home.

“I was a college kid one day and then a soldier 48 hours later,” she said.

Reintegrating herself back into American life, Pickett felt alone. She said she dealt with post-traumatic stress, often produced by spending time in a war zone.

“In class, I was the only one jumping when the doors closed,” she said.

Even the rings of a binder closing, mimicking the spring of a gun, had the same effect.

She said it was also difficult to talk with others because she had been used to discussing the facets of war for so long. With others discussing class work and the latest winner of “American Idol,” she felt like an outsider.

Finishing the mission or missions

With the war on terror reaching its fifth year, it is difficult to determine when the United States will pull out of Iraq, said James Tyner, professor of geography at Kent State.

The time spent in Iraq is partly due to many factors other than the war on terror, the initial cause for the U.S. invasion.

A secondary mission for the United States is to develop a peaceful nation in Iraq, a push that met some resistance from members of the Bush administration in the beginning.

At this point, Tyner, who specializes in political geography, said there is a debate over the progress a U.S. presence can produce.

“If you pull out the military, would it devolve into a blood bath or will the country stabilize because we are a thorn in their side,” Tyner said.

According to a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the rapid removal of the Coalition “almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.”

But nation-building isn’t the only goal of the United States, something that Tyner said makes the amount of time that will be spent in Iraq undeterminable.

“It has little to do with Iraq, so even if Iraq were to stabilize, we would still maintain a presence there,” he said.

For one, Tyner said, the United States is attempting to secure market goods in the region to ensure global economic power, something similar to the reasoning behind the Vietnam War. In the case of Vietnam, the United States was trying to maintain a stronghold on materials such as aluminum and rubber. Currently, the U.S. is making the same push for oil, Tyner said.

“The truly great tragedy is that U.S. and Iraqi lives have been lost for profits,” he said.

Stephen Ontko, president of the Kent State College of Republicans, agreed that there is an economic influence on the five years of war in the Middle East.

However, Ontko said he believes the economic concern plays only a small part in the continuing war.

“I think primarily it’s to keep a stronghold against Islamic fascism,” Ontko said.

Influence and justification

The United States isn’t the only player in the influence game. Many groups and countries are looking to establish political influence in the region. Tyner said groups such as the Kurds would like their own state. The instability of Iraq is also an opportunity for neighboring Iran.

Tyner said Iran views itself as geographically and politically surrounded and gaining control of Iraq would make Iran more influential and stable.

These are all afterthoughts of the initial reasoning behind entering Iraq in the first place, bringing an end to terror. Reasoning, Tyner said, that should have led the U.S. to many other places.

“If we were truly concerned with winning the war on terror, we would not make our first and last stand in Iraq,” Tyner said.

Ontko said one could argue that U.S presence actually could have increased the number of Al-Qaida members in Iraq. Drawing Al-Qaida from other places, he said, limits the threat in other regions.

Ontko said he thinks the U.S. has made incredible gains and leaving before the mission is finished would negate any prior accomplishments.

“We need to continue our presence in Iraq to ensure that our gains that have been made thus far can be sustainable,” he said.

Pickett, now a psychology and political science major at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, currently works to help veterans with post-traumatic stress. Now a veteran herself, Pickett is still looking for justification — justification of the troops having to deal with post-traumatic stress and injuries and justification of the lives that have been lost due to the war.

“When my brothers and sisters come home in a box with an American flag draped over it, I want to know that there is justification behind it,” she said.

Contact enterprise reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].