A Soldier's Story About Life in Iraq

Major Ray Valas, a 32-year-old staff officer with the Army National Guard, tells New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein about the time he spent in Iraq, and offers his overall impressions of U.S. war efforts.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Major Ray Valas is a 32-year-old staff officer with the New Hampshire Army National Guard. He lives in Bow, New Hampshire. That's a town of about 8,000 in the middle of the state. Last February, he left Iraq after being there for almost a year as an infantry company commander of about 250 soldiers. Here, Ray tells about the progress he felt he and his men had made in Iraq. This is part of an occasional series we're running, voices of people who've served in Iraq.

Major RAY VALAS (New Hampshire Army National Guard): During the time that I was there, from March of 2004 till February of 2005, if halfway through that tour I had to leave and all the US forces had to leave, I think that it would've been terrible for Iraq. Leaving there after a year, I felt a tremendous satisfaction that we had left it a better place than we found it.

One thing that we noticed when we got there back around the April time frame of '04, the officers would show up to their station in civilian clothes, go inside the building and change into their uniforms and then go about their workday. At the end of the day, the would change back into civilian clothes and then go home because they were afraid to be seen in uniform.

The toughest part of the training for those Iraqi security forces getting up and running was getting the confidence to go out and operate on their own. We would equip them with everything from bulletproof vests to weapons to flashlights to basic safety equipment, road guard vests and cones and whatnot that you would use in a law enforcement kind of a scenario, and then, you know, ensure that they were hiring the right folks and then get them through the academies that were run down in Baghdad, bring back those trained law enforcement officers and soldiers, and work alongside them out in the communities, out in their sector.

By the time we left a year later, there were 36 Iraqi security forces there working police patrols out in the community, helping us to deliver school supplies and ultimately responding to incidents out on the road that before we would've had to respond to alone. And they were there before us. Those guys were proud to show up in their uniforms. They were confident and they knew that they could do their job. And just seeing that change of seeing a guy show up to work in his uniform made a huge impression.

Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It's tough to see and I couldn't put a time on it. All I know is that you see that curve of progress and you see things like the transfer of authority and you see things like that election happen. And you see these things. And when you leave there, I felt a feeling of optimism for that country.

CHADWICK: Ray Valas is still in the New Hampshire National Guard. There are are no immediate plans to redeploy to Iraq. This piece was produced by Dan Gorenstein of New Hampshire Public Radio. And in the next months, we'll hear the voices of other American servicepeople who have been in Iraq.

Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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