MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Next week, the much anticipated and much talked about Iraq progress report from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker hits Capitol Hill. The assessment of the surge is expected to call for more time and money for American troops to help bring stability to Iraq.
ROBERT SMITH, host:
Over the last several weeks, we've been asking the question, are things better or worst in Iraq since the 30,000 additional troops were added back in February? So far we've heard from regular Iraqis, politicians in Iraq and the United States, military families, Iraqi refugees. Today we end our series with the voices of American soldiers and how they see things on the ground in Iraq.
BRAND: The Army's 501st parachute infantry regiment of Fort Richardson, Alaska arrived in Iraq nearly a year ago, last October. They're assigned to a tough region south of Baghdad along the Euphrates river, where they have to deal with attacks by both Sunni and Shiite insurgents.
NPR's John Burnett was recently embedded with the so-called Arctic Warriors, and he has this report.
JOHN BURNETT: After a mission in 130 degree heat, a group of soldiers from the 501st sits around a table in a debrief tent gulping cold water. They're all aware that this war in unpopular back home. They know more and more members of Congress are calling to the president to bring home the troops. And thought they're all eager to get back to Anchorage by Christmas, some here believe a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake. Sergeant Bradley Charles Giglio(ph) is 24 years old. He says he misses his wife, barbecues, and the smell of fresh cut lawns.
Sergeant BRADLEY CHARLES GIGLIO (U.S. Army): It's easy for Americans to lose focus, and they're not seeing results as far as this war is going, as far as the country's going. And I mean, it's the hardest thing to change a country from a dictatorship. It's a difficult transition.
BURNETT: In the 12 months this battalion has been here, it had lost 23 soldiers, mainly to roadside bombs. Specialists Jacob Ivancev, a Swedish-American machine gunner who bench presses 400 pounds, wants to deliver this message to folks back home who think the U.S. should pull out of Iraq immediately.
Specialist JACOB IVANCEV (U.S. Army): If we do that and this whole country falls apart, what are you going to tell the families of the more the 3,600 soldiers and Marines who have been killed in action over here? What are you going to tell them, what did they die for?
BURNETT: Yet what they are dying for is a wrenching question. Sergeant Franklin Cooper describes how Shiite Iraqis smile and shake soldiers hands, but as soon as the military is gone, they call ahead and alert insurgents to prepare the ambush.
Sergeant FRANKLIN COOPER (U.S. Army): They're appreciative to our faces, but behind us it's kind of like go home.
BURNETT: John Krajzynski is a 32-year-old Staff Sergeant from Orange County, California with the masters in philosophy, who loves to golf. He wonders whether the attitude of some Iraqis for the troops to go home is necessarily a bad thing.
Sergeant JOHN KRAJZYNSKI (U.S. Army): If the country is ready to reject us, doesn't that mean that they're getting better already on their own? And then maybe this - the next step is for us to leave. I think they're almost ready to take charge.
BURNETT: The 501st arrived well before the surge, but the increase in troops last spring has definitely helped them. Another battalion moved down from Fallujah to share the task of pacifying (unintelligible) province. In terms of their success, the kinds of things General Petraeus will address in his report to Congress later this month, the 501st has succeeded in building up Iraqi police and making peace with sheikhs in their area of operation. But no matter how many soldiers they flood the zone with, the insurgents react with agility, building stealthier, more powerful, more precise bombs. Again, Staff Sergeant John Krajzynski.
Sergeant KRAJZYNSKI: So the insurgents are very adaptive about what they attack us with. I like to comment they're like little McGuyvers, if you will. You can give him a paper clip and they'll probably build you a nuclear reactor. So they're very resourceful.
BURNETT: And that makes it frustrating for American soldiers trained in conventional warfare.
Specialist ALEXANDER LOVELL (U.S. Army): I mean I'm an infantryman. We were all trained to do a job as far as killing the enemy.
BURNETT: Specialist Alexander Lovell.
Spc. LOVELL: You know, you want to fight right. You want to see combat and - but you don't see the enemy at all. You know, they're in the shadows, and if they do come out its from a distance that, you know, you cant really engage them.
BURNETT: The long 15-month deployment will be over soon, and the soldiers of the 501st parachute infantry regiment will leave the Arabian desert and return to chilly Alaska; to wives and new children and hunting rifles and snow mobiles. Private Bryan Muller expects their homecoming to be quite different from the one that awaited an earlier generation of soldiers returning from Vietnam.
Private BRYAN MULLER (U.S. Army): They came back and they get spat on and everything else. We come home, we get handshakes. People buy us drinks. Everybody support the soldiers, not necessarily the war but soldiers. And that's just nice to see.
BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News.
BRAND: And you can find the earlier installments of our surge series at our Web site, npr.org.
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