ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. In a few minutes, Los Angeles takes on the underground prescription drug trade.
CHADWICK: First, Army Captain Nate Rawlings is home on leave from Iraq. He's just home for a few days and then he's going back. Captain Rawlings is the officer that Day to Day has been talking to from time to time, and he answers some of our listener email. Nate Rawlings, welcome back to Day to Day, and you're at your parents' home on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee?
Captain NATE RAWLINGS (U.S. Army): Yes, I am.
CHADWICK: So, when did you get back? How come you got back?
Capt. RAWLINGS: I returned to the States about a week ago. My college roommate was married this past weekend in Birmingham and I arranged to have my mid (unintelligible) R and R around this time so I could serve as one of his groomsmen.
CHADWICK: OK. Well, we're glad you're here. You can answer this question for us. You know the surge is actually formally ending. You know, the brigades are rotating back, is this something that you all mark back in Iraq?
Capt. RAWLINGS: We don't mark it in any kind of formal capacity on our level, but we do know that the last of the surge brigades is headed home.
CHADWICK: So, how do things seem?
Capt. RAWLINGS: Things are still very good. It's the hot summer months which are usually a little slower and a little quieter. And in our area, we've had about the same amount of significant activities, and still a low level of enemy activity and sectarian violence that we have seen since April, when we officially took over that battle stage.
CHADWICK: You are in the Baghdad area, I believe, you're training Iraqi troops. Is that correct?
Capt. RAWLINGS: That's correct. We live and train with Iraqi army battalions, then we take them out on patrols and assess their capacity to conduct security operations by themselves.
CHADWICK: So, you do get out in the city, you get a chance to meet Iraqis on the street, people who are trying to make their lives go along in Baghdad?
Capt. RAWLINGS: Absolutely. I've had the pleasure to meet hundreds of residents from our area, shop owners, doctors and sheiks and community activists, and we attend regular meetings with all of the community leaders so we have a chance to stay very engaged with the population.
CHADWICK: Well, I just wonder how - what is your sense of how they feel about how things are going?
Capt. RAWLINGS: They're very happy with the progress that's been made, certainly since a year, a year and a half ago. The number of sniper incidents, number of roadside bombs, just the level of sectarian violence has dropped significantly, in part due to the increase in troops, in part due just to the deployment of the troops, putting them at these small combat outposts so that they're right in the community and can respond quickly. But really, the residents of the area are taking control of their community, and they're doing a lot to try to clean things up and try to lower the level of violence even further.
CHADWICK: Nate, you have been responding to letters from our listeners, people who write you about your experience. I saw one a few days ago from a mother whose son is in the National Guard, and he's going to be going over there with the 56th Striker Brigade, which is deploying there in the next few months. She kind of wants to know, is there any advice you can give us in terms of what to say to the soldiers to bolster them? I think you've answered these kinds of questions before, but what would you say to her?
Capt. RAWLINGS: Right. Well, in the weeks leading up to the deployment things get increasingly stressful as the soldiers know that they're deploying. To be honest with you, the worst moment of the deployment is pretty much the farewell ceremony right before the soldiers get on a bus to then board a plane and head overseas. So my advice would be to just really try to get through that moment. That will be pretty much, I think my mother said, the worst moment of the tour. I actually said goodbye to my parents away from my soldiers the day prior, so that I could be there and be fully engaged with my soldiers emotionally, and not have to worry about my emotions, but it's a beautiful ceremony for families. It is just very difficult to get through sometimes. As soon as he gets overseas, though, they should receive a physical address.
But my parents and I found that emails are a much easier way to stay in contact. I'll fire them an email and say I'm alive and fine, I'm doing OK, and then they keep me constantly updated with what is going on at home. And, to me, that's been very important to try to feel connected with my friends and my family, just to feel that life isn't, sort of, ongoing without me. The two ways that my parents do that, they send lots of pictures in the care packages that they send, but they've also taken a generational step back and both my parents got the online Facebook profile, so that now they can post online pictures of family events, or big events in my high school, and I can see those instantaneously, and little things like that just really help you feel connected with the outside world.
CHADWICK: With us from his parents' home on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, Capt. Nate Rawlings, at the end of next week on his way back to the Headquarters Company of the First Battalion, 22nd regiment of the First Brigade of the Fourth Infantry division. Nate, thank you so much, we'll talk again.
Capt. RAWLINGS: Thank you for having me.
CHADWICK: And that earlier listener email, the National Guard mom, her name is Barbara White. You can send your questions to Nate Rawlings. He will answer you online. Go to our website, that's npr.org