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Observing The Presidential Candidates From Iraq

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Observing The Presidential Candidates From Iraq

Observing The Presidential Candidates From Iraq

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. We're joined now by Captain Nate Rawlings. He's in Iraq, and he's been writing about his experiences at our website. He also takes your questions there. And the latest one was not exactly subtle in its criticism of the war and of the Americans fighting that war. Mohmed Hasan from Kansas wrote in part, "Do you really feel proud of yourself as a murderer of innocent people? Who are you to go a country and force democracy on the people?" Nate Rawlings is here and Nate, what did you say to Mr. Hasan?

Captain NATE RAWLINGS: Well, I tried to encourage Mr. Hasan to take a step back and to try to take a little bit more of an educated point of view. I think that the war and especially this war, like many other wars are going to cause people to have a number of different opinions and that's fine. I think that all those opinions should be respected. But I really just encouraged him to really try to learn more about what we do over here, because I'm incredibly proud of all of my soldiers, couldn't be prouder of the way they conduct themselves. Even when they had to use violence it's always been restrained. And so, I really just tried to have him take a step back and just sort of join the discussion in a more positive manner.

BRAND: And then you also said, which I thought was interesting, that he should vote with his feet. That he should actually take part in the political process, if he doesn't favor the war.

Capt. RAWLINGS: Absolutely. And that's something that my father always stressed upon my sisters and me and that we've all thought it's very important that you should be engaged in the process. In this case it is a political process, because the process of electing our government leaders is one that will have a direct impact on whether we're here and what we do here. So it's fine to criticize, but at the same time if you're not engaged in the process I feel that's a real discredit to everything you try to protest against.

BRAND: Do you sense a great excitement among the men and women there about the election?

Capt. RAWLINGS: Well, there's certainly a lot of open questions, a lot of us are wondering if Barack Obama's elected versus John McCain and vice versa, whether that will have an effect not just on this tour, but on future military careers because we have a lot of soldiers and a lot of officers who are planning to make a military career and I'm not one of them. I'm going to be leaving active duty when we return from this tour.

But for those soldiers especially, the big question now is, when and how soon they'll have to deploy to Afghanistan. Because many of these soldiers are on their third, some even on their fourth tour here to Iraq. And so now they're looking at another open ended involvement in Afghanistan. And so they've got a lot of questions about that and so we're really just curious right now what both candidates - what decisions they'll make.

BRAND: And so far, are you getting satisfactory responses from both candidates in terms of, you know, the future deployments and the future of our engagement in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Capt. RAWLINGS: Well, we've certainly seen a lot of the national discussion shifting to the economy after what happened on Wall Street in the past week. And so we see those things kind of having a lot of difficulty and understand why the candidates are spending time addressing those issues right now. Our chief concern now, I guess for the day to day, is just doing our job as best we can. Certainly having a concern into the future a little bit and when the candidates get around to addressing that we'll certainly pay attention.

BRAND: OK, here is another question. A listener notes that he's seen some videos on the web with soldiers, you know, not acting in a dignified manner shall we say, making Iraqi children say profanities in English. And he's wondering as a captain, as someone who's in charge of soldiers, how you deal with that? And he asks how much bad boy behavior goes on without the public's knowledge?

Capt. RAWLINGS: One of the things that I try to keep in mind as a platoon leader and now that I'm in charge of other troops, is that a number of our soldiers are between the ages of 19 and 21. So they're still in that stage when if they were in college they would probably be out going to parties and, you know, having a good time and acting wild and crazy.

And so there's a lot of responsibility placed in these young men's shoulders. Not only do they go out into the neighborhoods carrying assault rifles and ammunition and candy for the children and leaflets, but they have a responsibility to try to conduct themselves as soldiers. And we do try to press discipline, and that's one of the important aspects of the military.

But one thing I told my soldiers is that you do have to try to conduct themselves as ambassadors to the U.S. But you're always, in an organization this large, going to have a few soldiers who act in a manner that maybe we don't appreciate or that we don't approve of. So if a soldier in my unit was doing something like that we would discipline him, or we would certainly council him, and make sure that it doesn't repeat itself.

BRAND: In your last dispatch on our website, you wrote about being really sick. You caught, I guess, a cold or you had bronchitis or something, but you had a fever and you still had to go out on patrol. Are you better now and tell us a little bit about what that was like?

Capt. RAWLINGS: I am much better thanks. Back - I was back from my mid-tour leave where I was home in the States for about three weeks, a little bit more than three weeks. And I returned and had about three days of regular operation before I got bad case of bronchitis, and I had really high fever. And once the fever subsided a little bit I did go out on a couple of patrols that were pretty miserable because I still had a little bit of a high temperature and was pretty weak.

But my platoon medic, he took good care of me and insured that I was staying hydrated and taking my medicine. But it was - bronchitis is just one of those sicknesses that you have to just let it take - run its course. And I did finally, and I'm feeling much better.

BRAND: But you still had to go out on patrol in a 100 degree heat?

Capt. RAWLINGS: Well, I did. I was actually forced to stay behind. My medic would not let me go on one. But mainly, I just did not want my soldiers going out on a patrol without me as one of their leaders and as, you know, just a fellow soldier. And because they're a group of guys that I really gotten attached to, and you know, I definitely don't want them going out into harm's way unless I'm with them, you know, right at the front, every step. And so, that's really hard as a leader to get left behind on one of those operations, but you really have to weigh the safety of the operation. If you're going to become a heat casualty and then all of a sudden the operation has to stop to care for you.

So it's one of those calls as a leader you have to make and say I'm really just not in a physical health position to conduct myself as I need to right now. And luckily that was only for one mission, and I was able to get back on my feet. I didn't feel great, but I was able to do everything I needed to do.

BRAND: How often do soldiers get sick there in Iraq? It would seem that the conditions would be ripe for a lot of sickness.

Capt. RAWLINGS: Well, first when initially we come over, we land in Kuwait and spend a little bit of time gathering our equipment and training, And there's a famous Kuwaiti crud, that's what we call it, that goes around at the big camp in Kuwait. Because everyone is adjusting to being on the far side of the world, they're adjusting to a new set of germs. And once your body gets used to it, then there's a pretty steady state where everyone's genuinely healthy and we try to take care of each other.

The medics - and we have health professionals, and a battalion surgeon, as well as physicians assistants, who do regular check-ups to make sure that we're all healthy and taking care of ourselves. But this general bug that goes around, coughs, cold, fevers and bronchitis just happen to be the flavor of the month I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: OK. Well I'm glad you feel better and thank you again. It's always great talking to you.

Capt. RAWLINGS: Thank you very much for having me, it's a pleasure.

BRAND: That's Capt. Nate Rawlings. He spoke to us from Baghdad, from actually on top of a roof from his cell phone in Baghdad. And you can check out his dispatches at npr.org/nate. You can also post your questions to Nate there. Again, thanks Nate.

Capt. RAWLINGS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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