Senator Barrasso: Thanksgiving in Iraq
Senator Barrasso with Wyoming soldiers
Pictured here are Michelle Kuntz from Sheridan, William Moncrieff from Cheyenne, Senator John Barrasso, and Richard Merritt from Afton. Photo from Kirkuk, Iraq, courtesy Senator Barrasso’s office.
by Senator John Barrasso
November 27, 2007
The brave Wyoming men and women serving in our nation’s military make us incredibly proud. I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving with nine of them in three separate areas of Iraq. Each is an American hero.
I traveled to Iraq with Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. First and foremost, we went to say thank you to the men and women of our armed services who are so far away from home.
I wanted to make sure our soldiers are getting everything they need to protect themselves and to get the job done. I also wanted to listen to our men and women in the field to see if we are making measurable progress in the war.
The Wyoming soldiers were very happy to see someone from home. I enjoyed Thanksgiving lunch in Baghdad with Danny Warner of Sheridan and Thomas Gorsuch of Douglas. They wanted to talk about fishing in Lake DeSmet, hunting and family. It was a great meal. Danny said if you’re not careful you’ll end up gaining weight.
Dinner in Al Anbar province was with four Wyoming marines. We talked about UW football, snowmobiling and the war. Grant Royal of Greybull, Raymond Hahn of Sheridan, Duane Szuma of Newcastle and Jason Case of Cheyenne talked of the successes of the surge against Al Qaeda.
Friday lunch – turkey sandwiches – was in Kirkuk in northern Iraq. I met Michelle Kuntz of Sheridan, William Moncrieff of Cheyenne and Richard Merritt of Afton. Like my other two Thanksgiving meals, we talked about home. Each of the meals passed too quickly.
Mementos from home are always popular, so I brought rolls of the new Wyoming quarter – most had never seen one. I gave them Wyoming ball caps, Wyoming flag patches, Wyoming bucking bronco decals, Wyoming pins, Wyoming luggage tags, phone cards and dozens of packs of beef jerky. The full backpack I started with was completely empty by the time I left Kirkuk.
In Iraq we were fortunate to be flown in a Wyoming Air Guard C-130 transport plane from Camp Guernsey. There was no mistaking the plane with a County 8 license plate in the window. The tail said Wyoming in brown and gold. There was a Wyoming bucking bronco over the control panel and a plaque from the town of Guernsey on the inside of the door.
The soldiers of Wyoming confirmed for me what the military leaders told us in our briefings. Injuries to our soldiers and to civilians have declined for the past four months. The number of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), bombs, and rocket attacks has also dropped. The Iraqi people, through neighborhood watch programs, are cooperating much more and turning in members of Al Qaeda.
During the course of the trip, I had candid discussions with General David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, and Iraqi Vice President Abdulmahdi. Traveling with Senators McCain and Lieberman and other members of the Senate Armed Services committee certainly added an extra dimension to the trip. The committee has conducted a number of hearings regarding Iraq, and they have traveled to the region several times. They spoke of the significant military progress they observed.
Success in Iraq can be judged in different ways – military, political, and economic. Military operations have resulted in measurable progress. Political progress has been slow moving and must improve. Future economic progress is dependent on the political will of the Iraqi people.
Living in Wyoming, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. My dad fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I took his dog tags from WW II with me to Iraq. He always told me, “John, you should thank God every day that you live in America; you don’t know how fortunate you are.” He was right. We are very fortunate that this generation of Wyoming and American members of the military is so dedicated to fighting for our freedom.