Saturday, October 18, 2003

Yes, he knows about body bags, and they're not throw-away words in an antiwar statement. But he also knows about the other -- the larger, less-reported -- parts of the Iraq story. And he returned home with a new appreciation of the progress in Iraq and a deeper commitment to what the United States and other nations are doing there.

Walden talked to soldiers in the 82nd and soldiers from Oregon -- away from the brass. "Nearly every soldier I talked to agreed with the mission, and that what we were doing was the right thing." he said. "Nearly every one of them, however, also wanted to come home. But after you've been there five, six, seven months, in heat that hit 140 degrees, living in . . . adequate conditions but not something you'd prefer, is it any wonder?"

It's a far more perilous environment than Walden realized before his visit. The soldiers told of being shot at regularly when they head out each night. "In those neighborhoods where there are still Saddam loyalists . . . it's very difficult and dangerous work, says Walden. "But, having said that, everywhere I went, the common percentage (that) the troops threw out was 90 to 95 percent of the Iraqis support us being there. I think the most powerful part of the trip for me was knowing and hearing directly from the soldiers that every day it's getting better for them, even though we see these attacks."

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