Going to war for right reasons, coming home for safety's sake

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Signs at Scott City businesses are still up to welcome him home and the municipal building remains decorated with American flags celebrating his arrival last week, but police chief Don Cobb is rather low key about his homecoming.

Cobb is back behind his desk at the police station, looking through a stack of reports after returning home from Iraq, where his National Guard Unit, the 2175th Military Police Company, was deployed for a year. He has only been back in Scott City since Friday.

"Nobody is shooting bullets at me, nobody is launching grenades at me, this is time off," Cobb said of his speedy return to the police station. "I wanted to come back. We're in a new fiscal year, and we have new employees. The office was run very well, but I was really excited to get back here."

News of his unit's deployment reached Cobb at the end of February 2003, and on March 15 he left for Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where the unit was stationed until leaving for Baghdad in June 2003.

When he first arrived in Iraq, Cobb's unit was supposed to be home by Christmas, but after Thanksgiving Cobb found out his unit would be on active duty in Iraq for a year. Cobb saw his family during a two-week return at Christmas.

Cobb, who has been in the military for most of his adult life and served in the Gulf War and Kosovo, accepted his extended stay like a veteran.

"There was no way of knowing what would happen, and we knew that," he said. "The situation in Iraq is so open ended right now."

It was a little harder for his two sons.

"I'm 33 years old, and a year and a half is a long time, but to a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old it's an eternity," he said.

It has also been hard on Cobb's wife, Teresa, but after 14 years of marriage she has gotten used to delays and extensions.

"The first few times you're devastated, but then you realize that's the way the Army is," she said.

For most of his time in Iraq, Cobb stayed in Baghdad, where part of his job consisted of training Iraqi police officers and escorting prisoners. "They needed military police so badly when we got there," Cobb said.

Cobb said his overall experience with the Iraqi people was positive.

"Probably 95 percent of Iraqis I dealt with on a daily basis kissed our hands and thanked you," he said. "It's not what you're seeing on the national news."

Hope rose again when Cobb's unit was rescheduled to return home in May. But then came another extension and he was sent to Najaf in late April, where the mission was to re-establish police stations. Najaf was the target of a three-week offensive by coalition forces in May against followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"That was without a question the most difficult part of the mission," Cobb said of Najaf. "The level of fighting was intense."

April had the highest number of U.S. causalities since the war began.

"When we first got there, a deathless day was like Christmas, they were toasted and celebrated. Some days there would be two of those days in a row and then we'd lose twenty."

Cobb expects the fighting to continue for some time.

"I think the people in our country got use to those sanitized wars. When you're dealing with the Middle East, things are just not that clean."

Despite the difficult situation ahead, Cobb firmly believes in the war in Iraq and believes the United States is involved for the right reasons. Cobb said the United States' mission in Iraq is "to create a stable government where different tribes can come together in a representative democracy. As far as how far down the road that is, I have no idea."

"If my phone rings and I get orders to go back, I'll go because I believe in the mission," Cobb said. "I was there for the right reasons."

That call, however, is unlikely. Cobb said National Guard members are only allowed to be called for duty 24 months in a five-year period. "They have to leave me alone for two and a half years," he said.

Cobb served eight months in Kosovo in 2002.

As for his long-term future in the National Guard, Cobb said he will discuss it with his wife.

Right now, he is still getting use to being back on the job after an almost two-year absence.

"It still feels weird," he said. "What you have to realize and what I didn't realize when I came back from Kosovo, is that things will change. The key to being able to fit back in is understanding that there are going to be changes and things will be different from when you left."

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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