Soldier's letter a true testament

Monday, December 13, 2004

If you have a question, e-mail factorfiction@semissourian.com or call Speak Out (334-5111) and identify your call as a question for "Fact or fiction?"

Q: I would like to know if a letter going around from Ray Reynolds, a medic in the Iowa Army National Guard, is true or false. Basically, he lists all the good things that are happening in Iraq.

A: Before answering, some background: This question came in before the elections and regards an e-mail contending that humanitarian achievements by the United States in Iraq were being ignored by the national media. I am returning to this question because, one, I am low on questions. And, two, I was curious about how this letter came to be. So I tracked down its author, Ray Reynolds, Sergeant 1st Class with the 234th Signal Battalion, at the Denison, Iowa, fire department. He returned from Iraq in May.

"I was in Baghdad for 11 months, working alongside USAID, the U.S. agency that administers aid," Reynolds told me. "They would send e-mails out telling all the good things going on. I would forward this information to friends and family, but when I went home on leave for two weeks, I found out they weren't getting any positive news from the media. I was taken aback by all the negativeness.

"So I put all the information from what I had sent earlier and e-mailed it to 13 of my closest friends as my leave was ending. Within a couple days, hundreds of e-mails starting pouring in, thanking me for telling what was actually going on.

"There was a problem, though, and I've learned a lesson not to write an e-mail when upset with the media. As a soldier, you're not supposed to give a political opinion, and a public affairs officer called me in and said I wasn't supposed to do this. I gave him the Web site for usaid.gov, and showed him that the information was accurate."

"The focus of my e-mail is not to believe everything you hear from the media. What I saw in Iraq is that we are 100 percent committed to rebuilding. The thing about the content is that there were 18 topics: Improved water, rebuilt schools, immunizations, etc. Most of the facts and statistics came from the usaid.gov Web site, but I saw a lot of it with my own eyes.

"When we got to the green zone, you can't fathom the amount of destruction that was there, short of a tornado. The regime had knocked everything down. Some of my guys would hook up electricity, we rewired water pumps. We were just a bunch of farm boys, and we wanted to see things grow.

"To me, it's not about weapons of mass destruction. It's about basic humanity. There are always skeptics, and the media attacked my letter. I wrote that the people of Iraq are receiving twice the electrical power as before the war. It was almost nonexistent before the war, but some of the media said my facts were wrong, that there isn't twice as much. I still think my e-mail was accurate, but the bigger issue is that no one kept the power plants, the factories, up and working for 20 years because all Saddam did was build palaces and buy weapons. I've learned to get a thicker skin out of this whole deal."

"I don't want to downplay the sacrifices that we're making. Security is the most negative aspect of what is going on. But the bigger issue is how do you build a country that size without the struggles that are going on?

"I tell my kids -- I have a beautiful wife and she did a great job with our three kids -- I would go back to Iraq and fight there in a heartbeat rather than let the terrorists come here. It was a long year, but it was worth it."

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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