Re­tired gen­eral sees hope in fu­ture Iraqi gen­er­a­tions

The Covington News - - OPINION - DICK YAR­BROUGH COLUM­NIST

In my home hangs a pho­to­graph of a rather large and deep hole on the side of an as­phalt road. It is the aftermath of an IED (Im­pro­vised Ex­plo­sive De­vice) — or in more sim­ple terms, a home­made bomb — that went off just as the Humvee in which I was rid­ing passed over it.

The date was Oct. 13, 2005, and I was in Iraq, em­bed­ded with the men and women of Ge­or­gia’s 48th Bri­gade Com­bat Team. On this day, I was with a con­voy in an area south of Bagh­dad look­ing for IEDs. Need­less to say, we found one.

I was told later that had our ve­hi­cle been a few sec­onds slower or the bad guys a tad faster, we would not be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion to­day. I would be in heaven or Athens or some place with­out air-con­di­tion­ing.

Go­ing through that ex­pe­ri­ence was a sem­i­nal event in my life. To the 4,600 cit­i­zen-soldiers of Ge­or­gia’s 48th BCT, it was just an­other day’s dan­ger­ous work. They lost 26 of their col­leagues to IEDs while de­ployed in Iraq.

Com­mand­ing the 48th was Brig. Gen. Ste­wart Rode­heaver, of Forsyth, Ge­or­gia, a Great Amer­i­can and one of the finest lead­ers I have been priv­i­leged to know. Gen. Rode­heaver re­tired in 2010 and moved to Ea­ton­ton where he serves as pres­i­dent of a high-tech com­pany called Viz­iTech USA, which pro­vides sta­teof-the-art train­ing in ed­u­ca­tion and other fields.

I called him at home last week to see what he thought of the cur­rent events tak­ing place in Iraq. I got hold of him just af­ter he had fin­ished cut­ting the grass. I didn’t know gen­er­als cut their own grass. I know for a fact that mod­est and much-beloved colum­nists don’t.

Rode­heaver seems equal parts proud of what his troops ac­com­plished dur­ing their time in Iraq and frus­trated to see much of their hard work fall apart be­cause of the on-go­ing vi­o­lence be­tween the Shi­ites and the Sun­nis.

“We thought we were help­ing them un­der­stand the ad­van­tages of work­ing to­gether,” he said, “and here we have the rul­ing power in the Iraqi govern­ment leav­ing out half the pop­u­la­tion. It is very dis­ap­point­ing.”

Some­body should have lis­tened to him long be­fore now. In an ap­pear­ance be­fore the At­lanta Press Club in 2006 af­ter re­turn­ing from Iraq, Gen. Rode­heaver warned about the need for in­clu­sion. “You can’t build com­mu­ni­ties by leav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of people out of the process,” he said. “If the Shia want to build a com­mu­nity in a cer­tain way and they don’t con­sult the Sun­nis, they build en­e­mies.” That has come to pass.

The 48th BCT fought ter­ror­ists, sti­fling heat and skep­tics while at the same time help­ing rebuild a coun­try reel­ing from the tyranny of mad­man dic­ta­tor, Sad­dam Hus­sein. Back home in Ge­or­gia, they were car­pen­ters, po­lice of­fi­cers, medics, me­chan­ics and the like. In Iraq, they used their skills to help the lo­cals build and main­tain power plants, wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, roads and bridges, schools and med­i­cal clin­ics.

“We con­trib­uted to the wel­fare of fam­i­lies by pro­vid­ing them with schools and clin­ics and in­fra­struc­ture. We tried to show young people that there is a bet­ter way of life than try­ing to kill each other,” the gen­eral says.

It is for that rea­son that Rode­heaver feels con­fi­dent that their ef­forts will pay off even­tu­ally, if not in the near term.

“The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion is lost,” he says flatly. “They hate each other and al­ways will.”

He pre­dicts, how­ever, that within two gen­er­a­tions pos­i­tive changes will come to Iraq.

“Think of the at­ti­tu­di­nal changes that have oc­curred in our own so­ci­ety in two gen­er­a­tions,” he says. Good point. Was it worth it, I asked? “For most of us who were there,” Rode­heaver says, “we would say ‘yes.’ We be­gan a process that I truly be­lieve will change the next gen­er­a­tion in Iraq. And at home, Amer­i­cans re­dis­cov­ered their pa­tri­o­tism and pride af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks.”

What is go­ing on in Iraq seems in­evitable to most of us — fa­nat­ics fight­ing fa­nat­ics. It is hard to see that ever chang­ing. But Gen. Ste­wart Rode­heaver has faith that one day it will. It is just go­ing to take a new gen­er­a­tion or two of Iraqis to say, “Enough is enough.” Then the good works of Ge­or­gia’s 48th Bri­gade Com­bat Team will not have been in vain. I am priv­i­leged I got to see those good works up-close and per­sonal. As the pho­to­graph on my wall re­minds me, it was al­most too up­close for com­fort.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@ bel­lsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia 31139; on­line at dick­yarbrough.com or on Face­book at www.face­book.com/dick­yarb.

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