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Observations from Iraq

October 29, 2007
Weekly Columns

Last weekend I was able to take a trip to Kuwait, Iraq and Germany with three other members of Congress.  I began my trip with a visit to the troop entry-exit point at Camp Arifjan.  The facility there is the access point from where our forces will exit as troop draw-downs occur in the future.  There are currently twenty combat brigades serving in Iraq and the structure at Arifjan can safely handle exit procedures for one brigade a month.  This means that immediate, complete withdrawal, a philosophy trumpeted by some, is not a realistic and safe option for our soldiers.  The camp is impressive, nonetheless, and moves military units and thousands of pieces of equipment with unmatched precision.  It is evident that our American logistical efforts are second-to-none.

Next, I visited one of the busiest American military bases in West Central Iraq. Located in the city of Balad, the base is home to the biggest Air Force/Army logistical support center in the country, as well as a state-of-the-art base hospital with a top-level trauma center.  After touring the facility, I was impressed by the excellent level of care that the staff provides to our soldiers.  This hospital's quality of care rivals that of any top-tier hospital in the United States.  When one of our soldiers is wounded and taken to Balad's medical facility, they have excellent treatment options available.  This is evidenced by the hospital's reported 98 percent survival rate for patients. 

Also, while in Iraq, I was able to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and General David Petraeus.  Each of these men delivered reports to the Congress in August regarding the status of the mission in Iraq.  During our conversation they communicated a very honest assessment of the challenges our troops will face in the future, but they also openly acknowledged the dramatic drop in violence found in Anbar province and other parts of the country.  They communicated that Al-Qaeda, a tenacious enemy who has actively recruited Iraqis in the past, is being dealt significant blows as Sunnis choose to partner with our forces instead of joining in Al-Qaeda's terror.  This is a very good sign.

The next day we made our way to Ramadi, a city that has experienced a significant drop in violence.  In fact, our Congressional Delegation was the first to ever be allowed into the city without body armor.  Ramadi is becoming safer each week, in large part due to the efforts of our troops partnering with the Iraqi Army and police.  During my trip I was able to visit two joint security stations, one of which was in Ramadi.  Troops stay in these stations and are successfully able to interact and build relationships with Iraqi citizens. Through these partnerships, life is getting better for people in Ramadi and safer for U.S. soldiers, Marines and Iraqi troops who patrol the streets.

The situation in Iraq is still fragile and fluid, but it has improved significantly since I last visited in August of 2006.  During my visit, I met Oklahomans who are bravely serving and putting their lives on the line each day.  I am proud of each Oklahoman I was fortunate to meet and all the rest who are currently serving or have served during this critical mission.  We should continue to pray for their safety daily and remember the great debt of gratitude we owe for their sacrifices.