Saluting every soldier
By Hannah Kim
Last week, the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) became the last unit to leave Iraq ― ending Operation Iraqi Freedom that had dragged on since 2003 and cost the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers. In an effort to honor the contributions of the men and women in uniform, as well as to mark the fulfillment of President Obama's promise to withdraw U.S. combat troops by August 31, the White House is currently encouraging Americans to ``Take a Moment to Salute the Troops."
Most certainly, the ``Indianhead" Warrior Division prevailed in Iraq as it did in the previous conflicts: 2ID marched into Germany on Nov. 11, 1918 in World War I, landed on Normandy's Omaha Beach in June of 1944 during World War II, and led the Eighth Army drive to the Manchurian Border as the first American troop to arrive in Busan when the Korean War broke out in 1950. (Sixty years later, 2ID is still stationed in Korea. In fact, 3,900 soldiers of 2ID's 2nd Brigade Combat Team were first deployed from bases along South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone to Iraq in 2004.) The soldiers of 2ID ― and more than 1 million members of the U.S. military ― deserve every accolade and welcoming parade for their service to the nation.
But I can’t help but ask: What about the Zaytun Division? Did the South Korean unit deployed to Iraq (the third-largest foreign military force in Iraq, behind the U.K.) receive similar recognition from the Korean government or from the public, when it returned home two years ago?
How many people know that from May 2003 to December 2008, more than 20,000 South Korean draftees served in Iraq to join the U.S.-led Global War on Terror? Whether the cause was just or not, South Korea's contribution to Iraq shouldn't go unnoticed or unappreciated as in the case of Vietnam. More than 312,000 ``ROK" soldiers fought alongside the 536,100 American ``GI’’s in Indochina; far too many still haven't received a simple salute.
The United States will now have just six brigades in Iraq, by far the smallest level since the 2003 invasion. About 50,000 U.S. troops and roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces will stay behind to train Iraqi troops. Even these advice and assist brigades (AAB) will completely withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011 ― which is why there are many voices that float Senator John McCain’s idea (in February 2008) about the possibility of American troops staying in Iraq for ``100 years," by which he meant a lengthy U.S. presence comparable to that such as in Korea.
Last week, Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005 (and former President of the World Bank), wrote an article in the New York Times titled, ``In Korea, a Model for Iraq."
He echoed Robert Killebrew's piece in the Washington Post (Apr 2006), in which the retired U.S. Army colonel cited South Korea's story to be ``worth remembering as a case study of American nation-building that worked.” Wolfowitz, affirmed this notion in his article: ``There are still 28,500 American troops on the peninsula. Our continued commitment prevented another war and today South Korea is a remarkable economic and political success story as well. Even as our combat commitment ends, our commitment to supporting Iraq must continue.”
While political debate on the Iraq War is necessary, we must not forget that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan will soon enter its tenth year, making it the nation’s longest military conflict. There are roughly 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan now after President Obama ordered a troop increase. Already nearly 1270 soldiers have died. We're seeing the highest number of casualties in 2010, and we can't afford to lose a single life more.
There are 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, 120,000 of them under the mandate of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In the middle of August the death count for U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan passed the 2,000 mark and is increasing every day since.
While South Korea has only lost one of its sons in Afghanistan (in 2007), some 230 South Korean soldiers of ``the Ashena Unit” have also returned to Afghanistan this summer (since pulling out in 2007 after the Taliban killed two of the 23 missionaries it held hostage) to protect Korean civilians who will work as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team. They will be in harm’s way for two and a half years.
After they finish their tour of duty, many soldiers will return home with the painful vestiges of war. I understand there are political differences that cannot be reconciled; and wars may never end. That shouldn’t stop anyone from taking a moment to salute and thank the soldiers when they come home.
Hannah Kim is a 2009 master's graduate at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, specializing in legislative affairs. She spearheaded the passage of the ``Korean War Veterans Recognition Act, U.S. Public Law 111-41," which was signed by President Obama on July 27, 2009. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.