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Auburn reflects on five years in Iraq

Locals talk about death, peace, victory and freedom
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The United States and Auburn went to war five years ago, with U.S. air strikes pounding Iraq forces in the waning hours of a Wednesday night. The headline in the Auburn Journal five years ago today focused on both the local community and a war being played out half a world away: War begins; families wait, hope. Stories outlined the hopes of military families and the feelings of people going about their day-to-day lives. Most, like 12-year-old David Harmon, thought the war would be over quickly. They're gonna get creamed, he said. Five years on, with U.S. military forces continuing to fight a war in Iraq, Auburn has become personally connected with the war, whether it's the news of a local soldier being killed, exalting upon the return of a friend or loved one, hearing of another enlistment, watching or taking part in a support the troops demonstration or glancing at the numerous yellow ribbon magnets attached to vehicles. Now, just as then, the war has spurred strong emotions ““ both for and against ““ as well as plenty of conjecture on future courses of action. Auburn's Elly Derr said the current continuing conflict is about freedom, and preserving it ““ even at the cost of American lives. In the Second World War, we lost 23,000 in one day ““ and we got our victory and kept our freedom, Derr said. We've lost much less in this war and we still have our freedom. It's saved our country from being attacked. Foresthill's Jim Brown said he has good friends who are serving in Iraq. I don't think they should just abandon Iraq but spending more money and sending more troops is not going to do any good, Brown said. I think they lost the point of what they were doing there. According to the Associated Press, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University public finance expert Linda Bilmes have estimated the eventual cost of the war could be as much as $3 trillion when all the expenses are calculated. Brown said he equates the five-year benchmark with the day his 5-year-old son started kindergarten. I let go of his hand and let him go to school, Brown said, adding that Iraq's people need to take care of themselves. Bobbi Park of Alta found herself in the middle of the war, with her son, Keith Pratt, serving two tours with Marines. Park organized the Placer County branch of Operation:MOM after seeing the Bay Area support group on the news. Last Christmas, 300 care packages were sent to local soldiers by the group. Pratt is now home, getting married in May and working as a project manager on a large commercial building. Park said her involvement continues, particularly in networking to help veterans get back into the community. She's CEO of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. Five years later, we're still packing but we're also helping veterans and their families with issues like post-traumatic stress, she said. Eighty-eight-year-old Ward Minor brings a World War II veteran's perspective to his views on Iraq. He served in the Aleutians before moving through France and Germany against the Nazis. He was on a freight car bound for the West Coast and a sea voyage to hostilities against Japan when the war ended. I think we've been there long enough, Minor said. Some people are going to disagree with that and I feel for the mothers whose children have been lost, maybe for nothing. According to an Associated Press count, 3,992 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003. The AP count is four more than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Wednesday. A newer veteran, Auburn's Kevin Hanley served aboard the USS Midway as a surface warfare officer. He was in the Indian Ocean during an earlier conflict ““ the Iranian-Iraqi War. Speaking as an Auburn resident and not expressing views of other City Council members, Hanley said his hope is that the Iraqi government can work with different factions in the country to put together a stable government. We should pull out as soon as possible, leaving a stable government that follows rule of law, Hanley said. That would be good for the entire Middle East. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment. The Associated Press contributed to this report.