Veterans respond to Iraq troop withdrawal

Marshall Cohen

Veterans from the Northwestern and Evanston communities greeted the impending withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq with relief and caution Tuesday.

President Barack Obama announced Friday that virtually all of the 41,000 troops still in Iraq will come home by the end of the year, effectively ending the eight-year war.

Cmdr. Dan Adams (MEAS ‘91) served eight months in Iraq and returned to a hero’s welcome at a large celebration in Winnekta on July 4 this year. He was first commissioned through the Naval ROTC unit on campus.

He said the country will “take a deep breath” once the last soldier leaves Iraq in December.

“I’m hopeful that us leaving Iraq will allow both our country and theirs to turn a page, and that one day we will have fully normal relations,” Adams said.

Adams, who remotely piloted unmanned aircraft that could detect improved explosive devices, said he was “ambivalent” about the withdrawal itself but pointed to recent progress in the war.

“I think Iraq has had a lot of challenges in the past several years and they will continue to have challenges going forward,” Adams said. “I am hopeful that the Iraqis are now at a point where they are well-positioned to handle those challenges.”

Others, like Lt. Col. Nancy Carder, said those challenges are too grave to warrant a withdrawal at this time.

Carder, an Evanston resident, is the assistant to the commander of American Legion Post 42, the Evanston chapter of the national mutual-aid veterans organization. She spent 28 years in the Army Nurse Corps and served overseas in Panama and Grenada. She said she strongly opposes the upcoming withdrawal from Iraq.

“All of those kids who had gotten injured or even died, it was all in vain,” Carder said. “I sure as hell think they should stay and finish the job they started. I think the kids must be glad to be out of harms way but at the same time their mission isn’t completed in Iraq.”

Maj. Shawn Gardner (MSC ‘10) served two tours in Afghanistan. He first arrived in the country shortly after the October 2001 invasion and returned for another year of service in 2009.

Gardner currently works as the director of public affairs for the Indiana National Guard. He said Americans might now focus their interest more on Afghanistan, where there are still U.S. boots on the ground.

“As operations wind down in Iraq, I think the military and the nation will focus solely on Afghanistan and how that war is progressing,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be there early in the fight and see what their country was like, and then later return to see the progress we’ve made. I credit that to my fellow soldiers, airmen and marines who have put in so much time.”

Adams also mentioned the U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan and around the world.

“We’ve got guys all over the world right now,” Adams said. “It will be great to leave Iraq but we’ve still got a full plate. I’ll be glad that those guys are coming home to their families, but I’m still thinking of those men and women who are still deployed doing the difficult and dangerous work of our nation.”

Adams currently works as a certified financial planner and lives with his wife Teresa, whom he met at NU, and kids in Walla Walla, Wash.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), whose district includes Evanston, welcomed the news of the withdrawal, calling the war “unnecessary” and “unfunded” in a news release Friday.

“I applaud President Obama’s announcement that he will bring our brave military men and women home from Iraq by the end of the year,” she said in the news release. “I thank President Obama for his resolve in ending this war and in meeting the needs of returning veterans by creating jobs and improving health care services for those injured.”

Betsy Tolstedt, team leader at the Evanston Veterans Center, declined to comment without prior approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than 4,400 Americans have died during the conflict in Iraq since the initial invasion in March 2003.

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