My 8-year-old daughter, Lindsay, and I had the opportunity to visit Fort Stewart in Savannah, Ga., and sit in on an unofficial teleconference from Iraq between a General and four of his commanding officers and their wives last month. We were invited to participate because we own property at the nearby Ford Plantation and they have been very generous with the local base. We were given a guided tour by bus and it quickly became clear that Fort Stewart is an impressive place.
It was very nice to see how young soldiers live while they are there. Many of these soldiers may have come from not-so-great childhoods, but it was very apparent that at Fort Stewart they all receive a close knit, family style community that I was happy to see first-hand.
I was a little nervous when we entered an official building where our identification was processed and then sent into a conference room with a large conference table. There were five screens with the large screen in the center and four smaller screens on the sides of the room. After we were all seated, the officers appeared on the large screen up front. They were very funny, and they lightened the room up immediately when they began to joke around with their wives.
The general spoke from the center screen with a slight time lapse, but other than that, appeared in real time. He started the meeting off by thanking a World War II Veteran who was visiting with Ford for his service. He then went on to say that he was now dealing with the second greatest generation with his soldiers and how amazing they all are.
We were shown a computer generated map of Iraq and its various regions, which appeared on the four screens on the sides of room. He pointed out the various regions in color coded sections. He described the highlighted areas and the various tribes and people who live in those regions and some of the problems they are having with several of those groups who are vying for better land. The more valuable land in the north has regular rainfall in addition to natural resources such as oil and gas, while the other half of the country, more or less, has little or no rainfall; therefore nothing really can be done with the land.
The general then fielded several questions from the folks from Ford which took on a more serious tone. The first question came from a woman. She asked him if he felt that there was any threat of Iran taking over Iraq when we pull out. The general reassured her and the rest of us that the Iraqi people are very proud of their heritage and that "they," the Iraqi people, would not let that happen.
When it was time for my question, I asked what the plans were to insure that the Iraqi people were left on a good note, and how much infrastructure, power generation and water plants were restored to the days of Saddam Hussein. The general replied by basically saying that most people have more electricity and cleaner water today than they did before.
The general then asked me to introduce the only child in the room, Lindsay Rockwood. She became shy, so I spoke up mentioning that her grandfather William Rockwood was awarded a Purple Heart during World War II. I then went on to tell him about the past three drives Lindsay and I conducted for Operation Iraqi Children out of our local Senior Center in Westport. The look of astonishment on his face was very real. He then told Lindsay how important her work is, and he said that the Iraqi children absolutely love American children. They run up to the soldiers as they visit the villages and ask them about American children, and when a soldier gives them a stuffed animal or soccer ball, their faces light up with excitement and gratitude. It's very cool.
I then asked the general one more question about the Iraqi withdrawal. I told him I was always curious about the language barrier and I asked him how they were doing with it. He replied in perfect Arabic (which I did not understand), and then all four commanders began to banter away in Arabic. I had to laugh.
We then went on to a luncheon provided by the general's wife at their home on the base where Lindsay was awarded with a Brigade Coin by Major Jay Morrison for her good work. Lindsay ate some cake, played some Blackberry games with Private Kristy Donahue, and had a great time.
So, there you go. Let's please do one more drive.
Iraqi Children's Drive: Soccer balls and small stuffed animal collection for Iraqi Children. Please drop off your donations from April 20 -- May 15 The Westport Senior Center 21 Imperial Ave., Westport. Open Saturdays at noon We will also happily accept children's shoes and softball equipment in good condition please. Thank you for your support.
Marian Rockwood is a Westport resident.
Lindsay Rockwood with Lieutenant Brittany Edds Private Kristy Donahue