Iraq Vet: 'We Need to Be There'

Indiana National Guard Specialist Jeff Ripley proposed to his fiancé, Kimberly, when he came home on leave in January 2007 in the middle of his year-long deployment to Iraq. They endured the next six months apart and since Ripley’s return in October 2007, wedding plans have resumed for their June 21 nuptials.

I spoke with the recent veteran to gain his perspective on the current situation in Iraq. U.S. Army Commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus returns to Capitol Hill today to report on progress there and the next steps for the American troop presence. It’s been reported he will testify about the reductions in violence in Iraq and about progress Iraqis have made at a national level. Petraeus also apparently will say that further withdrawals of troops should be delayed until after another assessment of conditions in Iraq to be made this summer.

Ripley is among those who count Petraeus’s word as the best authority on the war right now.

“I trust what he says, he’s proven he’s smart with what his plans are, he’s not going to report anything false….and he has great ideas,” said Ripley. “If political leaders will listen to him and use his knowledge…they will make smart decisions in Iraq.”

Ripley is adamantly opposed to any form of troop withdrawal, especially the firm timetables endorsed by Barack Obama and the less clear options for withdrawal advocated by Hillary Clinton. He said pulling out troops now would be “incredibly stupid” and recounted the progress he saw in Iraq both before and after the surge began.

“The first few months of my deployment — before the surge — we’d find IED’s or explosive devices once or twice a day,” he said. “When the surge started to the time my deployment ended, which was a few months after the surge, we could go one or two weeks with out finding and IED or an explosive device.”

Ripley’s unit, based out of Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq just north of Fallujah, performed route clearance and patrolled a main supply route between Taji and Samarra, Iraq. The men repaired former blast holds in a process called “rapid crater repair,” patching up former IED holes with concrete. Since the enemy often re-uses old IED holes again, clearing and smoothing the roads of these was dangerous but essential for preventing future IED implantation.

“There are areas that you know are less likely to get hit and you relax,” said Ripley. “And then there are areas you know that most of the crap goes down and so you pay more attention, get a little edgier.”

Ripley joined the National Guard just after 9/11 as a way to help pay for college, learn discipline and support his country. He knew going to war was likely and said he had “no problem with that.” He credited the military with helping him “grow up” and learn responsibility. He “always supported” American efforts in Iraq and though there may be doubts, “we are there and we have to deal with it.”

He claims there is “no point” in arguing the reasons we originally went into Iraq because “it already happened.” To those who insist on debating the absence of WMD’s in Iraq, he is unsympathetic — “it’s in the past.”

Jeff Ripley with his fiance, Kimberly.

Ripley said those soldiers who were “combat-oriented” or invested in more “high risk jobs” were the most supportive of the war effort while those who did administration or supply job were more split in their views. “Kind of a weird break but that’s the way it was.”

He remembered driving through areas where Iraqi citizens cheered and other places where people “threw rocks and stared.” In the supportive areas, he said they often brought candy to the children and even built a soccer field for them. The citizens were “excited about a big change coming to their country.”

Ripley believes American troops in Iraq are more vital now than before because the country is a “huge part” of the War on Terror.

“There are terrorists in Iraq and they want to get at America,” he said.

Naturally, Ripley’s main concern in the upcoming election is the war. He supports John McCain for President because of McCain’s strong support for a military presence in Iraq.

“He is smart and not lying to the public about pulling troops out,” said Ripley, adding that McCain’s infamous remark about staying in Iraq for “100 years” was distorted. “His full intention is to maintain a presence there…I like that strategy.”

He contends that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are “basically, straight out lying to everyone from the get go with their plans on pulling troops out…because it’s not possible for them to do that, especially with their time plans.”

As for Obama recently suggesting he would re-invade Iraq if terrorist units were to spring up more heavily there, Ripley said “it’s inevitable.”

“You have to stop and look at all the terrorist attacks [America] has already prevented,” he said. “It will end up costing this country more and cause more trouble and more deaths to pull them all out and then try to go back in…we’ll have to start the war all over from the beginning again.”

Ripley does not want the public to get the wrong idea about those who support the war effort.

“I wish people would understand that…we aren’t saying, we want to be at war but there are certain times when things have to be done,” he said. “There are future dangers and what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is actually trying to thwart that and calm it down.

“People only see what is happening — they don’t see what could happen.”