06/07 - War in Iraq: Louisiana’s Perspective

How has Louisiana been affected by the war in Iraq?

It has taken the lives of over three thousand Americans. It helped change the balance of power in congress. It altered the way our nation is viewed by the world. How has Louisiana been affected? Watch "War in Iraq: Louisiana's Perspective," Wednesday, June 27 at 7 PM.

Panelists:

* Lt. Col. Scott Adams, Commander of the 2/108th Cav. Regiment of the 256th Brigade, LA National Guard
* John Prime, Military Affairs reporter for the Shreveport Times
* Roxann Johnson, Executive Director of the Shreveport YWCA
* Professor Phillip Barker, Centenary College Dept. of Political Science

Special Thanks to The Shreveport Times for assisting June's LPS in Shreveport!

Backgrounder

History of Louisiana’s Military

The military and Louisiana share a history that goes back more than three centuries. The Louisiana colony was founded by French military men. The site for the city of New Orleans was laid out by French military engineers.

The battle that propelled America onto the world stage as a political and military power was fought on January 8th, 1815, just below New Orleans. Louisiana military posts were key supply points for the Mexican War of 1848. In the 20th century, the famous Louisiana Maneuvers held at Ft. Polk in 1940, tested the mettle of future World War II Army generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton.

Eisenhower would one day refer to Louisianan Andrew Jackson Higgins as “the man who won the war.” In New Orleans, Higgins designed and built the amphibious landing craft that made possible the invasions of enemy-held Pacific islands and the coast of France – the D-Day Invasion, June 6, 1944. Rural southeast Louisiana was native soil for two Marine Corps commandants, Gen. John Archer Lejeune and Gen. Robert Barrow. The nation’s first black woman to earn her stars as a U.S. Army general, Sherian Grace Cadoria, grew up in Marksville, Louisiana.

In the air, B-52 bombers have ranged across the globe in support of U.S. military commitments for more than five decades. The majority of the nation’s B-52s call Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City home.

The Louisiana National Guard has roots that go all the way back to 18th century French and Spanish militias of colonial Louisiana. In the first Gulf War, Louisiana had the highest number of Guardsmen serving, per capita, of any state.

Louisiana’s Military Today
Economic Impact

There are three major “regular” military installations in Louisiana. Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, the Army’s Ft. Polk Joint Readiness Training Center near Leesville and the Belle Chase Naval Facility, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Because of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana National Guard has temporarily moved its headquarters from historic Jackson Barracks to the Gillis Long Center in Carville. The Guard maintains more than 60 armories across the state.

These facilities employ tens of thousands military and civilian personnel and have a tremendous economic impact on their local and ever regional communities. According U.S Army figures, Ft. Polk annually pumps over one and a third billion dollars into the area economy. This figure includes everything from payrolls to utilities and major construction projects.

Barksdale Air Force Base injects about 650 million dollars a year into the Shreveport-Bossier City area, according to Colonel Dan Charcian, Commander of the Second Bomb Wing and Base Commander.

Overall, Department of Defense expenditures and economic impact on the state is 11.5 billion dollars annually. That figure includes military installations all the way from Barksdale Air Force Base in the northern part of Louisiana down to the Belle Chase Naval Air Station south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish.

On the Battle Front

In 2004 – 2005, the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Brigade Combat Team – the “Tiger Brigade,” headquartered in Lafayette – was sent to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom III. The unit served in and around Baghdad. Its armor battalion was the 1st Battalion, 156th Armored Regiment, headquartered in Shreveport. The 1/156th is now the 2nd Squadron, 108th Calvary, headed by Col. Scott Adams. About 9,000 Louisiana National Guard personnel from every corner of the state have been deployed so far in the War on Terrorism.

Base commander Charcian says Barksdale’s mission is to, “organize, train, and equip airmen who then are deployed to fight the global war on terrorism. Today, Barksdale Air Force Base has about 500 folks deployed, both in Afghanistan and Iraq and we are preparing another group of between 400 and 500 folks to deploy.”

Other Louisiana-based personnel from the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army have been, and are being, deployed to Iraq.

Over 100 Louisiana military personnel have been killed in Iraq. More than 500 have been wounded. The Houma area suffered multiple losses on a single day. On January 8, 2005, six south Louisiana National Guardsmen were killed when a bomb destroyed their Bradley Fighting Vehicle during an evening patrol in Taji, outside Baghdad. It was the deadliest day for a single National Guard unit since the Viet Nam War. The soldiers were with the156th Mechanized Infantry Regiment, a part of the 256th Infantry Brigade.

About a third of Louisiana’s Iraq War dead are from the 256th. Sixteen were from Shreveport or were part of the 1st Battalion, 156th Armored Regiment, which had its headquarters there.

For Major General Hunt Downer, Assistant Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard, and the head of the state’s Office of Veterans Affairs, the numbers do not even begin to tell the story of Louisiana’s contribution to the war effort. He says, “We’ve had some casualties, and everyday you think of those. I don’t think of numbers because each one of those casualties was a name; it was a person; it was a family. It’s not a number and we must never forget the sacrifices that have been made.”

On the Home Front

Louisiana’s involvement in the war is not only through the service and sacrifices of its military men and women overseas. Armored vehicles destined for Iraq are produced here, and thousands of armed forces personnel have gone through training at the Army Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk. JRTC training involves interaction with local civilians, insurgents, militia members, coalition military personnel and government and non-government representatives. Training exercises include foreign-language speakers for added realism. Ft. Polk provides very realistic exposure to the kind of intense urban warfare that the US may be facing more and more of in the 21st century.

Some deployments have placed stains on the state’s ability to respond to emergencies. When the 3,800 Louisiana National Guardsmen and women returned from Iraq in November of 2005, most of their equipment remained “in theater”. Besides the tanks and armored personnel carriers, heavy equipment and high-clearance trucks were left behind. This presented a critical problem for the state at that time, since the destruction caused by Katrina and Rita – which hit while the Guard was still deployed - created an urgent need for just such items. A third of our Guardsmen and their equipment were committed to the war, but more than 51,000 Nation Guard troops from other states were sent here to assist with the recovery.
Louisiana is still at about half of its normal equipment level. According to General Downer, a mutual assistance pact with other states is in place to provide needed supplies in the event of another natural disaster. For this hurricane season, all but about 220 Louisiana National Guardsmen will be in state, ready to help in an emergency.

Even though the war is unpopular with most Americans [see below], veterans returning from combat are being well-received. Community support for the troops remains very high. Anti-war protests in Louisiana have been sporadic, peaceful and low-key. Candle-light vigils have focused on reminding attendees of the human costs of the war, down-playing political rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the government has been slow to respond to the medical needs of veterans. There is a backlog of 6,000 Veterans Administration claims in Louisiana right now. The problem is nationwide and growing. Legislation recently passed by Congress is meant to help. The 2007 war supplemental bills provide funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs for information technology systems that process disability claims, screen patients and digitize records.

Attitudes About the War

According to Shreveport native and political analyst Elliot Stonecypher, when it comes to the Iraq War, “We’re probably still one of the most supportive states in the nation. In the north Louisiana areas, there’s still far more support than I think is probably in urban areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.” But even though we started from a much higher level of support in Louisiana, Stonecypher believes that, “There’s no question that the level of support for the war is trending down.”

“In terms of being in favor of the war,” Stonecypher says, “Republicans are decidedly still more in favor of the war than Democrats. It is very much a partisan issue. Both national parties have kept it that way.”

Stonecypher does not believe there is any consensus regarding an exit strategy from Iraq. He says a significant number of Louisianans believe there should be no exit strategy. “I think that’s probably a third of the people, at least,” he says. “And there’s probably another third who feel the exit strategy should be what national observers would call conservative: let’s go slowly and let’s be sure we don’t lose any of the intended initial gains. And then probably a third feel like ‘let’s get up and get out of there now.”

Nationally, attitudes about the war have been tracked by the Pew Research Center for over 4 years. When the war began in April, 2003, about 3 out of every 4 Americans thought the decision to go to war was right. Today, only 4 out of 10 still feel that way. Overall, 56% favor a troop withdrawal as soon as possible - the most ever in a Pew Research Center survey - while 39% say the U.S. should keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized.

War Background

The destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 dealt a severe blow to America’s sense of security. It prompted a re-examination of what it means to be secure as a nation, and raised questions about how far the government should go to regain national security.
Some argue that American security means ensuring that U.S. territory is protected from external threat. Another view is that our security requires protection of U.S. interests abroad. This view requires use of American power to safeguard American allies and economic interests overseas. A third view acknowledges the interconnectedness of American and global interests. According to this view, our security rests on global stability, which means protecting others from threats of war, famine, and human rights abuse. September 11th fostered another national security perspective: U.S. security came to be seen as a domestic as well as a foreign policy issue. The importance of threat prevention from within as well as from overseas is emphasized in this view.

As threat prevention gained primacy, the U.S. decided for the first time in its history to engage in a pre-emptive strike against another nation. In March, 2003, after failing to get U.N. backing for military action in Iraq, the U.S., with the support of a small coalition of allies, invaded Iraq and brought down the government of Saddam Hussein.

There were several reasons given for the U.S. war in Iraq. Primary among these was the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein. These threats turned out to be exaggerated and based, in part, on poor intelligence. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. A second reason for the war was the need to protect the human rights of Iraqi citizens. There is no question that the Iraqi people lived under a brutal and ruthless dictator who thought nothing of murder, sometimes on a large scale. Unfortunately, the war has not yet brought security to the people of Iraq. International media reports indicate that at least 65,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the war. Many of these deaths have been due to extreme sectarian violence. A third reason for the war was the desire to promote democracy in the Middle East. Sectarian rivalries and a dogged insurgency have hampered the effectiveness of the government. The slow progress of the Iraqi government and the ferocity of the insurgency have contributed to the deaths of nearly 2,100 Americans since national elections were held January 31, 2004. The total number of American military deaths since the start of the war in 2003 exceeds 3,500. About 26,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq.

The American public was also told that U.S. interests were under threat by Iraq. Protecting access to Middle East oil - vital to the American economy –was given as another justification for invading Iraq. Policy makers hoped that establishing a democratic Iraq would foster establishment of other Middle Eastern democracies, lessen the threat of regional war, and lead to stability in world oil markets. A failure of the Iraqi government to take root now may well lead to the opposite outcome: destabilization of the entire region.

Despite the dedication and hard work of U.S. troops in carrying out their mission in incredibly adverse conditions, and despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, progress in Iraq is difficult to discern. This is mainly due to the high level of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence in many parts of the country, especially Baghdad. As the war continues, the American presence may to be viewed by more and more Iraqis as an occupation force, rather than a liberation force. This complicates an already difficult situation.

Following the congressional elections in 2006, President Bush got rid of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of the architects of the Iraq War strategy. In January, 2007, the President ordered a “surge” of 21,500 additional combat troops in Iraq, plus thousands of support personnel. The build-up was completed about a week ago. There are now about 155,000 troops on the ground. Although American casualties have been higher in recent months, there are reports from some areas that support for the insurgents has decreased. While some provinces are more secure than others, American and Iraqi forces have complete control over just 40 percent of Baghdad, according to U.S. officials. A progress report on the troop surge is expected in September, the mid-point of the fifth year of the Iraq War.

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Our Panelists:

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I knew LTC Scott Adams and his wonderful parents in Bogalusa during his growing up age. I had the pleasure of sponsoring LTC Adams to the LA State Police camp near Holden, LA. I lost touch with him until he came back to Bogalusa to be the Grand Marshal of the Fourth of July Annual Parade of year 2009. I am in awe of his education and military accomplishments. I wish LTC Adams the best and I will never forget you. Sincerely, LTC Johnnie Holcomb, LA Army National Guard (retired).

Posted by Johnnie M. Holcomb  on  03/28  at  01:48 PM
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