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Soldiers wish politicians would embed with them

  • Story Highlights
  • Soldiers really wish the politicos would get deep in the trenches of war with them
  • The bond that exists between soldiers helps them make it through each day
  • Soldiers are fully aware of the political debate and the sentiment back home
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From Arwa Damon
CNN
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Editor's note: This is part of a series of reports CNN.com is featuring from an Anderson Cooper special this week, "Live from Iraq," which airs at 10 p.m. ET.

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Army Staff Sgt. Antonio Gonzales says people don't understand what soldiers are going through.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Army Staff Sgt. Antonio Gonzales points his weapon across the Tigris River, keeping a close eye on a bridge that was cracked in half by an insurgent attack a few months ago.

He's 31 and on his second tour in Iraq. His survival and that of the men he serves with rely on an instinctive ability to spot hidden threats. A pile of trash, an odd formation of wires, a cart seemingly left innocently by the side of the road -- all could mean death.

"If you don't come out here, then you really have no clue," says Gonzales, a member of Task Force Justice, which is operating in northern Baghdad. "They don't understand what it is [like] driving down the road and to wonder if you are going to get blown up or not."

Gonzales and soldiers like him across Iraq must continue the day-to-day duties even as debate back home intensifies about the 160,000-plus U.S. forces in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, testified before Congress Monday that the "surge" has improved security and that some U.S. troops could begin leaving Iraq by the end of the year.

Petraeus would not speculate on force reductions beyond next summer.

President Bush ordered nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq in January as part of a campaign to pacify Baghdad and its surrounding provinces and stabilize the Iraqi government.

According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, 63 percent of Americans surveyed continue to oppose the war. However, a slight majority, 52 percent, believes that it is necessary to keep troops in Iraq in order to prevent additional acts of terrorism in the United States.

Live from Iraq
While politicians and the White House debate the war, Anderson Cooper is in Iraq, keeping them honest.
All this week, 10 p.m. ET

Back in Iraq, there's no access to the news for the troops at the heart of the surge, but the soldiers are fully aware of the political debate and the sentiment back home. The troops long to be back in the States. But if that's not going to happen, they really wish the politicos would take a tour with them, deep in the trenches of war.

"As you can see, we don't have palaces as some of our national leadership likes to make out that we have," says Army Staff Sgt. David Julian as he scans a room crammed wall-to-wall with cots where some soldiers try and catch sleep and others joke with each other. Video Watch what soldiers have to say in the trenches »

Staff Sgt. Harry Thomas Morgan, on his third tour of duty, says, "It is my personal belief that if you are in a leadership position from senator to president, you should have to come here and live with the soldiers on the ground, not necessarily in the 'Green Zone' where we have the most luxuries.

"America needs to see what we see through the eyes of the soldier."

Morgan and Julian are part of Delta Company, 1-64 Armor, the last of the surge battalions to arrive in the capital.

The sacrifices these men and women in uniform go through are many -- from families left behind to those who paid the ultimate price. They fight for a better future for Iraq and to bring each other home. They say the bond between the soldiers is what helps them make it through each day.

There are those who are so war weary they just want to forget Iraq, and others who fear that failure in Iraq will mean all the lives lost were for naught. It's also hard for them to describe what they do, even when trying to explain it to family.

"My mother sent me an e-mail the other day asking me, 'What's it like? What's your job like day in and day out?' And I started writing back and I didn't know what to say," says Pfc. Tyler Norton, a fresh-faced medic in his early 20s and on his first tour of duty with Delta Company.

Norton and the others with Delta Company live in a two-story home converted two weeks ago into the Washash Joint Security Station. Such combat outposts are where U.S. soldiers live in close proximity to their Iraqi counterparts, a key cornerstone of the Baghdad security plan.

The partnership allows the Americans to keep a close eye on the Iraqi Security Forces, who are often prone to complacency and militia infiltration. It also allows for a bird's eye view of Baghdad's neighborhoods.

The U.S. troops are at the heart of the surge and trying to maintain stability so, as Julian puts it, Iraqis aren't "stuck in strife and turmoil." He says the Iraqi children treat them like "kings," which helps keep the soldiers going.

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"It makes it worth it to know that you might provide a future for those kids," Julian says.

Gonzales says the future of Iraq could still go either way. "We're hoping what we're doing here is helping keep them on our side, rather than have them go into full-blown chaos," he says. "We definitely want a fast resolution here, but it's going to take time, a lot more than we thought and that's fine, we're committed to it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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