GIs: We’re not losing

"We’re not losing this war."

That’s how a Las Vegas Army Reserve sergeant and Iraq war veteran who is heading out again for Operation Iraqi Freedom reacted Friday to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s assessment that the war in Iraq is "lost."

"I don’t believe the war is lost," Sgt. George Turkovich, 24, said as he stood with other soldiers near a shipping container that had been packed for their deployment to Kuwait.

The soldiers leave today for a six-week training stint at Camp Atterbury, Ind., before heading overseas to run a camp in support of the war effort. It is uncertain if their yearlong tour will take them to Iraq.

"Unfortunately, politics has taken a huge role in this war affecting our rules of engagement," said Turkovich, a 2001 Palo Verde High School graduate. "This is a guerrilla war that we’re fighting, and they’re going to tie our hands.

"So it does make it a lot harder for us to fight the enemy, but we’re not losing this war," he said.

For the most part, the 50-plus soldiers from a detachment of the Army Reserve’s 314th Combat Service Support Battalion expressed similar views about Reid’s war-is-lost comments this week. They respectfully disagreed with the Democrat.

All volunteers, they were upbeat and excited about the deployment. Some said they were nervous and were trying not to dwell on leaving their families for a year.

Spc. Marvin Castillo, 31, said he hoped to be back next year in time for his son’s second birthday in June.

"It’s very hard," he said. "The best thing to do is not think about it."

Pfc. Joshua Nance, 18, said he feels Las Vegas supports the troops going to Iraq. "As far as everybody I’ve ever run into, yes, they support us. Absolutely."

Reid tried to persuade President Bush this week to "bring this war to a responsible end." But Bush said he would veto war funding legislation because it is tied to a Sept. 1, 2008, deadline for troops to withdraw.

While the soldiers discussed their views on the war at the Army Reserve facility on East Sahara Avenue, Reid, the senate majority leader, delivered a speech on the Senate floor, responding to criticism from Bush.

"The partisans who launched attacks on my comments are the same ones who continue to support a failed strategy that hurts our troops," Reid said.

He noted earlier that "no one wants us to succeed in Iraq more than the Democrats."

"We’ve proven that time and time again since this war started more than four years ago," Reid said. "We take a back seat to no one in supporting our troops, and we will never abandon our troops in a time of war."

In the eyes of Turkovich, who served as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division for seven months each in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission is nearing completion but is not over yet.

"Our mission statement when we first went into Iraq was to get Saddam out of power and stand up a new government and a new army," Turkovich said.

"We’ve gone in there. Saddam is now out of power, and we’ve stood up a new army and we’ve stood up a new government," he said. "Now we’re just kind of the crutch, nursing it along for right now, and hopefully they’ll be able to get off those training wheels soon and they’ll be able to stand for themselves."

The 314th’s stateside commander, Lt. Col. Steven Cox, said the political controversy swirling around the war "does weigh upon us because the representatives are supposed to represent American sentiments."

"I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that the American people would leave their military dangling in the wind the way the good senator is doing," Cox said.

"Defeatism … from our elected officials does not serve us well in the field," he said. "They embolden the enemy, and they actually leave them with the feeling that they can defeat us and win this.

"All they have to do is wait us out because the American resolve is waning," he said.

Cox said he’s "not sure the senator accurately echoes the people he represents. … I believe his tactics are more of shock in trying to sway public opinion. He may have spoken out of turn."

The lieutenant colonel, who experienced firsthand the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, said the military "never sets timelines. If we establish a timeline, all the enemy has to do is make us miss that timeline, and they can claim victory regardless of the outcome from there."

Reid was unavailable late Friday to respond to the soldiers’ views.

In an e-mail, Reid spokesman Jon Summers wrote that the senator "has the greatest respect for our troops and is grateful for their service."

"He understands the sacrifices they make and the effects felt by their families when they are called to serve overseas," Summers said.

"That is why he believes we owe it to them to give them all the resources they need and provide them with a strategy that is worthy of their sacrifices," he wrote. "Military generals, the American public, and a bipartisan majority of Congress all agree that to stay the course of the president’s failed strategy fails our troops and will not lead to success in Iraq."

Lt. Col. John Blankenbaker, the unit’s overseas commander, said: "You want to be successful and do the mission that we will be given. And you want to make sure that we do it safely and bring all the soldiers back."

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