From Combat to Rebuilding: A Soldier’s View

By Donna Miles

Army Spc. Leo Bridgewater, who participated in combat operations in Iraq two years ago, is once again deployed to Iraq to support stabilization and rebuilding.

Photo by Donna Miles / DoD Photo

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Two years ago, Army Spc. Leo Bridgewater and his fellow soldiers were preparing for the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the coalition’s push toward Baghdad, Iraq.

Today, Bridgewater is once again deployed to Iraq — this time in a stabilization and rebuilding role. He said he couldn’t be prouder of what’s happening in the country he and his fellow servicemembers helped free from 35 years of repression under Saddam Hussein.

“Saddam had them in a box for 35 years,” said the Trenton, N.J., native, deployed from Joint Forces Command Naples, Italy. “That’s a long time to be in a box.”

When he first entered Baghdad two years ago as a signalman attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, Bridgewater said he was struck by the pictures of Saddam posted “all over the place.”

“I could see why they were so scared of him,” he said. “It felt like he was saying, ‘I’m watching you.’”

Two years later, the Saddam pictures are gone. The four huge statues of Saddam that towered above his Baghdad palace have been removed. The massive palace dining facility Saddam used to entertain his senior officers, and sometimes, to stage their executions, now buzzes with U.S. and coalition troops, government workers and contractors focused on helping the Iraqi people build a new Iraq.

And Bridgewater recognizes that this tiny corner in what’s now called the International Zone in Baghdad represents just a microcosm of what’s taking place all over Iraq.

“Just look at what’s happening. It’s just amazing!” he said, noting the March 16 seating of Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly. “And the reason that happened is because on Jan. 30, the Iraqi people stood up with one voice and decided to take control of their destiny. That was a beautiful day.”

Bridgewater, who lost buddies and fellow soldiers during combat operations two years ago, said this progress is the positive proof that shows his buddies did not die in vain. “Jan. 30 showed that it was not for nothing,” he said. “It’s showing the world that Iraq can be a model that democracy can work in an Arab state.”

By playing a part of Iraq’s liberation, stabilization and rebuilding, Bridgewater said he’s getting a front-row seat to history in the making. “And I’m in the midst of all of it,” he said. “That’s a pretty amazing opportunity.”

In his current mission, providing communications support to NATO as it helps train Iraq’s security forces, Bridgewater said he’s struck by the common sense of purpose that brings together the coalition members.

“It’s one team, one fight,” he said. “You take pride in knowing that you have an important mission ahead of you and that you’re contributing to a greater cause.”