The Greater Columbia County Republican Women got a view of the war in Iraq on Thursday - that of a former assistant district attorney who served there for more than a year.
Bobby Christine, Columbia County associate magistrate judge, shows photos of how the University of Georgia flag was displayed during his trip into Iraq as a captain.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Bobby Christine, now a Columbia County associate magistrate judge, spoke to the group as a Georgia Army National Guard captain who had been deployed to the war in April 2003.
Christine's slide presentation at the meeting showed a different side of the war - faces of men and women fighting to protect the freedoms of people throughout the world.
"These folks have everyday jobs and dropped them all to go overseas," Christine said, adding that his colleagues in the supporting units of the I Marine Expeditionary Force were normal Americans who work at home as schoolteachers, police officers and carpenters. "The collective money lost by these gentlemen in the 440 some days overseas was mind-boggling. They did it without complaint. God bless them."
Christine served as a judge advocate general and a combat engineer with the National Guard's 265th Engineer Group. The group made its way from Kuwait City across the desert into Iraqi cities such as Nasiriyah, Ur and the ancient ruins of Babylon.
The group performed needed tasks of war such as clearing mine fields, protecting troops, and overtaking and refurbishing airstrips to move coalition planes closer to their targets, Christine said.
"The folks who came back and talk about tactics and talk about moving armies and talk about how tactics won a war, they have never been in a war because wars are won and lost on logistics," Christine said, referring to the millions of moving parts involved in moving forces forward. "And to watch the American military move from Kuwait City to Baghdad was a feat unlike anything I've ever seen in my life."
When the initial active part of the war was over, Christine's group began humanitarian efforts such as restoring schools, roads and city systems, including electricity, water purification and sewerage.
Christine said he was shocked at the impoverished conditions in Nasiriyah, which declined dramatically after Saddam Hussein decided not to provide infrastructure money to the area because some Iraqis in the south did not support him. The city had not had a water system in 10 years, Christine said.
"We learned how bad Saddam let it become," Christine said, adding that the Iraqi president and his family and high government officials lived in opulence while Iraqis lived in poverty. "But he denied (Nasiriyah) because there were some folks in the south who didn't like him, so he was going to show them who was boss and put his boot to their throats."
Christine said that as military forces refurbished many systems, life got better for the Iraqi people. But there were still perverse displays of a militant idol-worshipping culture in some public places, such as the amusement park with a statue of an Iraqi soldier standing above a slain British soldier.
"I'll tell you the (amusement park) rides weren't working," Christine said. "We were there to clear out explosive ordnance. To take away the implements of war that Saddam had hidden among the seesaws, the sleds and the swing sets.
"This whole regime was built on terror and oppression. So when we would go through places like Nasiriyah, the people loved us. I'm not pulling your leg. It's not propaganda. It's not a political speech. But there were people over there under Saddam's boot for decades."
Christine said he began to hate Saddam after a visit to the ancient Sumerian capital of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham mentioned in the book of Genesis.
"What is depicted on most maps as the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, the green area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the place where scholars believe Eden actually existed, is now a desert,'' Christine said. "It's now a desert because Saddam drained it all."
Christine said the lavish life lived by, his family and high officials was shocking when he saw they lived a life of extravagance in their Baghdad compound.
"We would find riches, wealth beyond imagination, indescribable wealth, more wealth than we can contemplate today, right next door to the most utter destitution you can imagine," Christine said. "We did what Americans do best, we took those ill-gotten gains from where we dug them up and took them to where they were needed - the Iraqi people, using that to make their lives better ... I tell you there are many Iraqi who love us."
The group had a little bit of fun while in Iraq, displaying what Christine called the "appropriate" flag, a University of Georgia flag, wherever they could. And though he slept in small dirt floor tents in 140-degree heat, Christine said, he was lucky.
"My job over there was easy," Christine said. "I went where I was led and did what I was told. The person who had it tough was my wife, Sheri. I left a 4-week-old son with her and two girls with her. She is the one who had it figured out."
Christine returned home in April 2004 with several medals of commendation under his belt, including the Global War on Terror Medal, two Army Commendation Medals, three Combat Service Medals and the Bronze Star. His unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for Gallantry.
Christine brought back the knife that his great-uncle carried onto Normandy Beach and the one his father used in two tours in Vietnam. He also returned with a knife taken from an Iraqi soldier.
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