Clermont County Commissioners and local officials recently honored two area men who have just returned from tours of duty in Iraq.
United States Air Force Major Jonathan Royer, of Owensville and U.S. Army Captain Timothy Messer, of Bethel, addressed the crowd assembled at the commissioners office on Wednesday, Jan. 7.
The men were officially welcomed home and received certificates of appreciation from the commissioners, they were also recognized for their service to the nation by Sheriff A.J. “Tim” Rodenberg, and presented with congressional certificates by Steve Carraway, on behalf of Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. In addition they were thanked for their service by Dan Bare, Veterans Service Commission Director.
Royer just returned from his second tour of duty during Iraqi Freedom, but also served during Enduring Freedom as well as other operations.
He works with special operations and is currently stationed in Belgium, but will be reporting to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, at the end of January.
"I will be living at home and commuting. That is a testament to how much I love Clermont County," said Royer.
While in Iraq, he received a Bronze Star. A Bronze Star is awarded on an individual basis for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service, it is limited to service members receiving imminent danger pay. Although he couldn't say exactly what he did to receive the Bronze Star, he did comment.
"I was the district's director of communications for the Iraqi National Security Force in building that unit to address insurgent and terrorist problems within the state of Iraq and getting them to stand up on their own and addressing those issues," said Royer.
"The Iraqi's working with this unit are, by far, way ahead of any of Iraq's other military services."
"There is still very much a problem with sectarianism within the state of Iraq and this force is by far the most pure because their focus is on the fact that they are Iraqis first. They have a goal of uniting Iraq and having their country stand up as a democracy with the people in charge and we've made great strides to that end," said Royer.
"We've really made history over there and we're continuing to do so. It is because of these efforts that we have, just in the past couple weeks, turned the international zone back over to Iraqi control. We have turned over the Iraqi embassy from American control, it is fortified and we are decreasing our footprint," said Royer. "The Iraqis are taking control and they currently have control of 16 out of 18 provinces and that is absolutely huge. That is not to say that there won't be trouble, but the trouble will be addressed by Iraqi forces versus U.S. forces and that is why we are there. Not just for the state of Iraq but also for original security."
Royer stated that it is his personal opinion that the extended timeline as stated in the national security agreement as 2011 is probably a good guess for a gradual drop off of U. S. troops in Iraq.
He also added that all the good stuff going on in Iraq is not news worthy.
"It is very important for those of us who have been to Iraq and are coming back to really advertise all of the good stuff that is going on," said Royer. "Those of us who are really in the trenches are better equipped to deliver the message that we are doing good work - both American and Iraqi forces are doing excellent work over there."
He shared that the care packages which troops receive and the toys and candy that they are able to share with the Iraqi people serves a positive example of what is happening there.
"Iraqi people have been under dictatorship for 30 years, they've had nothing. Saddam Hussein kept all the wealth for himself. They were literally living in abject poverty," said Royer. "The Iraqi people don't have skills, they don't have some basic necessities - they do without. But they are still very happy, very good people, very friendly people. To meet these people and help them out is really the grandest thing.
Being able to give the kids soccer balls or dolls to play with makes their faces light up and these kids are the future of Iraq."
He said that despite the fact that many of the old guard are still in charge, the young troops are the ones who hold the promise for the future.
"Despite the shortcomings they have had living under an oppressive regime, they are smart people and I think that they have just amazing potential," said Royer.
"The Iraqi people have a very difficult road ahead of them in addressing the sectarian violence. It is something that has gone on for almost 1,000 years. We are not going to solve that in a few years. But they are making wonderful progress," said Royer. The people have had a taste of freedom and are willing to work hard to make it succeed."
Captain Messer, of Bethel, enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1999, after graduating from Felicity-Franklin High School in 1998. He is a quarter master officer who deals in logistics.
"The summary of my job is supply," said Messer. "If somebody, out in the middle of somewhere, wants something, it is my job to find it, find it at the lowest price and figure out how to get it there and get it there when they need it: Be it a train, a plane, an automobile, attaching it to a helicopter or hand delivering it."
Messer just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq and will be stationed at Ft. Bragg, in North Carolina, until April 2009, he will then be stationed at Ft. Lee, in Virginia, until August 2009.
He shared some positive aspects of training troops for deployment to Iraq.
"It is a good experience to have a group of young people who are being deployed and to begin training in preparation for Iraq," said Messer. "Between the time you get to Iraq and do a mission and your work there and the time you get back, these troops have matured to such an extent that you know that you have an impact on their maturity. They are better able to assess situations and to make decisions and the fact that you've had an influence over them obtaining that skill is a good experience," said Messer. "It is a great opportunity to lead soldiers, they are volunteers and they are like clay or sponges, ready to be trained. We don't teach theory over there, it's not like being in college where something may or may not work. We teach them what works in Iraq, and if they don't follow the training, very bad things may happen so they are very attentive to what you have to say. When they execute the task that you taught, they do it almost without any rate of failure whatsoever and things go so smoothly. There is no be better feeling than to know that they have learned to work together as a unit to accomplish great things."
He said that the responsibility that is put on the young men under his command often leads to quick promotions.
"The promotion rate seems to be very quick but it is in respect to the levels of responsibility for those serving in combat," said Messer. "It is a great deal of responsibility for 20 year old kids. You have people's lives and families that you are responsible for. Your mission always supports something else, if you fail in your job, it can significantly impact the very big picture. Each job is like the cornerstone of a building or is like taking a light out of a trunk. When I tell them, we have to do our job, it doesn't seem that significant but they realize that over time that small piece is like the heart of person and without their piece everything else can't survive."
Captain Messer admitted that his job was like every other job, with good days and bad days involved.
"It is the sum of all the work that we do that gives us satisfaction," said Messer. "In the military we often say that there are other people who do similar jobs to what we do and they get paid better than what we do, but we do our job for different reasons. It is not just about patriotism. It is a selfless service. In the military, as a whole, what we do, we do selflessly. We do what we do, so that others don't have to do it. Some of the things we have to do are hard, and they're sad and they are difficult, but we do them so that others can enjoy the freedoms that they have in America. We forsake the time we have with our families so that others don't have to."
He stated that he had observed some of the changes in the people of Iraq because of the U.S. presence.
"I don't believe the people of Iraq will digress when we withdraw our troops," said Messer, "because when they are starting to realize it is lucrative to put down their guns and they can have a better life. As they see that, they will have a tendency to do that. Before, all they knew were guns and violence and separation, but when they discover that they can work together to build a business and have a profit and when they realize they can have a better life for their family. It goes beyond the violence, it would be hard to go back to the old way living."
"The Iraqi people are starting to experience the benefits of a better way of life but it has taken some time for their businesses to evolve," said Messer. "There is a lot to be done as far as reconstructing and rebuilding the infrastructure, but there are a lot of business opportunities for Iraqis in doing that. It hurts people's pocketbooks for the violence to continue, so I don't think they will be quick to devolve back to the old life."
Royer added a word of thanks to the county.
"I would like to express absolute gratitude and appreciation for the support of people of Clermont County for all the care packages," said Royer." It means a lot to not only the U.S. forces but also to the Iraqi people. The packages make a difference."