The following is a transcript of this week's Democratic radio address, delivered by Paul Rieckhoff:
Good morning. My name is Paul Rieckhoff. I am addressing you this morning as a US citizen and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I served with the US Army in Iraq for 10 months, concluding in February, 2004.
I'm giving this address because I have an agenda, and my agenda is this: I want my fellow soldiers to come home safely, and I want a better future for the people of Iraq. I also want people to know the truth.
War is never easy. But I went to Iraq because I made a commitment to my country. When I volunteered for duty, I knew I would end up in Baghdad. I knew that's where the action would be, and I was ready for it.
But when we got to Baghdad, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for us. There were not enough vehicles, not enough ammunition, not enough medical supplies, not enough water. Many days, we patrolled the streets of Baghdad in 120 degree heat with only one bottle of water per soldier. There was not enough body armor, leaving my men to dodge bullets with Vietnam-era flak vests. We had to write home and ask for batteries to be included in our care packages. Our soldiers deserved better.
When Baghdad fell, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for that day either. Adamiyah, the area in Baghdad we had been assigned to, was certainly not stable. The Iraqi people continued to suffer. And we dealt with shootings, killings, kidnappings, and robberies for most of the spring.
We waited for troops to fill the city and military police to line the streets. We waited for foreign aid to start streaming in by the truckload. We waited for interpreters to show up and supply lines to get fixed. We waited for more water. We waited and we waited and the attacks on my men continued…and increased.
With too little support and too little planning, Iraq had become our problem to fix. We had nineteen-year-old kids from the heartland interpreting foreign policy, in Arabic. This is not what we were designed to do. Infantrymen are designed to close with and kill the enemy.
But as infantrymen, and also as Americans, we made do, and we did the job we were sent there for — and much more.
One year ago today, our President had declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over. We heard of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, and we heard him say that "Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home."
Well, we were told that we would return home by July 4th. Parades were waiting for us. Summer was waiting for us. I wrote my brother in New York and told him to get tickets for the Yankees-Red Sox series in the Bronx. Baseball was waiting for us. Our families were waiting for us.
But three days before we were supposed to leave, we were told that our stay in Iraq would be extended, indefinitely. The violence intensified, the danger persisted, and the instability grew. And despite what George Bush said, our mission was not accomplished.
Our platoon had been away from their families for seven months. Two babies had been born. Three wives had filed for divorce and a fiancée sent a ring back to a kid in Baghdad. 39 men missed their homes. And they wouldn't see their homes for another eight months.
But we pulled together — we took care of each other and we continued our mission. The mission kept us going. The mission was to secure Iraq and help the Iraqi people. We saw first-hand the terrible suffering that they had endured. We protected a hospital and kept a school safe from sniper fire. We saw hope in the faces of Iraqi children who may have the chance to grow up as free as our own.
And still, we waited for help. And still, the people who planned this war watched Iraq fall into chaos and refused to change course.
Some men with me were wounded. One of my squad leaders lost both legs in combat. But our platoon was lucky — all 39 of us came home alive.
Too many of our friends and fellow soldiers did not share that same fate. Since President Bush declared major combat operations over, more than 590 American soldiers have been killed. Over 590 men and women who were waiting for parades. Who were waiting for summer. Who were waiting for help.
Since I've returned, there are two images that continue to replay themselves in my mind. One is the scrolling list of American casualties shown daily on the news — a list reminding me that this April has become the bloodiest month of combat so far, with more than 130 soldiers killed.
The other image is of President Bush at his press conference 2 weeks ago. After all the waiting, after all the mistakes we had experienced first hand over in Iraq, after another year of a policy that was not making the situation any better for our friends who are still there, he told us we were staying the course. He told us we were making progress. And he told us that, "We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change."
Our troops are still waiting for more body armor. They are still waiting for better equipment. They are still waiting for a policy that brings in the rest of the world and relieves their burden. Our troops are still waiting for help.
I am not angry with our President, but I am disappointed.
I don't expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq, I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions.
I don't expect our leaders to be free of mistakes, I expect our leaders to own up to them.
In Iraq, I was responsible for the lives of 38 other Americans. We laughed together, we cried together, we won together, and we fought together. And when we failed, it was my job as their leader to take responsibility for the decisions I made — no matter what the outcome.
My question for President Bush — who led the planning of this war so long ago — is this: When will you take responsibility for the decisions you've made in Iraq and realize that something is wrong with the way things are going?
Mr. President, our mission is not accomplished.
Our troops can accomplish it. We can build a stable Iraq, but we need some help. The soldiers I served with are men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it's time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability.
I worry for the future of Iraq and for my Iraqi friends. I worry for my fellow soldiers still fighting this battle. I worry for their families, and I worry for those families who will not be able to share another summer or another baseball game with the loved ones they've lost. And I pledge that I will do everything I can to make sure they have not died in vain and that the truth is heard.
Thank you for listening.