The Honorable Madeline Bordallo, US Congressional Representative from Guam has lived at Watergate East since 2002. Representative Bordallo, Armed Services Committee Member, tells us about her trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Pakistan last year at just this time. There is at least one important change since last year, Saddam Hussein has been executed.
Hon. Madeline Bordallo, House Armed Services Committee – eyewitness account: Iraq
I serve on the Armed Services Committee. My committee work has taken me to many areas of the world over the last 3 years. This was my 6th visit to Iraq and my 4th to Afghanistan. Our mission on this trip was to assess our Military's progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The House of Representatives Band also part of our Mission's Mandate. They were going to entertain the troops and hospitalized soldiers. It is a way for Congress to show support during the holiday.
You may be surprised to discover that the House members got together to form its own band. When you consider that there are over 400 representatives, it is really not surprising that there are some very talented musicians among them. "The Second Amendment" band is very good. They play country rock.
I joined the band. I'm trained as classical singer. At first, I wasn't sure just how I'd fit in.
But, they gave me a tambourine and off we went. We left the day after Christmas, the 26th.
On our first stop, we visited our soldiers hospitalized at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein. It is a medical processing center. Physicians evaluate each soldier's injury and decide whether they are best treated back in the US or here in Germany.
The military always arranges for each Representative to meet with soldiers from his or her state. In Belad I met with 40 National Guardsmen from Guam.
During the performances, I didn't think that the tambourine was very useful. So I got down off the stage and danced with everybody: high ranking officers; a Catholic priest; Iraqi contract workers. We did the Cha Cha, the Twist, the Jitterbug. I danced every dance. The music, the dancing brought everybody together.
On New Year's eve, we performed in a heated tent. There were no noisemakers, but people were in such a jolly mood. Everyone danced. We did the countdown and played Auld Lang Syne. It brought tears to many eyes.
We also spoke with nurses and other military health care professionals at the medical center and at all of the other hospitals on our tour. There is a looming healthcare worker shortage in the US. The military needs to find out about nurses' plans after their military service ends.
In Balad, we took the "windshield tour" – a helicopter run over the base. We reviewed the facility where they are upgrading Humvees. They're now called "up armored" vehicles. Balad was very cold. Lots of snow.
One of the major problems in Iraq is the 70% unemployment rate. It fuels the unrest. When grown men with family responsibilities stand around all day without a job, the temptation to join an insurgent group can become very strong.
These days, you don't go anywhere outside of the green zone. I remember that right after Bagdad was liberated, we rode through the streets. Iraqui men smiled at us and waved small American flags. But, after all this time in Iraq without improvement in employment and other crucial city services, it is not the same.