Letter from Iraq: Military leave evokes thoughts of freedom

By the time this week's Budgeteer hits Northland homes, I will be back in Baghdad. I was home in Duluth for 15 days of leave. They say the travel is longer going back than coming home. I'll let you know if this is true. Coming here, I started out...

By the time this week's Budgeteer hits Northland homes, I will be back in Baghdad. I was home in Duluth for 15 days of leave. They say the travel is longer going back than coming home. I'll let you know if this is true. Coming here, I started out from Baghdad on a Wednesday afternoon from my operations location and arrived in Duluth Saturday evening.

One can obviously imagine what was most important and memorable in my trip home: spending time with my wife, Catherine, and 10-month-old daughter, Maija. Shortly after I arrived, we spent several days up the North Shore traveling to Grand Marais.The time was precious just doing routine things like eating in a restaurant together, feeding Maija little bits of food, watching her eat with her two teeth or playing with the baby.

Perhaps the most heart grabbing moment was a morning back home when I returned from the shower to the bedroom to dress. In the bed were Catherine and my daughter, Maija, who had taken my place in the bed for her feeding. It was such a sweet picture, the two of them next to each other, soundly sleeping away.

I reflected on how most of the activities my family took in together during my 15 days of leave would be quite extraordinary in many countries.

We took in Dennis Anderson's book signing of his work: "Good Night, Everbody . . . and Be Kind." Dennis has been in local broadcasting longer than we've had hills in Duluth. (He has anchored with WDIO-TV since 1970.) In many countries, it would not be possible for a broadcaster to have such a long career, let alone life expectancy, as they would have surely run across the severe censorship of government officials.


We attended Allete's annual meeting of shareholders. I think of Iraq's stock exchange, which is really just getting steam. In Iraq, there is little ability for the average citizen to build their wealth through disciplined financial investments.

I attended for the fun of it (yes, I know this makes me a little strange) a Duluth City Council meeting. It was my first time back in the council chambers since my service on the Council in the early '90s. I watched with great awe the passion and professionalism of all, councilors and citizens, who participated in the debate over a bow hunting season for deer within the city limits. Think of how many nations still exist whose citizens hunger for their own government to afford them the ability to openly debate issues.

I also reflected on our freedom to practice our own religious beliefs and the freedom of association. My family was free to practice our religious faith, attending St. Benedict's Church, without fear that we would be subject to attack by another denomination or the government.

My last night of leave, our family attended the Twin Ports Chinese Fellowship's bi-weekly service. This Fellowship, made up of new Chinese immigrants and students, Chinese who have newly become citizens, and non-Chinese such as myself, attend the small Gatherings Church on Strand Road every other Sunday. Fellowship members meet to practice, of course, their spiritual beliefs, but also to associate with fellow Chinese and keep alive a sense of their roots.

It brings back my memories as a boy going to the Apostolic Church here in Duluth where my grandparents attended an evening service entirely in Finnish. The ability of our country to maintain such a culturally diverse population is a far cry from other nations where ethnic or religious genocide is commonly practiced. Iraq, as one example, under Saddam Hussein slaughtered thousands of Kurds through gassing.

Reflecting on all that we enjoy here in the United States, it has re-energized me to give it one last hard final push, or as my dad use to say "give it tar paper" in order to do my small part to help the Iraqi people gain some of the great freedoms we enjoy. While home, people often came up to me and said they appreciated my writing for the Budgeteer. They said it was nice to hear a perspective other than what comes across in the mainstream press.

Whether individuals who came up to me were supportive or against going to war with Iraq, they generally appreciated my paintings of the more human face of the war. When individuals asked me how the Iraqis perceived us, I told them that generally they were extremely grateful to the United States and the rest of the Coalition Forces.

They are a proud people who want to self-determine their country's path. Almost all in Iraq agree that the needed part of the process is for the Coalition Forces to withdraw from Iraq. Yet, even those sectors of the Iraqi population who publicly offer criticism of the Coalition Forces' efforts, under their next breath quietly ask that we stay a while longer so that the terrorists, largely aided from foreign countries who fear a democratic Iraq, are not able to snatch the fruits of freedom out of their mouths.


The larger question to be seen is if Coalition Forces along with Iraqi security forces are successful in buying enough time to allow the newly elected Iraqi government to determine its country's future. Will their country move toward a government affording broad freedoms to all its people or will it be a theocratic government, severely restricting the freedoms of large segments of its population? I'm hoping that they can achieve the former, allowing Iraqi citizens a taste of the freedoms my family enjoyed these last 15 days of my military leave spent in the Northland.

Duluth attorney Chris Dahlberg is stationed with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.

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