Stories by Charles D. Brunt And Oliver Uyttebrouck
Of The Journal
On Wednesday, U.S. combat operations in Iraq officially ceased, and the role of American military forces switched from combat to an "advise and assist" role in support of the Iraqi security forces.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was retitled Operation New Dawn.
While politicians, military brass and pundits speculate on the real outcome of the war in Iraq, those who bore the brunt of seven years and five months of battle in Iraq have clear and widely divergent opinions about what the United States accomplished there.
Last week, seven New Mexico servicemen two former Marines, two former soldiers and three active-duty National Guardsmen discussed their service in Iraq and the effect it has had on their lives.
When Adam Kokesh joined the Marines nine years ago, he was as gung-ho as any 19-year-old could be, bursting with patriotism and, in his own words, "I wanted to have my life on the line for something I believed in."
When he left the Corps two years after his tour in Iraq, his views about the war had changed markedly.
"When I enlisted ... the Marine Corps had the net effect of peace on the world ... and more by our presence than our actions," Kokesh said. "And I really did believe that. ... But when I step back and look at the effect of U.S. military policy, U.S. foreign policy throughout our history, I can't stand behind that statement anymore. It doesn't add up."
Name: Adam Kokesh.
Hometown: Santa Fe, now living in Rio Rancho.
Former branch and rank: Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps.
Iraq service: February to September 2004.
Military job and unit: Liaison between the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians; 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Fallujah.
Current occupation: Hosts a daily radio talk show “Adam vs. The Man” at KIVA radio, 1550 AM.
Now a self-professed "professional windbag and talented blowhard who just doesn't know when to shut up," Kokesh is an anti-war activist, veterans advocate and, most recently, loser of his first shot at political office.
In the June primaries, Kokesh lost his bid for the GOP nomination to the state's 3rd Congressional District to Tom Mullins.
Kokesh's views about the U.S. government were shaped in part by his time in Iraq, where he said his civil affairs duties were to "Shake hands, kiss babies, hand out money and get shot at."
"By the classical definition of civil affairs, it's supposed to be the interface between military and civilians," Kokesh said. "Theoretically, when the military goes to war, the objective of a civil affairs detachment is ... to keep civilians out of the way."
He said his unit spent more time handing out cash than winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians. "A large part of what we were doing was managing contracts and literally passing out money to contractors," he said. The battle-trained Marines also handled Iraqi civilians' claims for battle damages.
Civilian casualties typically netted the survivors a $2,500 cash payment, he said, which inadvertently put out the message that life is cheap.
Kokesh, who has been arrested at an anti-war protest and escorted from the 2008 Republican National Convention for unfurling an anti-war banner during Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech, says he'll do whatever he can to change his country for the better.
Running for Congress, he said, was one such attempt. "I didn't really expect ... to be able to change policy by being a congressman as much as by having the platform," he said.