'In Rushdi Mullah, a small farming village near Baghdad, Capt. Chris Vitale, 29, of Washington, Pa., said his unit's recent moves to the edge of this insurgent safe haven have made a major difference for residents. "If my unit left town, the insurgents would come back in and use it to stage attacks on Baghdad," he said. "I'm sure of it."
In the north, where Iraqi army and police units have made strides toward controlling their own territory, U.S. soldiers said they were at a critical point in helping the Iraqi forces develop.
Capt. Mike Lingenfelter, 32, of Panhandle, Tex., said that U.S. troops have earned the trust of residents in Tall Afar over the past couple of years and that leaving now would send the wrong message. His Comanche Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment is working with Iraqi forces to give them control of the city.
"We'll pull their feet out from under them if we leave," Lingenfelter said.
"It's still fragile enough now that if the coalition were to leave, it would embolden the insurgents. A lot of people have put their trust and faith in us to see it to the end. It would be an extreme betrayal for us to leave."
Sgt. Jonathan Kirkendall, 23, of Falls City, Neb., said he fears that many Americans think that building the country to viability will be "quick and easy," when he believes it could take many years. Kirkendall, of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in Baghdad, is on his third deployment to Iraq and celebrated his 21st and 23rd birthdays here.
"If they say leave in six months, we'll leave in six months. If they say six years, it's six years," said Kirkendall, who is awaiting the birth of his first daughter, due next week.
"I'm just an average soldier, and I'll do what they tell me to do. I'm proud to be a part of it, either way it goes, but I'd like to see it through."'