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Lee Benson: Negativity surprises Guardsman

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 3 2003 6:08 a.m. MST

Jacob Sanderson is enjoying his extended Thanksgiving holiday. He's getting to spend time with his wife, Abish, and their 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, he's eating home-cooked meals, sleeping in a bed with box springs and mattress, and generally doing whatever he wants as long as it's legal.

All this, in sharp contrast to the life he'll return to this weekend when he reports back to Baghdad and his cot in the barracks in the place formerly known as Saddam Hussein International Airport.

Jacob, a medic in the Utah National Guard, came home to Utah just before Thanksgiving, courtesy of Uncle Sam, for a two-week furlough.

But unlike the prevailing "anti" sentiment he's absorbed from media reports during his two-week break "over here," he wants to return to Iraq.

He's glad we're there. He wouldn't have it any other way.

And he's the one living in a tent.


Sitting in the Park City home of his parents, Guy and Shirlee Sanderson, both of whom are retired Army officers, Jacob shakes his head at the negativity he's noted back here in the home of the free. He openly wonders if CNN and others in the media are talking about the same "war" he's been a part of since his unit, the all-Utah 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion, first rolled onto Iraqi soil last May. Baghdad was freshly fallen when the 1457th pulled out of Kuwait with its convoy of bulldozers, graders and dump trucks. The combat engineers of the 1457th epitomize the irony of war: They specialize in building things up and tearing things down. In some cases, they create the very messes they clean up.

They arrived in Baghdad toward the end of May and in the six months they've been in the Iraqi capital, Jacob estimates the battalion has participated in nearly 200 missions. A mission means leaving the airport and traveling into the city to either build something or clean something up.

To date, not a single member of the 1457th, a battalion of about 400 soldiers, has been killed or even wounded.

"They call us the Miracle Battalion," says Jacob.

And while it's true that casualties have occurred, and continue to occur, elsewhere in the Iraqi peacekeeping process, Jacob says it's a very small percentage.

The overwhelming mood of the Iraqi people is supportive, he says.

"I'd say 90 percent of the people are glad we're there," he says. "Still, to this day, whenever we go anywhere we have to do crowd control."

Kids routinely swarm the U.S. soldiers, says Jacob, treating them like rock stars, asking for autographs. "There are little kids all over Baghdad with JACOB on their arms," he smiles.

"You don't see hostility," he says, "you see the opposite. You see people who have been abused and are now ecstatic that they're out of a dictatorship."

During his stateside break, Jacob says any number of people have asked him, "Do they even like you over there?"

"Of course they like us," he says. "They come up to us all the time and thank us."

"Sometimes, to make the point, they'll take their money out, spit on it and throw it on the ground."

The money has Saddam's picture on it.

"It's sad to see how ungrateful Americans are about what we're doing," says Jacob. "There's so much good to be done."

And even though he won't go anywhere in Baghdad without his weapon, medic Sanderson, whose Utah home is in Price, has seen more dangerous places.

"I thought it was scarier driving through Price Canyon with a little snow on the road than in Baghdad," he says. "In all my time over there, I haven't seen a bad guy."


Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.

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