State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
Hope all is going well back in beautiful Wisconsin. My wife has kept me informed of what a challenging winter it has been. But for a few sandstorms, the weather here in Iraq has been tolerable thus far, though it did hit 100 degrees earlier this week. I am sure I will be very envious of Wisconsin weather come summer.
I have been in Iraq for about a month and a half now. Serving our country in this capacity is one of the greatest honors an American can experience. My work is primarily focused on helping the rule of law take hold and, hopefully, one day thrive in Iraq. Because of my background in the state legislature and local government, I have also been plugged in a fair amount on Iraqi governance matters as well. Earlier this week, we convoyed into downtown Baghdad for a committee meeting of the Baghdad Provincial Council (a near-equivalent to our state legislature).
Most of my time is spent in Baghdad, though I did make a site visit to Mosul for several days to assess the extent to which the rule of law is taking hold there. We convoyed into town for some insightful meetings with local Iraqi judges, the police chief, and the jail administrator. Because al-Qaida in Iraq and insurgents are still very active in Mosul, we always had to make these visits unannounced and keep them efficient and fairly brief.
America and Iraq are at such an important crossroads for the future right now. There have been so many encouraging improvements in conditions over the past year in Iraq. The Iraqi Army and police force have begun picking up more of the security responsibilities that used to fall on Coalition shoulders alone. The national governing bodies - the Council of Representatives and Presidency Council, as well as the provincial governing bodies - like the Baghdad Provincial Council, have begun functioning like governing bodies in other more established democracies. Similarly, many Iraqi judges and other actors in the criminal justice system here are beginning to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law. It is exciting to see decisions being made by Iraqi officials based on debate, persuasion, justice, and a commitment to doing what is right, instead of out of fear for personal or family safety - as was the case for more than three decades under Saddam Hussein's regime and even just a year ago when terrorists and insurgents controlled portions of Iraq.
But things must be kept in perspective. There are many forces within (and some outside of) this country still actively committed to undermining a free and sovereign Iraq. Mortar and rocket attacks, car bombs, IEDs, suicide bombers, snipers, etc., attacking innocent Iraqis and American troops are still a very real part of life here. Corruption is still a concern throughout much of Iraq's government to a greater extent than in most other, more established democracies. And fear, though less than perhaps at anytime in the last few decades, is still a concern for honest, upright government officials here. That's why we are at such a crossroads.
The next several months will be quite telling. This is the time when Iraqis, from the policeman on the street to the shopkeeper on the corner to the highest government official, must take full responsibility for their sovereignty and freedom and make the sacrifices necessary to make it their own and make it permanent.
While here, I have been privileged to work with some amazing American patriots. So many wear a uniform - Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Many are not service members, but are civilian government employees and contractors who have volunteered to come to Iraq because they too want to serve their country in this capacity. Many of these service members and civilians have made tremendous sacrifices to come here and do their part for our country.
America is so great and strong, however, not just because there are service members willing to go to far off lands to fight for our country - but because other great Americans - the ones who are back at home, also step up to the plate and do their part by supporting service members while deployed. That is something my family has been very blessed to experience first-hand over the past few months.
Thank you to all those who have helped clear our driveway during one of the worst winters ever, who have made meals for my family - so my wife could use that time to tend to the needs of our six children, who have bought groceries for our family, watched the children in times of need, and have helped in so many, many other ways.
Please remember to pray for the military spouses and children left behind when a loved one goes off to serve. It takes a significant toll on the family. Though many months of my deployment still remain, for my family that toll has been lessened substantially thanks to the great generosity of so many wonderful friends, family and neighbors. Other service members may not be so fortunate. If you know someone who is deployed, please consider offering to help their family in some small way. The impact it makes for that family and the peace of mind it helps provide the service member serving overseas is substantial.
Once again, my family and I wish to say 'Thank You' for all the support we have received during these initial months of my deployment.
The comments herein represent only the opinions of the author and are in no way meant to represent the views of the United States government or the military.
PHOTO 1: Mark and Major Michael Hert, of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion in Green Bay, pause with their convoy prior to heading into downtown Baghdad for a Baghdad Provincial Council committee meeting.
PHOTO 2: Making a new friend while outside a Baghdad courthouse evaluating the workings of a new Iraqi reconciliation/amnesty initiative.
PHOTO 3: Mark with a Mosul police chief after a meeting discussing the impact of terrorist activity in the region on the rule of law
PHOTO 4: "Safely" inside a forward operating base (FOB) with Mosul in the background.