The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Iraq veteran discusses war effects

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Cutting through the political rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war and acknowledging the brutal human reality facing soldiers in the Middle East is the only way to bring them home, former Marine sergeant and veteran Rob Sarra said Tuesday. Sarra, 32, who served with the 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq from January to June 2003 and addressed his Notre Dame audience on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War, advised those still smarting from election partisanship to tone down their arguments.”It’s not about your views, it’s about the guys,” he said. “Republicans have kids over there, Democrats have kids over there … We’ve got to work together to end this thing.”Though he made it clear that he is “by no means” a pacifist, Sarra rigorously questioned the United States’ exercise of military force in Iraq and said IVAW’s first priority is to bring home troops who should not have been sent in the first place.Iraqi soldiers who receive training away from suicide bombings and sabotage can legitimately replace these American units in the near future, he said.Blunt but dynamic, Sarra never strayed in his characterization of a soldier’s mentality – duty-driven and loyal while in battle, disillusioned and resentful back home.”In combat, you see ‘with us or against us,'” Sarra said. “These guys can’t afford not to believe in the mission, even though it might be twisted … when you’re there, it’s about the guy next to you. But when you come home it’s a raw deal.”Because of this focus, soldiers in combat have little time to worry about anti-war sentiment in the United States, Sarra said, dismissing war advocates’ claims that peace protesters sink troops’ morale.”The troops don’t care,” he said. “They care about the guy next to them, where the next round [of fire] is coming from, and how to get home, that’s it.”Opposing the war also does not necessarily contradict supporting the troops, Sarra added.”I preach you can support the warrior [and] not the war,” he said. “You can send them cookies, cry when they die and cheer when they come home – but you still have the perfect right to say this war is bulls-t.”Sarra supported the war until his personal turning point in April 2003, after he shot and killed an Iraqi woman who seemed like a suicide bombing threat – only to pull a white flag out of her bag as she fell.”Right there and then I was done. Mentally I was done,” Sarra said. “I threw my weapon on the [military] vehicle and said ‘what the f- did I just do? I just killed someone who’s innocent.'”Such civilian casualties are often invisible to those watching American news coverage, Sarra said, describing bloody car and street bombings that left bodies torn apart. These images and sounds lingered in his mind after he returned home to Chicago, leading to nightmares, fistfights and bouts of alcoholism. After attending group counseling and finding others who shared his resentment, Sarra joined IVAW when it formed this summer and marched at the Republican National Convention in August. The organization now sports more than 100 members with varying degrees of involvement, and Sarra travels the country sharing his experiences.The DeBartolo Hall crowd gave Sarra a standing ovation at the end of his lecture.”You have to be a conscious objector, make it heard,” he said. “It’s very easy to say something’s right when you haven’t seen the bad part of it.”