This story was written by Emily Reynolds, Massachusetts Daily Collegian
On Thursday night, speaker Trip Bellard ended the Veteran's Awareness Week sponsored by the Republican Club with a talk by his group, Vets for Freedom, at the University of Massachusetts.
"It's amazing how fast, even in the military, you can get detached from what's going on in the world," said Bellard while opening his talk. "There is real blood being invested in these battles."
Bellard started by asking how many people knew someone or had relatives who were veterans, to get the audience connected to what he was talking about. Nearly everyone in the audience raised a hand.
Bellard's talk focused on the start of the war in Iraq and what the future of the war is.
"We were not properly prepared to fight an insurgency," said Bellard. "We were still getting prepped to serve in corporate military. We were not trained as soldiers on the field for this type of situation."
Bellard compared it to fighting force-on-force against graduate-level military operations.
"Every soldier on the ground had to learn first hand, blood, sweat and tears, how to fight like this," said Bellard.
Bellard is the State Chairman for Massachusetts Vets for Freedom. He gives talks a few times a month to student and civic groups while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I'm doing my part to educate the people of the world," said Bellard. "I'm giving them a different perspective than what they get in the media."
The 31-year-old veteran from Texas went to school at West Point from 1995 to 1999 and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. He moved to Massachusetts last year to attend school.
"We went through Vets for Freedom," said Greg Collins, president of the Republican Club. "We had him speak last year along with another veteran. Because he was so informative, we invited him back."
Bellard described what he believes to be the most important dates of the war and the landmarks over the past five years. He said that May 2005 was when the battle ended between the uniformed soldiers. According to Bellard, it was after that when things became increasingly difficult.
"The enemy changed," said Bellard. "It went from a uniformed soldier that you could recognize to any Plain Jane person who we could not identify."
After major combat ended, it was the insurgents who could not be identified and had to be dealt with. It was a surge of forces that Bellard credits with the more successful aspects of the war.
"We did some things well, we did some things poorly, but we learned from our mistakes," said Bellard.
Following the surge, Bellard said one of the good steps was moving barracks in closer proximity to the Iraqis. According to Bellard, before the surge of U.S. forces, the soldiers would come into the city and leave at the end of the day. Afterwards, the soldiers were more ingrained in the Iraqi society.
"You live with them day in and day out, just like them, so that when the bad guys come, they are more likely to side with us soldiers because we're with them for the long haul," said Bellard. "They loved us, they absolutely adored us. They want the same things we want. There were very few that felt angst towards us."
After talking about the time that he spent in Iraq, Bellard went on to read excerpts from the Obama/Biden campaign Web site and attempted to examine what the future may hold with new leadership.
The most important things to Bellard were Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
"Bush meant the best and really had the best intentions going into Iraq," said Bellard. "We, as a country, did not execute it."
Bellrd is hopeful that things will improve under president-elect Obama.
"I don't think that Obama will withdraw anywhere near what he said while campaigning," said Bellard. "If we pull out too early, a lot of innocent people will die, and a lot of chaos will ensue. It could lead to destabilization in Iraq."
Instead, he is hoping that there will be a sit-down between leaders in the Middle East and the U.S. to discuss what will happen with Iraq.
In Afghanistan and Africa, Bellard is once again hoping for the best.
"I think that everything Obama is talking about in Afghanistan is correct," said Bellard. "Whether it is feasible, I don't know. We have to adopt the same practices we used in Iraq for Afghanistan. In the long term, I don't know what will happen."
While Africa is not at the top of any list, there are a lot of things going on there as well, though Bellard did not get specific.
"You probably don't know this, but literally, we are doing a lot," said Bellard. "I'm very hopeful about what is going to happen in Africa."
The traditionally conservative Bellard brought both sides to the table during his talk, and some of it went against the usual Republican mantra.
"He had fair criticism of the Bush administration, not just the president, but everyone who works with him," said Collins. "Iraq may have been the right thing, but the strategic implementation was flawed."
As for the students listening, many were pleased with what Bellard had to say.
"I thought it was really informative," said freshman Emmy Brennan. "It gives you a military perspective that you don't usually get."
LaPierre said something similar, agreeing that Bellard was very informative, as did Collins.
"I learn more listening to a presentation like this than reading the newspaper everyday," said Collins.
Veteran's Awareness Week started on Tuesday night with the start of a flag display on the library lawn. During the week, the Republican Club tabled to collect donations for disabled American Veterans. The 400 flags were taken out of the ground as Taps were played.