ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up on the program, a talk with an author who tries to persuade you to live happily on less.
CHADWICK: First, Army Captain Nate Rawlings is back with us from his post in southern Baghdad. He's with the First Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, and he's a regular contributor to Day to Day. Captain Rawlings, welcome back.
Captain NATE RAWLINGS (Army Captain, First Brigade Combat Team; 4th Infantry Division): Thank you very much for having me.
CHADWICK: So, we wanted to check in with you to find out what you're hearing there from your soldiers and from others about this election.
Captain RAWLINGS: Well, a lot of our soldiers paid pretty close attention, and throughout the day, we had all the televisions that we had hooked up to satellite were hooked up to CNN or the news broadcasts to try and see as the polls were coming back in. And with the time difference, the - a lot of the results started coming in just as everyone went to bed, but by the time woke up, at about seven o'clock the next morning, it was pretty much all over.
CHADWICK: And what were people saying about that?
Captain RAWLINGS: Ah, there was a pretty good mixed reaction. The military communities tend to be a little more on the conservative side usually, but just from some informal speaking with a lot of my soldiers, I found that an awful lot of them did, in fact, vote for Barack Obama. And they're really looking forward to having him as their commanding in chief. And a lot of the professional soldiers, though, just starting getting ready to have a new commander in chief come in and see what changes he'll make.
Obviously, I think they're hoping that the drawdown here will certainly affect them, but the ones who are staying in the Army know that they'll probably have to go to Afghanistan pretty soon. So, that's weighing on their mind as well.
CHADWICK: The Iraq war, of course, was a very important element in Senator Obama's campaign, especially early on, when he was challenging Senator Clinton for the party nomination. He said, I'm going to set this date to get out of there. Now, he's won the office. We'll have to see exactly what date he's going to settle on. But what are people there thinking about this?
Captain RAWLINGS: Well, I actually had a soldier shortly after President-elect Obama won, and they called the election for him. I had a soldier ask me if he thought that this would mean we would be home by Christmas, and I had to tell that soldier that, unfortunately, Mr. Obama doesn't even get sworn in until January 20th. And so, he was a little disappointed with that response, but we know it's going to take a little while to get most of the troops out of here.
And we've read the news stories that say that they are shooting for some time around June of next year to pull American troops out of the cities and then, about 2011, to try to have all combat troops leave the country. But, if that can be accelerated at all, I think that they would be excited for that, even though we redeploy and our unit probably won't be coming back to Iraq again. We have an awful lot of friends that would like to see the tours either get cut shorter or to have them go away completely.
CHADWICK: I don't know if you've had a chance to be out in the streets and see reaction from Iraqis there?
Captain RAWLINGS: Oh, just a little bit. But I've had friends that have done a lot of foot patrols in the last 24-48 hours, and I think everyone is pretty excited. Everyone really loves the idea of a bi-racial president who's lived all over the world and has a great international perspective. And I think the Iraqis are really positive. They have a positive idea of change he can bring and working with this country here.
CHADWICK: Isn't your deployment to Iraq going to end just about the time that Senator Obama becomes President Obama?
Captain RAWLINGS: Just shortly afterwards. He'll become president in January, and we're slated to come home - right now, we're hoping March. We're scheduled for 15-month deployment, which would bring us home in June, but we have heard a lot of reports that we're going to be coming home before that. So, we will be coming home shortly after he does assume the office of the presidency.
CHADWICK: So, you'll be there on active duty with a combat team in Iraq on January 20th. What do you want to hear President Obama say on inauguration day?
Captain RAWLINGS: I'm really looking forward to hearing his vision for what he wants to do with the military and how he wants to improve the parts that need improving. But as far as Iraq, I want him - I want to hear him say that, you know, he's going to bring our troops home, but that he's going to make sure that we leave enough behind and that we have what we need to see this thing through.
We're at a kind of a perilous junction here, where we've done a lot of the hard work, and a lot of the hard work was completed during the surge, by the brave troops that were here doing that time. But now, we have to really finish this thing out, and so I want to hear that he's going to eventually bring us home or rotate troops over to Afghanistan, but at the same time, allow the troop's time here to finish what we need to accomplish.
CHADWICK: Army Captain Nate Rawlings, he's with the First Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division. He's speaking with us from Baghdad. You can check out his dispatches at npr.org/nate. You can also post your comments and questions for Nate there. Captain Rawlings, thank you again.
Captain RAWLINGS: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
While his family was at home watching the U.S. election results, Capt. Nate Rawlings was watching CNN on a military base in Iraq. He discusses his experience and his soldiers' reactions to Barack Obama's victory.
Capt. Nate Rawlings has spent the past six months stationed in Iraq. In the essay below, he discusses what it was like watching the election results from his base in Baghdad. You can also hear him talk about Iraqi reaction to Barack Obama's victory with Alex Chadwick, in the audio above. Do you have a question for Nate? Send it through this form.
Election Day dawned in Baghdad as many previous days, with an early morning patrol brief. About 6 a.m. I checked the headlines online, just in case anything earth-shattering had changed on the final day. Throughout the past month, I had been waiting for the "October surprise," that final jab or revelation that would steer the fate of the electorate. But it never came.
I headed to our vehicle line to receive the day's mission from our company commander. I was augmenting our mortar platoon as a vehicle commander with the mission to conduct a convoy moving staff officers to another base for a large briefing. The mission kept us out in sector most of the day, and by the time I helped my crew break down the vehicle and carry our .50-caliber machine gun into the arms room, the polls had just opened on the East Coast. The broadcasters on CNN reported that the increased turnout might create massive polling problems in key states, but that early voting was proceeding smoothly.
I caught up on paperwork for the rest of the evening, working in our logistics shop to take advantage of the television with a satellite hookup. I worked late into the night and returned to my hooch around 3 a.m, just as the first exit polls were beginning to be broadcast.
My roommate Capt. Brian Kalaher, our battalion's support platoon leader, persuaded me to grab a couple hours of sleep and promised to wake me if anything drastic occurred. As the Boston Globe Web site called each state for one of the candidates, Brian called out the electoral count.
"McCain's up, 7-3," he called a mere 30 minutes after my head hit the pillow.
"Thank you," I replied, hardly even waking up. At first it appeared that Sen. McCain would make it a contest, but by the time Brian woke me up at 7:30 a.m. to go to my morning meeting, it was all over.
Initial reaction among soldiers was mixed, but largely optimistic. Military communities tend to be fairly conservative, but in the weeks leading up to the election, many soldiers told me they were voting for Sen. Obama. Most of these soldiers were serving their second, third and, some, their fourth tours in Iraq. While they knew that Sen. Obama advocated a troop increase in Afghanistan, they were willing to bet that a troop drawdown here would at least slow the rate of deployments and allow them more time with their families and children. I encouraged the soldiers to look beyond the tag lines for each candidate and support the person they felt would best repair what is broken in our country. A surprising number of my troops told me that person was Barack Obama.
The first soldier I saw after our morning staff meeting seemed incredibly excited.
"Sir," he said, "With Obama as our new president, does this mean that we'll be home by Christmas?"
I informed the soldier that, unfortunately, President-elect Obama would not be sworn in until Jan. 20.
"Oh," he said. "Well, that'll probably mean that we'll head home about when we were supposed to anyway, right?"
I told him that I thought so. Surprisingly, he didn't seem that disappointed.
Every day I can get online I read the daily Doonesbury comic strip by Garry Trudeau. Doonesbury is also featured in Stars and Stripes, the newspaper available free to military personnel while deployed. I have always thought that Doonesbury is so popular among the troops because Mr. Trudeau captures the hilarious and tragic nuances of military life more accurately than most writers of any medium.
The comic that ran the day after the election featured three soldiers watching the election returns on a tiny television from a remote outpost — a scene similar to our own. When the television commentator calls the race for Barack Obama, the black soldier expresses his feelings with a resounding "Hooah!" One of the white soldiers watching with him also expresses his elation at the news, while a second white soldier says, "He's half white, you know." The black soldier responds, "You must be so proud."
I laughed at Mr. Trudeau's depiction and marveled at how similar it was to the scene here. Throughout the day my soldiers debated the selection of a new commander in chief, how soon they thought troops would be diverted to Afghanistan, and whether Obama's victory would mean we would come home sooner or later. Many soldiers marveled at the election of a president that, regardless of their race or background, they could claim as their own.
As the celebrations continued in cities throughout America and conservative pundits began the post-mortem analysis to prepare for the next election, soldiers scattered to their various posts. They climbed up their guard towers and into their Humvees, ready to begin another day and execute their duties until the new commander in chief orders them home.