Kansas Army National Guard leaders who served tours in Iraq said they could have used more troops and expressed support for President Bush's "troop surge."
"I think more troops is a good thing," said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jana Harrison, who was in Iraq with the 169th Support Battalion in 2004-05. "I think the troop surge will help if they are put in the right places."
Col. Jim Trafton found the 550 troops of the 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry, he led in Iraq stretched to their limits as they added more missions to their duties. Those missions were assigned as other military units left but were not replaced, he said.
"All I know is when I left, there were not enough troops," Trafton said. "We're wearing out our soldiers."
Harrison and Trafton were on a panel of four Guard leaders who spoke Saturday about their experiences in Iraq to a crowd of at least 30 people at the Kansas National Guard Museum in Topeka. The discussion was part of the museum's 10th anniversary celebration.
Also on the panel were Capt. Shannon Nicklaus, of the 891st Engineer Battalion, and Sgt. 1st Class George Reeves, of the 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery.
Reeves said his best day in Iraq was his last, but for more than the obvious reason. It was also election day in Iraq, and Reeves was astounded at how many Iraqis poured into the streets to vote.
"You should have seen the lines of people," Reeves said. "That was really a neat day for me. I think I did see history."
Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, Kansas Guard units have handled a variety of missions, which included hauling equipment and supplies over dangerous roadways, patrolling and protecting dignitaries, base security and removing roadside bombs.
The insurgents use civilians as shields and take advantage of a culture where guns are part of everyday life, Trafton said.
"They communicate with guns," he said. "They'll shoot in the air at weddings and they'll shoot in the air at funerals. It's hard to determine who is the enemy."
Top U.S. commanders say insurgents are getting help from Iran, and Trafton, who was in Iraq last year, said he saw evidence of Iranian involvement.
"There are more Iranian weapons showing up all the time," he said. "There is more Iranian influence."
Trafton's battalion, which included Company A based in Lawrence, handled missions that included protecting dignitaries such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Other duties included security patrols, and Trafton described a close call he had when a roadside bomb exploded. It was filmed by insurgents and put on a terrorist Web site, allowing the insurgents' location to be traced.
"We went back and got them that night," he said.The panelists said they had strong memories of their humanitarian missions in Iraq and the exuberance of the Iraqi children when they received everything from toothpaste to soccer balls.
"Those little kids just go crazy," Nicklaus said.
"It was really rewarding to us in the 169th to go out and see some smiles for a change," Harrison said.
The panelists said Iraq's infrastructure is improving and so are Iraqi troops. They also said it will be a long time before American help is not needed.
"Whether you believe in the war or not, keep the support for the soldiers," Trafton said. "We're not politicians. Don't get mad at us. We're just doing our job."