"The Iraqi people really want us there. I really believe that. I wasn't sure of that before hand. Not as sure as I am now," says Lt. Colonel Fred Padilla, Battalion Commander in the 5th Marine Regiment. Now home from war, he's in the Valley visiting family.
He tells how, welcomed by oppressed Iraqis, his regiment led the caravan of U.S. troops to Baghdad. It also suffered the first combat casualty of the war.
Since it began, there have been a total of 148 deaths from hostile fire, 33 of which have happened after President Bush declared an end to major combat.
Though the attacks on American soldiers continue, Padilla says military morale remains steady.
"It's a difficult time and it's an important time and if we remain committed to what we're doing all those we lost in the stabilization time and during combat will not be lost in vain," he says.
After months on the battlefront, Padilla is back on the homefront and visiting family in Mt. Crawford. He's sharing war stories, like his rescue of 150 imprisoned Iraqi children back in April.
"The gates swung open and hundreds of kids came out," he explained. The mission was mentioned by President Bush in a radio address to the nation.
"Never did the operation name, Operation Iraqi Freedom, seem more appropriate than at that moment," he said.
That moment reinforced a sense of purpose for the father of six. And similar successes are helping keep all our troops committed to the cause, despite continuing casualties.
Padilla is now on his way to Naval War College in Rhode Island. Only about ten percent of lieutenant colonels are selected to attend.
Click here for WHSV's online Web exclusive of Operation Iraqi Freedom.