Locals still support troops

But televised photographs don't sit well with residents

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There are few people more patriotic than Marci Valicenti. She spent a recent family vacation at Ground Zero in New York City and, for the past six months, spent a lot of her free time gathering and mailing gifts for the troops in Iraq.

But her resolve has wavered in the past week as TV news shows broadcast photographs of soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners. Images flash across the screen -- naked prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English; pictures of male prisoners positioned to simulate sex acts. In most pictures, Americans dressed in military uniform are laughing, pointing or giving a thumbs-up.

The images and the stories behind them are horrifying for their implications in the Middle East, but for spouses and friends of military men watching the news from Steamboat Springs, the implications are personal.

"It's bothering me," Valicenti said. "I waver when our soldiers are getting killed, and I'm like a lot of people that it frustrates me when I hear about things like (the torture of prisoners in Iraq). But I have an inside link (through the many Colorado soldiers she has reached with her Support the Troops effort), and I know that there is also good being done there."

No matter what news Valicenti hears and no matter how many times she wonders, "When will it end?" she always will continue to support the troops.

"Supporting the troops is not the same as supporting the cause," she said.

After finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President Bush justified his decision to go to war by saying the world was a safer place without the cruel dictator Saddam Hussein.

After Hussein was overthrown, soldiers went into the Abu Ghuraib prison and discovered evidence of nightmarish torture and executions. Now, Abu Ghuraib is where the photos were taken of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and tortured by Americans.

The irony is not lost on the citizens of Iraq.

"People are saying that the Americans are just like Saddam's regime," said Sam Rush, whose husband, Dave Kleiber, is has been in Iraq since Sept. 28. "What happened (in that prison) is deplorable, and I can guarantee that Dave feels the same way."

But other things have been on Rush's and Kleiber's minds. Last week, a colonel in the Iraqi army and a good friend of Kleiber's was assassinated.

"That assassination is making all Iraqis working with Americans concerned," Rush said. "They are all getting death threats. It's a huge concern."

As the months pass, Rush has seen her husband's attitude slowly change.

"He's bummed. He's frustrated. He's depressed," Rush said. "For a really strong guy who sees the positive side of everything, this has been really hard on him.

"I think a part of him is lost because of it."

Whether people are questioning the war or not, this is exactly when soldiers such as Kleiber need support, Valicenti said. "I hope one of the things we learned from Vietnam was that some of those soldiers came back and were chastised for what they did over there.

"But they don't have the choice of which cause they fight for, and it's now when things are getting hard that they need to hear from us."

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