Friday, January 04, 2008

State representative will serve in Iraq

In two to three weeks, Rep. Jim Watson, a Jacksonville Republican, will put his legislative duties on hold to serve in Iraq. He’ll deploy about eight months after he re-enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves out of a sense of duty.

He previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserves from 1985 to 1991, including one year overseas during Operation Desert Storm.

This time, he says he expects a lot more interaction with the Iraqi civilians. As a staff sergeant with the Marine’s 3rd Civil Affairs Group based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he expects to help build the local governance and infrastructure. That will require recognizing and working within the differences of the Iraqi culture. “You have a system where you have a tribal culture, where shame and honor are very important. They have different ways, different rules, different customs to deal with that,” he says.

The goal is to create a stable, democratic system that’s unique and specific to Iraq. “I hope I am successful in helping to build a level of stability in their governance — because that’s how we win, that’s how we get out of there, that’s what will keep my kids from having to go back or anybody else’s kids.”

Serving in the Illinois House since 2001, he says he re-enlisted out a sense of duty to his fellow soldiers. He explains by citing former President John F. Kennedy: One man can make a difference, and every many should try. “This is a case where I know I’ve got some skills that can help in that conflict. We win over there by helping them establish a stable infrastructure, stable government, stable rule of law. And you can’t let the same people carry the water over and over again. So, I step up.”

While deployed for the expected 270 days, Watson’s constituent services will be shared by fellow lawmakers Sen. Deanna Demuzio, a Carlinville Democrat, and Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat. Watson plans to return to the legislature to carry out his two-year term.

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