Jeff Mullin

Mick Dustin hasn't spent much time watching the news the past couple of weeks.

He's been too busy sleeping late, eating home cooking, fishing, golfing, hugging his wife and children and catching up with friends and other family members during his two weeks of leave from Iraq.

Sgt. 1st Class Mick Dustin is stationed in Baghdad, a member of a team tasked with the hazardous job of escorting convoys throughout portions of the country as part of the Multi-National Security Transition Command.

He has, however, heard the recent news 56 percent of Americans responding to an ABC News/Washington Post poll say they disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, and 53 percent say the war was not worth fighting.

Dustin, a 1989 Kremlin-Hillsdale High School graduate, has been fighting that war since last fall, earlier this year earning a Joint Service Commendation Medal with bronze V for valor in combat.

"It's not 53 percent of mainstream America that doesn't believe in it," said Dustin. "There's too many signs and too many people flying flags and things like that for me to believe it."

The debate over the war has hit close to home for Dustin.

"Even my mother (Lila) didn't really agree with it," he said. "But after I had to go over there, she was supportive."

"Who would want their son to go over?" said Lila Dustin.

Dustin has experienced the ugly side of the war. He received his medal for risking his life to pull the driver out of a truck hit by a roadside bomb and set ablaze, only to find out the driver had been killed by the blast.

But he has seen progress, as well.

"I've seen the schools open and the clinics that we're building," he said, "and the water wells that we're drilling and the electrical grids that we've fixed. I've seen the bad stuff, too, but there are a lot more good things happening over there than there are bad."

The media, Dustin said, is not telling the whole story.

"It seems like the media thinks nobody wants to read about the good stuff that's happening, so they don't print it," he said.

The Iraqi media is flourishing, Dustin said, with more than 80 television stations and more than 300 radio stations in the nation.

The insurgents tend to dominate the headlines, Dustin said, but average Iraqis are friendly toward American forces.

"I've been invited to a few dinners with the Iraqis," said Dustin. "I haven't gone. I'm kind of afraid to eat the food. But they're happy that we're there. Driving down the road, everybody waves."

Especially the children, who mob the soldiers wherever they go.

When Dustin was deployed to Iraq, said Lila, he told his family he didn't want them to send packages strictly filled with goodies for him, but to send items primarily for Iraqi children.

"He wouldn't tell you that," she said.

One of Lila's friends is an elementary school teacher in Texas, and her school adopted Mick.

"They sent over 200 pounds of toys and supplies for the kids that Mick gave out," she said.

The MNSTC is the group in charge of training the Iraqi police and military forces to take over the jobs now being done by American troops. Progress is being made in this area, as well, Dustin said.

"The road going from the Green Zone to the airport, they talk about how dangerous it is and how many people have died on that road," said Dustin. "The Iraqis have taken that over now, as far as the security goes. The police and the commandos have taken it over. Our guys aren't even out there now.

"It's a slow process. You can't just turn the whole country over to them at one time, like most people want. So we're doing it a little bit at a time and making sure they know what they're doing, so we don't have to go back."



Mullin is senior writer of the News -- Eagle.



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