By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 3, 2007 - A trip to the Baghdad Zoo was an eye-opener for the senior enlisted leader of U.S. Central Command. The opportunity came up by chance as Marine Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey A. Morin was visiting a unit based near the zoo in central Baghdad. "The unit wanted me to see the zoo," he said. "To be honest, I thought it was going to be a waste of time. I'm thinking, 'Why do I want to go to the zoo to look at some animals?'
"But as soon as I crested the gates and saw what was going on, I knew why they wanted me to go there," he continued. "And it was not to look at animals."
The unit wanted Morin to see the interactions of the people at the zoo and what normal life in Baghdad really looks like. "(There were) mothers, fathers, kids, grandparents, extended families all sitting on blankets, playing sports, just like Central Park in New York or like on the Mall here in Washington," he said. "What a huge sign of hope. You had young couples walking hand in hand."
Morin said he and an interpreter went to speak with some of the people. One man had driven with his entire family down to Baghdad from Diyala province. "He went through some pretty tough country to get to the zoo, so I asked him why he came," Morin said.
"He told me it was worth the risk," Morin recounted, "because, 'When I come here I feel free.' He said, 'Look at my family. They can play here, and we can enjoy ourselves here. So the couple of hours we can spend is worth the trip down here, to see my kids smile.'"
"To see his kids smile," Morin repeated. "Hope is there. This guy understood that, and he wants that to happen where he lives."
The man equated the arrival of coalition forces with the freedom he and his family experienced at the zoo, Morin said.
A lot more people in Iraq now understand what happens when coalition and Iraqi forces move in: security, stability and jobs follow, the sergeant major said.
"This is why we see the weapons caches getting rolled up, we see these extremists getting turned over, why the tip lines are really lit up now," he said. "You see all these conditions happening now because the people realize it is much better for them if they align with the government and coalition than to tolerate the al Qaeda or other extremist groups.
"It was worth the trip to the zoo," he said.