JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - It's been said that old Soldiers never die, they just fade away. But Sgt. First Class Gordon Ross, a 44 year-old native of North Bend, Wash., has no intention of fading away any time soon. In fact, he says he is just getting started.

As an Army Ranger and veteran of Operation Just Cause (the Invasion of Panama), Operation Iraqi Freedom II and now Operation Iraqi Freedom 09-10; Ross has seen a lot more than many of his fellow Soldiers in his twenty two year Army career.

As the platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Hotel Company, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, he often is call upon for wisdom and guidance from others within his company and is always willing to give his opinion - like it or not. Being an old Soldier, he has seen many changes throughout the Army and throughout the struggle here in Iraq. He has witnessed the evolution of this conflict - in its initial stages in 2004 and again today, in what many consider the closing months of the Iraq War.

As a part of the Then & Now series, I asked Sgt. 1st Class Ross what has changed from his perspective here in Iraq and what the results are of his efforts as an assistant convoy commander in sustaining Coalition forces.

In 2004, Sergeant 1st Class Ross was a platoon sergeant of an infantry platoon assigned to Forward Base Prosperity; a coalition camp in central Baghdad. His platoon experienced daily insurgent attacks, conducted raids on local insurgent hideouts, and acted as peace keepers, trainers, negotiators, and nation builders in Baghdad. All the while, his platoon was attempting to gain the support of the Iraqi people and to encourage them to take on the responsibilities of their own peace.

Back then, basic services were rare and the Iraqi people's trust in the Americans and its own government was close to nonexistent. Trust was a rare commodity among the Iraqi people and even less common among the Iraqi security forces.

The tactics and procedures used during convoy operations were firm and aggressive. Warning shots were common and a way to get through traffic. If the vehicles were stationary too long, they risked being a target of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices or grenade attacks. The questioning of loyalty when one encountered an Iraqi Army unit was common place and expected if you were to survive.

Today, in Iraq, it is a much different story. Ross said he has seen tremendous progress, in both the Iraqi way of life and the security forces he encounters. As a convoy commander, he said he noticed that the way the U.S. Army does business has changed too, and he said he realizes that Iraq now belongs to the Iraqi people. Ross has instilled in his Soldiers a new way of thinking and has trained them to understand the big picture and to consider the new SOFA agreement when conducting operations.

Ross said, "the way you point your weapon is different, where you drive on the streets of Baghdad is different, and now we share the roads in Iraq with the Iraqi people to maintain the trust. Although many things have changed, there are still parts of Iraq that are struggling." But, Ross also stated "trust between the Iraqi government and its people is growing and there seems to be an understanding that the sustainment convoys are an inconvenience, but necessary to the rebuilding of Iraq."

Ross went on to say, "It was tough adjusting to each stage of the war. Each stage was different and we had to adjust quickly." Now, the change is for the better. Sergeant Ross described an encounter that happened on a convoy recovery mission outside of JBB that illustrates this new way of thinking and the progress the Iraqi people have made.

"We were on a recovery mission just north of the base to recover a damaged convoy vehicle. We were tasked with blocking the road so the recovery vehicle could get the damaged vehicle back to the base. A squad sized group of Iraq Police came up to us wanting to use the road. They were all armed with AK 47s and new police uniforms. I had to explain and negotiate with the Iraqis that they could not use the road due to a broken vehicle and offered an alternate route. It seemed the police understood the situation, were friendly and also seemed to have a more informed approach to the situation than in years past. The Iraqi Police agreed and used the alternate route. This would have been a different story in 2004 and it would have involved much less understanding or cooperation."

Ross is now over the half way mark of his second tour in Iraq and most likely his last here in Iraq. He looks forward to returning home to his wife of 20 years, Fiorella and 10 year-old son, Austin. He wants to take on a new responsibility of training the next generation of war fighters and leaders of his beloved unit. After that, retire into the beautiful woods of Mt. Si, Wash., and just fade away...

Story by Capt. Mike Vincent, UPAR, 161st Inf. Regt.