"In 2004, we were conducting an outer perimeter patrol just outside of Al Ameria when we came across an Iraqi man flagging us down. Through our interpreter, we discovered the neighborhood generator was down and the generator needed some repairs that the local Iraqis didn't know how to do. So, we went back to our company area and grabbed our mechanic who knew generator maintenance and went back out. We repaired their generator. The neighborhood elder was very grateful and from that moment on, the attitude of the local neighborhood changed. From then on we actually saw a reduction of attacks and hostility towards us in that area," said Staff Sgt. Mathew T. Stayrook of Kennewick, Wash., recalling a moment when he first saw some stability and success in Iraq.

Stayrook, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is currently serving his second tour in Iraq as a convoy security commander with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment. Stayrook witnessed first-hand some dramatic changes in the life and security of Iraq.

From Stayrooks' perspective, much has changed in Iraq since 2004 and the Coalition's efforts have had a significant effect on stability.

"This tour in Iraq, I see a lot more of the country than I did then," said Stayrook. "Every day I go out, I see less trash on the roads, more new roads and paving, new barriers and medians being built, improved buildings and homes. These kinds of things aren't possible without better security and an organized government with better resources."

Stayrook has seen dramatic improvements in the Iraqi army and Coalition forces.

"Back then, the Iraqi army would do a patrol with us in support and they were sloppy and lacked discipline," Stayrook said. "Today..., the Iraqi army is courteous when they interact with us. They look and act professional and they're accommodating to our convoys and operations. I think they recognize the big picture and the benefits of good relations with the United States."

Stayrook still sees many challenges ahead for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.

"Since the Security Agreement, it seems there hasn't been an increase in violence. Where the Iraqi army and police have taken over, it seems attacks are down and things are running smoothly," Stayrook said. "The challenges are not so much for the Iraqi army or police; the real challenge is going to be for the Iraqi government. If they can put their differences aside and work for the good of the country and not for their individual interests, I think in time it will all work out."

"I recall a day at PB (patrol base) Love utilizing the range for crew-served and small arms training. There were several Iraqi soldiers there who shared several stories with us of their missions and also let us shoot their AK-47's," Stayrook continued. "I was glad to see that they were much more disciplined and knowledgeable than Soldiers I had encountered back then. Although they liked working with the Americans they felt that they were prepared to shoulder responsibility for Iraqis security. I can tell you I agree with them but time will tell."

Stayrook said he is now half way through his second tour and most likely, his last here in Iraq. He looks forward to returning home to his wife, Amy, and their four children. The first thing Stayrook said he will do when he gets home is, "I'm going to Disneyland!"

Story by Capt. Mike Vincent, UPAR
HHC, 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt., 304th Sust. Bde