It hit me early in Thursday’s teleconference between Major General Rick Lynch and area reporters. The man had to be tired, even if he didn’t sound it.
After all, it was nearly 9 p.m. in Iraq, which is where Lynch is, commanding Task Force Marne. He’d been up since 5 a.m.
"But it’s important for me to do this," he said, referring to the teleconference.
Lynch believes – and I think he’s right – that the whole story of what’s going on in Iraq isn’t being reported. He gave some examples during Thursday’s teleconference.
The Iraqi Security Forces are better than they’re being given credit for by U.S. media, he said.
What’s more, he said not all of the violence is sectarian, or Shia versus Sunni.
"Everybody wants to label it sectarian violence, label it a civil war," he said. "We’re just not seeing it."
Lynch said a lot of the violence is "Shia on Shia or Sunni on Sunni ... a struggle for power and influence. But we’ve seen progress with the Sunni people and the Shia people inside our area working together more for the common good of Iraq. I don’t think that’s being properly reported."
Not that Lynch put an overly rosy tone on what’s going on in that struggling democracy. He said 22 soldiers assigned to Task Force Marne, including 11 from Fort Stewart’s 3rd Infantry Division, have been killed since the task force started combat operations early in April.
"We grieve for the loss of every one of our fallen heroes," said Lynch, who noted he and Command Sergeant Major Jesse Andrews attend every memorial.
Ultimately, Lynch said "it stiffens our resolve to continue our operations here."
Lynch also pointed out there have been "horrific acts of violence" in the sector he’s responsible for, which is roughly the size of West Virginia. He talked of eight women who were killed and four children who were severely injured when a terrorist bombed a bus in Mamudiyah.
And he put the right label on the person who was responsible for the carnage.
"Some evil human being decided to make that bus a target," he said.
What’s more, it’s clear Lynch expects more U.S. casualties as the troop surge gathers momentum. It’s not expected to hit full stride until the middle of June.
"You’re going to see many more trees planted there off of Cottrell Field at Warrior’s Walk," Lynch said.
But it’s clear Lynch believes this is a war that not only the U.S. can’t afford to lose, but it’s also one that it’s important to win.
And it will take more than just combat power. He said Iraq needs help rebuilding an economy that began falling apart under Saddam Hussein. He called it gang tackling the problem with help from experts in building an economy and infrastructure that can help Iraq flourish.
"The end game in Iraq is an Iraq at peace with it’s neighbors, an ally in the global war on terror and an Iraq with a representative government that respects all Iraqis," he said. "All that stuff is going to happen, but it’s going to take time."
And when it comes to lopsided media reporting, Lynch said it magnifies the problems for those at home.
"There's a big debate over whether or not this war can be won ... over whether we should be here," he said, noting that "our soldiers don't pay attention to that because we're so busy. But our families do."
Indeed, Lynch talked often about the families of his soldiers back home.
"Tell our families back home how much we love them and how much we understand and appreciate their sacrifice, " he said.
He also thanked coastal Georgia for looking out for those families, calling it a "caring, gracious, concerned community," and for adopting soldiers.
"I could never address sufficient thanks for that," he said, urging more to do the same.
Lynch also cautioned families of his soldiers to expect a 15 month deployment and told reporters September will give the U.S. 90 days from the time the surge is at full strength to assess whether it's working.
"Nobody believes this place will be perfect but there ought to be indicators of progress," he said, particularly in terms of security.
And again, he made it clear he believes it's better to be fighting terrorism in Iraq than closer to home. The battle is being waged there, he said, to keep it from being fought in the U.S.
"People who believe we could all come home and everything would be just fine," he said. "I'm not part of that camp."
And then, after all the questions had been asked, Lynch thanked reporters.
"Our families deserve to hear the entire story," he said. "The good and the bad. You help us do that and for that I will always be in your debt."
And while I thought the general made plenty of sense during the hour I sat in a conference room on Fort Stewart, I think he got those last five words backwards.
Because when you stop and think, we're the ones who owe him – and his soldiers – a debt of gratitude.