Q & A: A 'forgotten' battle of the Iraq war

Konrad Ludwig grew up in La Cañada Flintridge and as a teenager, enlisted in the Army. Ludwig saw combat during the American troop surge in a hotly contested part of Baghdad known as Sadr City. In August, Ludwig expects to publish his combat memoir, “Stryker: The Siege of Sadr City,” and is using the online fundraising tool Kickstarter to help cover publishing costs. He answered questions from the La Cañada Valley Sun via email.

Sun: What prompted you to enlist in the military?

Ludwig: The way I saw it, our country had the power to make a difference and evil prevails when good men fail to act. Back then I believed in what we were doing, I waved the flag, I had pinned the little yellow ribbon on my backpack and I figured that it was worth the price, but eventually I realized that I wasn't paying that price. I was just sending young men like me to go fight and die for what I believed in so I could sit back at home, watch it all unfold on TV and feel good about myself for “supporting the cause.” I met every prerequisite to go — so if I didn't, who would?

Q: What was it like, coming home to quiet La Cañada after serving in Baghdad?

A: Unreal. Our primary area of operations was a shanty town along the northwestern border of a place called Sadr City, floating at a level of abject poverty I couldn't believe. Coming from La Cañada and ending up on a combat outpost in a sewage-ridden slum has been one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life. When I got back home, I could hardly believe I was on the same planet.

Q: Your web site mentions that “Stryker” grew out of a need to help people better understand combat veterans. Is it your experience that civilians don't understand, or don't care, or perhaps don't know how to talk about an experience so alien to their own?

A: I definitely wouldn't say they don't care, it's just that the information we get back here is worthless. The siege of Sadr City is a great example: It was one of the largest, bloodiest and most important battles of the Iraq war, but almost nobody knows about it. Ultimately, we defeated the largest criminal organization in Iraq and paved the way for the end of the war — but that went against the entire narrative that had been spun back home. The surge had been far too successful for the Democrats to bash, and it was so unpopular that no Republican would touch it. Four years later, it's been essentially forgotten.

Q: What are some things you like to do or places you like to go in La Cañada?

A: When I was a kid, I'd ride my bike all over town. These days, I head up into the mountains as much as I can. That's the greatest part about La Cañada: We're surrounded by hills and nudged up against a huge expanse of wilderness. It's such a healing place if you take the time to go off the beaten track and just listen to the world.

Q: What is the best thing La Cañadans can do to support the troops and address the issues you raise in “Stryker”?

A: Wherever possible, get your information directly from the troops or from independent reporters who spend the majority of their time on the front lines. When I was in Iraq, the vast majority of war correspondents hung out in a five-star hotel back at the Green Zone and only went out under heavy guard to film a two-minute backdrop in a secured neighborhood.... That's like living at JPL and leaving the compound once a week to shoot a segment somewhere in Altadena to cover the gang violence in Long Beach.

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