July 03, 2007

Fourth of July holds special meaning for student

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Fourth of July holds a special meaning for those who risked their lives for their country. That elite group includes Jason D. Stalberger of Brooklyn Park, Minn., a senior in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Business and Administration.

Marine Sgt. Stalberger was in Iraq during the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.

"My unit was in charge of keeping all the roads to Baghdad blocked," he said. At the time, Stalberger assumed U.S. troops would be in Iraq for "five to six months or so," he said.

"I thought it was going to be like the first Iraq war when it took a short time to win. I wasn't expecting four years later, we would still be there," he said.

As Independence Day approaches, the sergeant reflects on the war and what his country means to him. "I'm very proud to be an American and I feel like it was the right decision to go into Iraq, but we should have had a better long-term plan," he said.

Stalberger advocates a gradual reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, a place that taught him to appreciate life in the U.S.

"We have it good here in terms of our living conditions and our freedoms," he said. "In Iraq, I saw many people who don't have much. I don't think some of us realize how much freedom we have compared to other countries. We are very lucky."

Stalberger is now out of the military and in school studying to be an accountant. In December he will graduate from SIUC with a bachelor's degree in accounting. He plans to stay on campus to pursue a master's degree in accounting. The 27 year old hopes to eventually find work with a large accounting firm in the Midwest.