Troops, Iraq, Afghanistan on minds of local vets

While three men stood and chatted quietly along the opposite side of the bar, Ray Tremblay Sr. sat in solitude, his eyes fixed on one of two TV’s that would, in a few minutes, broadcast one of the most historic moments in his life.

A military veteran and member of Hudson’s American Legion Post 48, Tremblay’s thoughts were, understandably, with the nation’s servicemen and women at war in a faraway land as he watched the events leading up to Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony and inaugural speech at “the foxhole,” Post 48’s Central Street home.

“I’d like to think the new president will do a good job . . . it’s time for a change, that much is for sure,” Tremblay said as he sipped his drink and checked the TV at regular intervals.

Most veterans and military families, including Tremblay, would welcome some good news from Iraq and its surroundings.

“I do think Obama will start bringing the troops home,” he said. “But is that a good thing? I’m not sure . . . what I don’t want to see is him taking everyone out all at once and leaving (Iraqis) stranded.

“That’s just my opinion,” Tremblay said.

Over at Nashua’s Post 483, Veterans of Foreign Wars, midday patrons were few, and those who were there were more interested in watching the inauguration than commenting on it.

“We don’t typically talk a lot about politics here,” said the bartender as she aimed a remote to tune in one of the Post’s TV’s.

Up on Court Street, the atmosphere at the American Legion’s James E. Coffey Post 3 was similarly low-key.

Semi-retired Nashua resident Bob Lucier, occupying his usual spot at the southern end of the bar, said despite the inauguration’s historic nature, his interest level hadn’t risen a whole lot in recent days.

“I don’t know . . . maybe things will get better,” he said. “I hope so.”

Meanwhile, a local veterans advocate and staunch Republican who voted for his longtime friend, John McCain, is expressing robust optimism as the “change and hope” administration takes over.

“Even though I’m a Republican, this is great,” Griff Dalianis said Tuesday after watching Obama’s inaugural address. “I think he’s a strong individual, very smart, who understands what’s at stake (in Iraq) . . . I’m very confident he won’t do anything to hurt our troops over there, to put them in harm’s way.”

Dalianis, commander of Gate City Chapter 7, Disabled American Veterans who also chairs the state Veterans Advisory Committee and writes a column for The Telegraph, said he sees Obama as conducting a gradual, methodical reduction of troops in Iraq.

“It can’t be done all at once, that would lead to mass killing over there,” he said. “I think what Obama will do is call for an orderly downsizing of the troops as the Iraqis begin to take over more and more.”

For Charlie Ringleben, commander of Post 483, Obama’s decision to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates from the Bush administration was an important step in the right direction.

“I was a McCain supporter, but I believe the new president made the right move by keeping (Gates),” he said. “To me, that is a good choice . . . it allayed some of my initial fears.”

One of his biggest concerns, Ringleben said, has been the sudden and sweeping withdrawal of the troops in Iraq. “I think Bush made a mistake by not having an exit strategy,” he said. “But I would hate to see the troops pulled out too soon, and with no support – that could be disastrous.”

Dalianis, meanwhile, said he feels confident with the new administration.

“I heard (Obama) say he’d put more troops in Afghanistan, where they’re needed,” Dalianis said.

“I’ve been watching him along the way. I watched him speak today, and I believe what he says.”