By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Jay Ottolini was glad to hear U.S. troops were pulling out of Iraq.
The retired Santa Rosa truck driver, whose younger brother Mike was killed by a roadside bomb in 2004, said the U.S. never should have been there in the first place.
“It’s been hard,” said Ottolini, who has a tattoo tribute to his brother on his left shoulder. “I hope they bring them all back.”
Military families and elected officials across the North Coast expressed relief at President Obama’s announcement Friday that all troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year’s end.
Many with a politically liberal point of view had the same thought — that the departure was long overdue, especially since the conflict was declared over last year.
Others said they hoped the move would signal the end of involvement in Afghanistan.
A combined 15 North Coast service members have died in the two countries since 2002.
“It’s good news for anyone,” said Herb Williams of Santa Rosa, whose son Jesse was killed in Iraq in 2007. “I’m glad to see Obama kept his word.”
Linda Kynoch, the mother of Army Cpl. Joshua Kynoch, killed in Iraq in 2005, said she too was happy about the pullout.
Her 23-year-old son died about six months after the birth of his now 6-year-old daughter, also by a roadside bomb.
“I just wish it was over before he died,” Kynoch said. “I’m happy it’s ending but I’m sad it took so long.”
Still others worried about Middle East stability and the growing influence of Iran.
Steve Countouriotis, a Petaluma resident and former Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wondered if nationalist sentiment would dominate old religious loyalties.
“I think the military is capable of defending the country against threats,” he said. “The government is going to need some help. It is still somewhat weak.”
Regardless, North Coast Congress members said it was high time to get out of Iraq.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, an outspoken opponent of the war since the beginning, said Iraq would have to take care of itself now.
“It’s about damn time,” said the Petaluma Democrat, who made more than 400 House floor speeches calling for a withdrawal. “I am really pleased the president has made this happen. I hope it’s the beginning of the end for Afghanistan as well.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said it was “welcome news and shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
“Our redeployment should have happened a long time ago,” Thompson said.
He said he would push for an Afghan pullout as soon as possible.
Meawnhile, people across the North Coast were overjoyed.
“We think it’s great. We think it’s well overdue,” said Marilyn Buzzard of Ukiah. “Unfortunately, we lost our son in this war and there’s been over 4,000 boys that have been killed.”
Army Sgt. Jason Buzzard , 31, was killed June 21, 2006 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
His parents were not thrilled about their son joining the army. His dad tried to keep recruiters at bay when his son was in high school, but Jason was determined and joined later anyway.
Jason Buzzard loved being in the service, she said. He reupped twice, and shortly after the second, was killed.
“He knew his job was to protect the people of the United States and to give them the freedom we have today,” Marilyn Buzzard said.
Sgt. 1st Class Mike Ottolini of Santa Rosa was trucking hay with his brother after retiring from the California National Guard after 20 years.
But a year after he got out, Ottolini rejoined Petaluma-based A Company of the 579th Engineer Battalion.
“He was proud to be in the service,” his brother said.
On Nov. 10, 2004, Ottolini, 45, was killed by a bomb while departing A Company’s base at Camp Anaconda, 50 miles north of Baghdad, on a patrol.
He left behind a wife and two grown children.
“It’s hard when you lose a family member,” his brother said. “I guess it’s what you expect when someone goes off to war.”
People interviewed at a Petaluma shopping center all expressed support for the withdrawal.
“I’m sorry that so many Americans had to lose their lives before this happened,” said Cynthia Woods of Petaluma.
Will Robbins, also of Petaluma, said the motives for fighting were sound, but “it’s good to bring the troops home.”