Over the course of the past several weeks, pundits, political analysts and media corespondents have engaged in a heated debate over the War in Iraq. But in this endless stream of dialogue one voice is rarley heard: that of the soliders themselves.

Iraq veteran and Austin native Elijah Flowers has something to say about his time in Iraq. Soft-spoken and humble, the 24-year-old Flowers, son of Rev. Lewis Flowers, CEO of the Westside Ministers Coalition, returned this month from Iraq after five months stationed in the war-torn country. Though he was not on active combat duty, his presence was necessary in ensuring the safety of the airplanes used and providing craft support within the areas of safety.

“I was fixing airplanes during my period of active duty,” said Flowers.

“It was like a regular job where I would work in a group and we would begin at about 5 a.m. and work until 7 p.m., seven days a week. The planes would be delivered to the special repair base and we would just repair the problems. Many times it was just normal wear and tear with an engine or with a wing. At other times it would be more serious such as repairing bullet holes.”

Flowers said that he was inspired to enlist shortly following the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, he was a student at Lewis University where he was taking prerequisite courses before he would transfer to a school that provided a course on graphics design.

But after 9/11, he felt that he needed to forgo his education to aid in the war on terror.

“My father was very encouraging,” he said of Rev. Flowers, also of Austin Community Ministry, 5308 W. Chicago, and himself a Vietnam veteran.

“I come from a very patriotic family,” Elijah Flowers said. “So I didn’t receive any opposition from them about the decision. I have two cousins that were in the air force and another one that does Secret Service, so we are very much about protecting the homeland.”

He resided in Germany for four months during basic training and was stationed in Mexico for two years honing the skills necessary for repairing airplanes.

“I really enjoyed my time in Germany,” said Flowers. “I’m quite partial to the Goth look sported by many of the youth there and it inspired me to pursue music once I returned home.”

Though Flowers was out of the line of fire, he often spoke with several troops during lunches and during his off hours. He said that there is a mutual respect within the troops who are serving. However, Flowers believes that the media coverage of the war places the troops at a disadvantage as “editing techniques” and “subjective reporting” overshadow their efforts.

“When we used to watched the news in the screening room we were livid by the amount of ridiculous opinions we heard from so-called experts who have never served and have no idea about what we are doing. Some coverage just seemed to show no respect for what we have accomplished,” said Flowers.

“So much emphasis had been paid to those who perished that it created this feeling that ‘well maybe we shouldn’t be there because troops are getting killed,'” he added. “We are serving our country and consequently some of us will die. That’s what happens during wars. As a result of this negative take on the war, anti-war protesters began springing up with a vengeance. They already had their picket signs ready before they even bothered to ask the troops what they felt about the state of Iraq. I felt it was a slap in the face and many troops I served with felt the same way.”

Flowers is the fourth of five children, though none of his other siblings served. He was released from active duty in early December and says that he now wants to focus on finishing his education. Flowers plans to attend International Academy of Design and Technology in January.

“I probably won’t go back, but I am proud of my effort while I served,” Flowers said, though he failed to elaborate on his take on the current situation in Iraq. Rather than give his opinion about whether troops should stay, go, or increase in numbers, he expressed his belief that the troops only want the support of there country while asking for nothing in return.

“They don’t want to hear how awful it is that they are there, instead they want to feel that their work is appreciated,” said Flowers.