BAGHDAD, Iraq—Spc. David Williams, 22, of Boston, Mass., had two note cards in his pocket Wednesday afternoon as he waited for Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Williams serves in the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., the first of the five "surge" brigades to arrive in Iraq, and he was chosen to join the Independent from Connecticut for lunch at a U.S. field base in Baghdad.
The night before, 30 other soldiers crowded around him with questions for the senator.
He wrote them all down. At the top of his note card was the question he got from nearly every one of his fellow soldiers:
"When are we going to get out of here?"
The rest was a laundry list. When would they have upgraded Humvees that could withstand the armor-penetrating weapons that U.S. officials claim are from Iran? When could they have body armor that was better in hot weather?
Williams missed six months of his girlfriend's pregnancy when he was given six days' notice to return to Iraq for his second tour. He also missed his baby boy's birth. Three weeks ago, he went home and saw his first child.
"He looks just like me," he said. "I didn't want to come back. . . . We're waiting to get blown up."
Williams wasn't sure if he'd say how he really felt. But if he could, he'd ask about body armor.
"I don't want him to snap his fingers to get things fixed," Williams said, referring to Lieberman. "But he has influence."
Next to him, Spc. Will Hedin, 21, of Chester, Conn., thought about what he was going to say.
"We're not making any progress," Hedin said, as he recalled a comrade who was shot by a sniper last week. "It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at."
But as he waited two chairs down from where Lieberman would sit, Hedin said he'd never voice his true feelings to the senator.
"I think I'd be a private if I did," he joked. "It's just more troops, more targets."
In the past two months, the unit has lost two men. In May alone, at least 120 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, the bloodiest month in 2007 and the highest number since the battles of Fallujah in 2004.
Spc. Kevin Krasco, 20, of Medford, Mass., and Spc. Kevin Adams, 20, of Moosup, Conn., chimed in with their dismay before turning the conversation to baseball.
"It's like everything else in this war," Adams said, referring to Baghdad. "It hasn't changed."
Then Lieberman walked in, wearing a pair of sunglasses newly purchased from an Iraqi market that the military had taken him to in southeast Baghdad. He'd been equipped with a helmet and flak vest when he toured the market, which he described as bustling.
Earlier, Lieberman had met briefly with Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police at a Joint Security Station; there are 31 throughout the city now. The senator, who's steadfastly supported the Iraq war along with the current surge of more than 28,000 additional American troops, said things were better.
"I think it's important we don't lose our will," he said. "To pull out would be a disaster."
The soldiers smiled and greeted him, stood with him for pictures and sat down to a lunch of roast beef and turkey sandwiches. It was unclear if they ever asked their questions.
As Lieberman walked out, he said that congressionally mandated withdrawal would be a "victory for al-Qaida and a victory for Iran."
"They're not Pollyannaish about this," he said referring to the young soldiers he ate lunch with. "They know it's not going to be solved in a day or a month."
It isn't clear whether Williams mentioned the last line on his note card, the one that had a star next to it.
"We don't feel like we're making any progress," it said.