Ed. Note: Baghdad Dispatch is written by two female Marines with local connections; Marine Capt. Mary Noyes, an attorney; and Marine Maj. Meredith Brown, an Iraqi Women’s Engagement officer. Their respective columns will appear in alternate months. Noyes moved to New Orleans in 2006; Brown is a native of Marrero.

I have come to the end of my year-long deployment in Iraq. Much has changed during our tour. When the Marine Expeditionary Force arrived in Al Anbar Province in January 2008, the Marines were the beneficiaries of a recently negotiated fragile security in the region. As conditions on the ground improved, Iraqis began receiving basic services, markets opened, families welcomed home their fathers and sons and reconciliation in Al Anbar became a reality. Throughout the country, Coalition Forces are now in a supporting role in both security keeping operations and day-to-day governmental functions.

For months now, Coalition Forces have been turning over suspected terrorists and criminals to the Iraqi Police for their investigation and prosecution rather than sending them to military detention centers. Marines and International Police Advisors continue to train Iraqi security forces in basic policing, investigations and corrections. The criminal and civilian courts are functioning, the conviction rates are on the rise, and Anbaris are turning more and more to their judicial system to settle disputes. At the end of January, the Province will hold elections. The voter turnout is expected to be high, as the citizenry has grown frustrated with the current, relatively inept and corrupt, government.

The dawn of 2009 brings great hope and anticipation for the situation at home and abroad. Tonight I watched the Presidential inauguration from Camp Ramadi. The camera scanned the sea of more than a million people gathered on the National Mall. I couldn’t help but notice our own Mayor Ray Nagin in attendance, as the camera seemed to repeatedly pick him out of the crowd. His attendance sent a message of hope that spanned the 7,000 miles between me and “The City that Care Forgot.”

Just over three years ago, New Orleans was left in a state of despair in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The federal government’s response disappointed not only the mayor but also those left to fend for themselves at the Superdome and the Convention Center and those of us who watched helplessly from our living rooms. Yet the elected representative of the city of New Orleans stood among the crowd, listening intently to the words of the 44th president of the United States, “For as much as the government can do and must, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation lies … It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break.”

American reconciliation was witnessed from the Middle East.

The democratic experiment in the Middle East is tenuous and uncertain. Our own democratic experiment has now lasted 232 years, longer than any other republic in history. But even today the U.S. struggles with profound challenges that, in combination, seem to have the potential to overwhelm our institutions and undermine our freedom. The future of Iraq looks brighter than it did a year ago but remains very much in doubt. We must remember how often our own future has been uncertain. Freedom is never finally secured; it must constantly be renewed. After nearly six years some of us feel nearly as bound to the people of Iraq as we do to our fellow Americans. We are now clearly united in a common purpose.

The future will determine the legacy of our intervention here in Iraq, the cultural preservation of New Orleans and the value our nation places upon both. Yet so many Americans showed up to watch our new president take the oath of office, in a united display of hope for the future.

I think President Obama said it best in repeating the words of the American patriot Thomas Paine, “Let it be told to the future of the world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”