Congressman carries message home from Iraq

Montgomery High students join in town forum with U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson.

By: Jill Matthews
   MONTGOMERY — U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-7) spoke with a group of Montgomery High School students about the importance of public service and his experiences from a January trip to Iraq yesterday during their history class.
   Rep. Ferguson has been holding similar town hall-type meetings all over his district since his return from his trip to Iraq, particularly reaching out to veterans and students.
   Rep. Ferguson called on the students to become active in public service, pointing out that many in the classroom were already involved in their communities. He also emphasized that serving in the military is another way of being a public servant.
   "People today not much older than you are making incredible sacrifices," said Rep. Ferguson to the Advanced Placement United States History I class, composed of 25 sophomores and juniors.
   When questioned by a student who wanted to know whether there had been any benefits to the U.S. engagement in war with Iraq, Rep. Ferguson found his first skeptic.
   "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, a threat to his neighbors and in the past has developed weapons of mass destruction," said Rep. Ferguson in response to the student’s question.
   Rep. Ferguson also asked the students to participate in a new program he has started that will send Girl Scout cookies to New Jersey troops stationed in Iraq. He encouraged the students to donate $3.50 to cover the cost of a box of cookies to be sent in the next few weeks.
   Rep. Ferguson said he hopes the Girl Scout cookie project will get people to think about what they can to do to reach out to troops stationed in Iraq.
   A group of students who said they were opposed to the war expressed skepticism about Rep. Ferguson’s comments after the class. Still, many agreed with his main point that it is important to support the troops.
   "It’s important to support people that are there already," said student Elyssa Romino.
   History teacher Scott Mason, whose class Rep. Ferguson spoke with, said he required his students to read two articles over the weekend about the war in Iraq and come prepared with five questions each for Rep. Ferguson.
   "They were impressed that a congressman was coming in to speak with them," said Mr. Mason, adding that the students were hoping to ask more questions of the congressman. The students were able to ask only two questions before the congressman closed the discussion due to time constraints.
   Although the class covers a time period ranging from the Colonial period to the Civil War, Mr. Mason said his class frequently discusses the war in Iraq. Of particular relevance to the class, the building of the Iraqi constitution has shown his students, who have been studying the framing of the U.S. Constitution, the long effort and compromises that go into making such an important document.
   He said many of his students have mixed impressions of the war — about half of his students are unsure of the government’s decision to go to war and the other half support it.
   Rep. Ferguson, a former history teacher, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 and is serving his second term. The 7th District covers parts of Somerset County, including Montgomery, as well as parts of Hunterdon, Union and Middlesex counties. Rep. Ferguson, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is up for re-election in November.