Thursday, March 11, 2004

Finally Catching the Bad Guys, Discussing Islam with Tariq, Listening to Tunes in the New Car Stereo Installed in the Hummer

11 March, 2004 Butler Range 1900

Well, I am out in the eastern desert of Iraq, at a large shooting range called Butler Range (named after a killed soldier). SGM Walker and I’ll be here for a few days. We’re doing a gunnery here, like we do in Graf
[1], before we go home. I think it’s a bit strange doing a gunnery so soon after fighting. Even this range gets attacked. My mission for today was to find a way to call you – and I found a way.
I hope you are doing good Nora. I am feeling sick to my stomach, diarrhea and all, but no more vomiting. I wonder how I got this? Maybe Iraqi food or water. Sometimes Assad offers water, but I generally refrain.
I miss you so much over the past few days, but it is so, so wonderful to hear your sweet voice. I love you, with all I am, I love you. I am excited about coming home to you, and it’s a total dream come true that only weeks now separate us.
I never wrote about an operation a few days ago called “Operation Rhineland II.” It was really the first operation I wasn’t helping coordinate, because this time I was on the ground taking part in the operation.
The plan was to do a house to house search of ever single square inch of sector 70. Sector 70 is mainly farmland to the east of Baghdad city. It’s a large sector and probably about 300 or 400 square miles (roughly calculated). The mission goal was to find the material that could be used to attack Americans, since mortar attacks were being carried out there against our camp. We also suspect IEDs were being made there in warehouses.
The operation would start at dawn. Our battalion, ICDC, Special Operations, and a group called “OGA” (other government agency – CIA, FBI, etc.). They had good intel on a target house. SGM Walker and I got up early that morning. I called you and told you I love you before I left. I was focused and looking forward to this operation, because it was aimed at preventing attacks and not simply reacting to attacks. The terrorists are not stupid, but it was a good plan to me to wake up everyone at 0600 to see what they had in their homes. I didn’t feel too bad about doing this, because the people were just standing by and watching people place IEDs or fire mortars at our camp. Also, the point of the raid was not harassment.
Early in the darkness, my truck moved out with a platoon of scouts from Apache. We left our camp from the back gate, so no one would observe our exit. We drove south along the Diyala River and then across a steel bridge. We were taking the long way to our assembly area, where we would sit and wait to move into action. There was an eerie feeling moving in the darkness in the convoy that morning. No fear though, none at all, because at that moment I was doing what I’d done a hundred times before in Germany on training exercises. So, you’re confident, and you know everyone is on the same sheet of music. It’s a feeling of confidence you don’t normally feel on the road or stuck in traffic in Baghdad. Because we aren’t trained for that, we learned it as we got here, and often because someone tried to kill us.
As we approached the bridge by our camp where Santos was killed, all headlights cut off, and we drove fast in the blackness, seeing only two very dim “blackout” lights from the truck in front of me. Again, I was trained to do this. Some light rain was falling and clouds were low, so this increased the eerie atmosphere and darkness.
I noticed the truck in front of me slide to the left and skid. “Fuck!” Sergeant Cole said on the radio. “That’s a ditch! Almost went in the river!”
“You OK?” Sergeant Major Walker asked.
“Roger, he didn’t see it,” Cole said apologetically.
“Is that Barns?” asked SGM Walker. Barns is the driver who usually escorts my truck. I know his driving style and instincts, and he knows mine. So we always drive great together in Baghdad.
“No, Reeder is doing services on his truck,” Sergeant Cole answered.
‘So services on a truck are more important that real-world missions where teamwork communication is critical,’ I thought.
The substitute driver almost drove right into the river. We continued to move along the main road until the convoy pulled off behind a strip of roadside garages (extremely messy) and into a small field. The location was selected says earlier. We all turned our engines off and turned our radio speakers down. We were sitting in a wait position. At 0600, the operation would go into action and we would move out from our hide position. I got out of my truck. SGM Walker went to go over the operation with the platoon sergeant.
I looked around. Some houselights were on and then turned off. ‘This must be a little like the advance on Baghdad during the war,’ I thought. It was quiet out, except for the dogs barking. SGT Marshal and SGT Hugo had their M1A1 tanks there too, so we would be safe.
‘I’ve got a man on the roof, doesn’t look threatening,’ I said over my headset radio.
“Roger, I see him now,” SGT Cole answered. It was a guard or something on the roof overlooking the scrap yard. No weapon seen. It’s not unusual for people to sleep on rooftops here, but it was raining. Dogs kept barking.
0600 came around. “Short count, in five – four – three, two – one,” and every vehicle started their vehicle at the same time. That’s so no one else can tell how many vehicles we have by counting the number of engines starting. Our headlights came on, and we rolled out towards the main road.
Once on the main road, the two tanks blocked traffic and began to set up a checkpoint. We moved in on our first target house along the side of the road. Our trucks pointed hoods towards the entrance of the gated compound. By now, the sun was rising a bit.
A team of soldiers moved quietly all around the compound to see what problems may arise, and what way would be best for entering. Everything was fine until a dog came out and defiantly stood before the large, steel gate doors and began barking mechanically.
Right as one of the soldiers picked up a large brick and hit the dog with it, an Iraqi man peered clueless from behind the gate. Immediately soldiers were on him and putting him on the ground. The raid had to go now. The Hummers tried to crash the gate in, but the gate wouldn’t move. It was already broken.
The raid team moved into the small compound. In the main yard, there was nothing but chickens, and trash. We moved to the mud houses towards the rear of the compound. “BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!” One of the soldiers kicked again and again on one door. It wouldn’t give. So, a pry bar had to be used. Eventually the door broke open, revealing a small living space. The soldiers started turning the place upside down, while SGM Walker broke in the door next to the one we just opened. That too soon flew open and Sergeant Cole jumped in and cleared the room by pointing his rifle in all directions. This was a living room. It was so simple, only basics and blankets and junk. There was a new 12 inch TV still in the box though. The box was opened and nothing was found. The living room was ransacked and nothing was found. There was a cabinet there that had two compartments that were locked. They had to be opened, so, the one nice piece of furniture there was cracked open with a pry bar. Nothing found. The place was a mess.
“I don’t think ‘The One’ (a movie disk on the ground) is contraband,” the platoon sergeant said when one of his soldiers searching threw it out and onto the ground.
“Just clearing, Sarge,” he said. He wasn’t going to keep the disk or anything.
“Be sure to check all the blankets,” Sergeant Cole instructed me, “they like to hide rifles there.”
‘Roger,’ I said. I left the living room and went to the courtyard where I saw a woman huddled with her 3 young children. She looked old and dumb. I felt sorry for the kids, and as always, there was some toddler in filth, eyes rolling around. A soldier stood watch over the woman and her kids. I went back into the living room and dropped my last two dollars on the floor. ‘It’s not much for compensation, but it’s all I got,’ I thought.
“Nothing,” said the platoon sergeant, “not a fucking thing, except for some wires.”
‘I found these papers,’ I said, handing some papers to the translator.
“What is it?” the sergeant asked.
“It says he is applied for a job with the ICDC,” the translator said.
“Aw fuck, that’s great,” the sergeant said. Everyone was looking at each other grinning. “Guy’s looking for a job with us, and we kick his door in, ain’t that some shit!” The sergeant shook his head in disbelief. “Get him up off the ground, let him go.” The soldiers took the chrome handcuffs off the man, who was on his knees, awkwardly leaning against the mud compound wall. He started speaking through the translator.
“I am just a guard. I am getting fired and must leave this week because I failed to get the gate fixed,” he said.
‘How can you live like this, you’ve got a family,’ I wondered. Many men here are lazy and keep making kids, but don’t work hard. The translator explained this compound was a place to be rented out to store vehicles and things. We released the man, and he waved goodbye surprisingly, but in an uncomfortable-looking daze.
We moved on to the next target, a small mechanic’s yard and concrete manufacturing yard. The guards were up and awake this time. They thought it was amusing to be detained by Americans, of course, their families were there too living with them. So the men and boys had to be separated from the women and girls. They all cooperated. “Do you have any weapons?” the platoon sergeant through the translator.
“No mista, no, no,” they replied. The scouts went into the raggy home and began to tear it to bits. A woman stood by waving her hands, asking, “Why?!” Her kids stood by her side. I tried to convey in my most sincere and compassionate facial expression that everything would be OK, that this was bad, but all would be OK.
“Found an AK!” A soldier found the rifle under some blankets. “No AK?” the platoon sergeant asked the group of Iraqi males. “You’re a bunch of fucking liars.” We kept the AK-47. If they only said they had the AK, they could have kept it.
“It’s suspicious that they have so many DVDs, but no DVD player,” Sergeant Cole said.
“Na, na, here it is,” another soldier said after finding a DVD player in a box.
The woman seemed frightened that we found the AK, but there was nothing to worry about if they had nothing. I went to my truck and got a little plush toy doll you sent me and some candy. I went back to the woman and her kids and gave them each one of them something. The kids smiled in their pajamas. The mom smiled too, “Shokran,” she said.
[2] I nodded to her and left.
We continued to search, and I found some Austrian plastic forming machines – used to make plastic cups and plates. All this equipment was very raggy. “You think they make plates out of plastic explosives?” one soldier asked half-joking.
“That would be cool,” another answered. We continued to search and found nothing but a safe.
“If you don’t have a key for the safe, we’re going to blow it open, and that will destroy any money inside,” the platoon sergeant said through the interpreter.
“They say they don’t have the key, only the owner, who comes in at 0800,” said the interpreter.
“OK, I’m going to blow it,” the platoon sergeant answered. He never blew it.
“There goes the bolt cutters,” a soldier said as he tossed a broken set of heavy-duty bolt cutters to the ground. They had finally been used on their last raid.
“Remember to get with the S-4 when we get back to get some new ones,” the platoon sergeant said.
I looked around and noticed all the 50 gallon barrels around the mechanic’s area. ‘It would be so easy to hide something in there,’ I thought.
“Nothing here, let’s go.” We got in our trucks and went away from the scout platoon to find LTC Jagger. Scout helicopters flew in low circles overhead. All around were U.S. and ICDC soldiers. Everything was being searched. The people didn’t seem to mind at all. The kids seemed excited and the older people smiled while opening shack and car doors.
We pulled up on LTC’s location. I noticed two Chevy Suburbans in the narrow, green alleyway. It was the spooks. An Arab-looking man with the spooks stood by with an AK-47.
I walked up the driveway and met a CIA man on the way. ‘Did you find anything?’ I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he said very clearly and in a friendly, surprisingly civilian way. He was tall, wore a Boston Red Socks baseball cap, and had khaki clothes on and hiking shoes. He went on, “We got some explosives, remote detonators, some JEEEHAD stuff.”
‘That’s great, actually got some bad guys,’ I said. It was good too, usually our raids are disappointing.
“That’s what it’s all about, catching bad guys,” he said positively.
‘Hmm, now there’s a true professional,’ I thought. Guys like him go in and actually catch killers almost every time they go out. Army guys just get killed. It was cool to actually succeed in getting some terrorists.
I walked up to the house where the terrorists were captured. It was a quaint little place, looking not too different from a country home in the southern USA. The home was also a honey farm, with hives around the home. The business (honey) was run out of the home. I walked into the yard and mingled with the CIA guys and a few soldiers and a Navy explosives expert that I’ve worked with on several occasions clearing IED-looking debris on the sides of roads. The Navy guy was fidgeting with a device. Laid out and around were RPG rounds, blasting caps, explosives and various other items. ‘What is it?’ I asked the Navy guy.
“It’s a remote detonator made out of a car alarm,” he explained, while turning a bundle of plastic and wires in his gloved hands. “See this remote control?” he asked while holding the car alarm remote control keychain controller. “This wire here is meant to extend the transmission range of the remote,” he said, showing me a long, red wire from the remote. This was the exact type of setup used to bomb my patrol on HWY 5. The actual receiver contained the receiver housing and a few AA battery housings taped together. This was one of two devices. The other similar device was taken by the FBI representative.
Nearby, soldiers poked a sand pile in the yard and heard a “CLANK!” in the sand. The explosives experts cleared the sand away and found an artillery shell in the sand. One of the men simply picked up the round and moved it to a truck. Sergeant Siegel and I covered our faces with our hands jokingly to show our unease with the bomb being handled so freely just feet away from us.
I went into the house and found myself in the living room, and it was full of women crying and chatting nervously. I presume they were the daughters and wives of the five or so captured men. Some were holding infants. I didn’t even look at them, I just acted like they weren’t in the room. I passed into the main hallway and found a group of men bound and blindfolded on their knees, pointed in various directions, their heads slightly raised in disorientation, and looking helpless.
‘You are screwed,’ I thought. Why do people feel so compelled to risk their families and future to fight “Jihad” against Americans? Yes, it is probable America is looking to capitalize on this country using its oil – BUT, I do not believe America’s mission here is completely dubious. They’re actually not looking to harm Iraq or Islam – BUT these terrorists seem willing to give up their infant sons to attack what are, at worse, schizophrenic cowboys with big hearts and big tempers. BUT, nothing to warrant Jihad. They hate Americans – more specifically the American government. I went into one of the bedrooms as one of the CIA guys and the Army guys searched the ransacked room. More wires were found. I went into the kitchen, walking and then hopping like a kid playing hopscotch through the group of captured Palestinian men blocking the hallway, so I could get to the kitchen. The kitchen looked like my great grandmother’s kitchen in Talladega, Alabama. I was taken aback for a moment and enjoyed the feeling of being in Granny’s kitchen. I stood and forgot I was in Iraq. ‘Wild,’ I thought to myself and snapped out of my daydream.
I went into another bedroom with several beds in it. CD-ROMs were laying on the floor. I was wondering why the FBI didn’t take them. I looked through the open drawers in the room. I found lots of photos of the men now bound and blindfolded in the neighboring hallway. You always hear about terrorists coming from desperate conditions, and sometimes you get that impression from photo histories in homes. What it seems though, is that these people are actually successful at one stage in their lives, and then one key event happens in their life, and for whatever reason, they start constructing bombs. These men were Palestinians that have been living in Iraq. Pictures showed these men smiling and looking very neat in western style business suits. Some have pictures of them posing holding diplomas in English language. Young scholars perhaps. I found a diploma from the Iraqi Education Ministry, and it was totally in the English language. It stated that the holder scored “excellent” in Microsoft Office Tools and MS-DOS. It was dated 2002. I saw no signs of Islamic extremism.
One of the women looked into around the corner at me as I looked through the photos. She broke out in tears and disappeared. I shook my head. ‘Why did these guys decide to kill Americans and continue to build bombs?’ I asked myself. I thought back months ago to the general’s things we captured. I looked at his pictures too. Again, photos told the story of a civilized life and good humor. But as in this latest case, something happened.
I honestly think that something could be Islamic extremism – perhaps a radical cleric plants some anti-American or Israel rhetoric in their heads. Maybe, and I honestly think this is more likely based on my personal experiences, you’ve got more young men who have studied, worked hard in university, and are on the road of success…THEN, a war begins, and the house of cards falls down. People who were not abused by Saddam and actually coexisted or functioned well in the system – even if they weren’t vocal supporters of Saddam – now hate America. Their balance, their outlook, their psychological rhythm disrupted. To have so much going your way, only to be reduced to nothing because of a war you didn’t ask for or think was needed. Maybe 12 years of sanctions and all the consequences they blamed on the Americans, whether justified or not. You never know what makes the person snap. Maybe a relative was killed in the war, maybe their car was damaged by reckless soldiers, or relative accidentally shot, or home ransacked. You never know. It seems at some point, a situation arises that strips one of their pride or sense of importance or usefulness. People react to this differently. We’ve got electrical engineers working for us picking up the trash. Why didn’t they start building bombs? Maybe they are just more patient. The trash picking electrical engineers are Shia, so they hate Saddam. But, Iran (Shia) is supporting terrorism in Iraq against the Americans. A lot of Shia are very docile and not very assertive – maybe not the rebellious types. I don’t know. The Shia are slowly getting bolder though now that Saddam is gone.
Anyways, winning hearts and minds does matter. Both sides in this clash of civilizations are afraid of each other’s extremes – even though neither side subscribe mainly to an extreme. It’s the “common man” idea I have that a lot of people disagree with me about. The working class people in the world are more similar than one may realize. I believe that. I believe it even more after seeing new cultures. There is one thing that irritates me though. When talking to an Iraqi, I often find that they have very civilized and descent morals – similar to those of westerners (in most cases identical), BUT – the moment you mention women in a relationship or in society, the uniform reaction is always backwards thinking – no matter how educated the person I am talking with, no matter how earnest and sincere – they always say women need to stay put away and hidden and quiet and not working. They consider any powerful woman or moderate Muslim woman a “bitch” (the Iraqi way of saying whore or slut). It’s so strange to encounter this attitude with otherwise thoughtful and educated men. It’s not only the religion that facilitates this attitude, it’s deeper than that. I once thought it was simply a religious issue. But, when talking to Tariq or Haider, they talk about keeping the women covered and keeping teenage girls always in the house (rarely do you see teenage girls here). They talk about the process where a wife is the servant and if she fails in that role, she is handed over to her father to be dealt with. Tariq once told me after saying it’s good the woman be completely (saying she’s a bitch if she doesn’t) covered, “It’s good for the man,” with a laugh and a wink. Same with Haider, “It’s a good thing for woman to stay covered up and stay home, it’s good for the man.” So, men here are very powerful, and they know it and feel protective of that position. To many, the woman is simply an object. There are some good Iraqi couples though, and you see them holding hands. In the city center, you see more modern Muslim men and women dressed in western attire, albeit conservative and professional-looking. It seems mainstream Muslims are a bit paranoid about women being individuals or being a bit independent. It’s almost as if the men feel insecure about their women, and react to this by or thru Islamic law and constant conditioning of the young. Some people who haven’t had these telling conversations I’ve had with Muslims, naively think, “Well, you’ve got to respect the culture.” It has nothing to do with culture. It has everything to do with male human nature and ego. That’s not healthy in a society. Maybe this results in the suppression of feelings of compassion, apathy, affection, tenderness in society. The men here overflow with brotherly love, they embrace, hold hands, and walk closely with each other – all behaviors we as westerners associate with closeness between a male and female. You wonder if they deny this closeness to their wives, except to sleep with their wives to derive sexual pleasure selfishly or to produce children. Many times, especially with the lower classes, you see the women or girls carrying large bushels on their heads as the man stands by and smokes a cigarette. Sometimes it’s revolting to see an old woman struggling to carry a rusty propane bottle down the street, while her husband walks alongside her. I’ve been told by Assad that the women are raised to work like this as servants in order to demonstrate their love for their husband. There is also the practice of marrying cousins. There is not as much freedom of choice for young men or women. I also found peculiar the practice of polygamy. How can you marry more than one woman? Again, liberal minded people from the west say, “This is the culture!” The woman can’t take more than one husband. Again though, I would hear the comment, “It’s very good for the man!” I’m sure many men would enjoy having many women sexually and guilt free (Hey! God says it’s OK to have at least 4!). Again, this sounds like lust and human nature talking, not God. There seems to be a great deal of tribal ethics accommodated by Islam and still practiced in the Middle East. You read Che Achumbe’s Things Fall Apart about African tribal life, and you see some of that behavior here in the Middle East.
A society where men and women are equally valued members of the society can do a great deal to promote peace. I don’t know if that change is going to occur anytime soon though. Ironically, Iraq isn’t as radical as some of its neighbors, because of Saddam’s insistence on building a secular state. He did become a more devout Muslim after the first Gulf War, even adding “God is Great” to the national flag.
My last observation (and then I’ll continue about the Palestinians) is that each family I’ve seen has many, many children. You see women pregnant and they are dirt poor. The man of the family is proud though – each child is a sign of honor – increases the father’s legitimacy.
‘How can they have a child every year and be so poor?’ I’d ask.
“Allah says not to worry about it, Allah will care for them, as he does the birds,” my Iraqi friends tell me. Of course, I feel conflicted, because being a Catholic Christian, we believe the same thing. The “Don’t worry, God cares for His living things,” is in our Bible. It’s part of the human condition to have children, and in the absence of birth control, westerners would have more children. It’s only natural to produce children, birth control is actually unnatural. Of course, that doesn’t sound too optimistic in a society that has almost forgotten private parts aren’t just for entertainment, but for creating life too. Many Iraqis think we westerners are actually the crazy ones, avoiding having children or big families. Big families are a source of pride, happiness, and help here. I don’t know, maybe that’s something we as westerners are missing out on. So, I’m conflicted with feelings of disapproval for poor, large Iraqi households and guilt from being such a snob – I talked to Hussein about it, my Sunni advisor, on confusing Muslim and Arab ways.
“Yes Thompson,” he says amused and sympathetically, “Allah says he will feed your young as he does everything in nature. BUT, God also gave me a brain and a mind to realize I should try not to have more children than I can provide for and send to college and pay attention to. We Sunni don’t have as many children, we are generally more educated,” he said in a very agreeable way. He always emphasizes the virtues of being Sunni.
You see so many children and all and you wonder if they get enough attention! I don’t know if I should feel silly for thinking maybe young Arabs don’t get enough love or affection and come to be emotionally dysfunctional. Maybe that’s a bit too much.
Haider is Kurdish, he speaks positively about his mom and doesn’t seem too deranged. What about the millions of other Iraqis and Arabs?
Back to being in the house looking at the pictures. I dropped the pictures and thought about taking some CD-ROMs to investigate their contents, but it felt wrong to take something from a stranger’s house. I decided I had seen enough, so I left, walking past the living room full of sobbing and worried women and girls and infants. I didn’t look at them at all. The prisoners came out right behind me. The women cried louder seeing their men being led out.
“I need my shoes,” one of them said as a soldier led the blindfolded and zip stripped man to a truck.
“I don’t give a fuck about your shoes,” the soldier replied as he led him past several RPG rounds that lay on the ground. After all the prisoners were put on the back of the truck, I walked over because I noticed one of them whispering to the others very secretively. I tapped him and said, ‘Shhhhhh.’ They could be putting a story together for later or discussing plans should one of them be released.
‘You need to make sure they aren’t talking to each other,’ I told one of the soldiers guarding them.
“It don’t matter corporal, they’re fucked anyways,” he answered.
‘Don’t be so naïve,’ I scolded him. The CIA and our guys finished looking around the grounds, so we all simply left. As we walked down the driveway towards the main road, one of the women sneered at us and clumsily closed the metal gate to the driveway. She loudly latched it shut in a display of anger. Her neighbors peered at us over privacy fences and looked curiously at the prisoners and the woman.
“Mista, we love you! Good mista!” the children and smiling parents said.
‘Good public reaction,’ I thought. I went back to my truck and got some plush doll you sent me for the kids and waved an on looking man over to the truck. He was holding a baby. The man cautiously walked up and the baby smiled and fumbled the doll about. The father smiled and thanked me. One of the CIA guys walked over to me.
“Hold on, we’ve got a lot of candy and stuff too we need to get rid of,” the man said from under his Boston Red Socks cap. He handed some candy over to the father. He was smiling ear to ear as if he won a lottery.
As we drove off, I wondered why we didn’t completely search the house and collect all the CD-ROMs. Moreover, I wondered what would happen to the women and children. Especially the infant. Of course, his father was killing people, while going to his nice, peaceful home after committing these acts. I can’t believe these men felt so threatened by the U.S. Now, I might have some sympathy if we were systematically destroying Iraq – BUT, it’s these people who are making matters worse. Had these men reentered civil society, they would have been OK. Now, they will spend at least 30 years in prison. Leaving families and wives and infants behind. It’s horrible.
Soldiers were everywhere, Kiowa helicopters flew over, and we drove to the local mosque. The ICDC went in and searched the small mud building with scaffolding as a minaret. The imam was friendly. I gave some kids some chewing gum. The imam’s wife hatefully motioned us to go away and covered her primitive looking face while clucking at her kids. These kids looked over at me and smiled, obviously amused to see the woman so upset at what was virtually nothing. She would look at them and tell them to give the candy back. As soon as she looked back at us, the kids chuckled behind her back and smiled at me. One teenage son did as he was told though, as I already anticipated, and collected up all the candy and gave it back to me. What made it worse was when I was tossing the candy to them, the wind caught one pack of Trident gum and hit the woman (not hard) on the back of the head. It was an accident,
but the kids laughed quietly amongst themselves. They knew it was an accident.
“Maybe it’s against their religion to chew bubblegum,” one of the soldiers said, confused that the woman refused the candy.
‘Who knows,’ I answered and gave the neighbor kids the reclaimed goods. They ate it right away. The mosque came up clean, so we went to watch soldiers clear some more buildings. Driving all over the land, I passed out more candy and toys. The kids love it. We stopped so SGM Walker could go in a house with some Apache scouts. A kid appeared on a roof and I waved to him. He waved back. The last time they had seen soldiers was during the open combat of the war. I tossed a Dum Dum sucker to the boy, and the strong wind caught it and rapidly carried it to him. He ran away frightened. A few seconds later, his head popped up again with a big smile with another boy. “Good mista! Good!” they yelled smiling.
A fat woman waddled out near to me to see what was going on. She smiled and said hello. I handed her a box of Band-Aids and soap. She accepted it gladly and smiled. Her older son came out and smiled too and said thank you. He was wearing a Notre Dame sports sweatshirt. It thought that was funny.
All of the sector was searched. No one was really irritated about it. Most everyone thought it was excited to have Americans in their homes. As the operation drew to a close, we all assembled in a field. A nearby home overflowing with children in a yard surrounded by chain link fence was only feet away from me. I got out and gave all the kids some candy. A small group assembled around me. They were cute. They laugh at every little thing you do. I went back to my truck and got some toys for the little girls and teenagers, like combs and all and a snow dome you sent me from Germany. Everyone got something, and they were very grateful for it. I gave the combs and hair ties to the man, respecting culture, he then in turn gave it nervously to the girls. At first he looked irritated because all the women and kids were lining along the fence and not cleaning the yard. He eventually relaxed and smiled. They kept trying to pass me a baby over the fence to hold. It’s an honor to hold another’s baby and a sign of trust. I politely refused because I always keep one hand on my rifle, always. So the boys brought the baby to me. That was cool. He was so tiny, and had a big head, white and warm – only slightly fuzzy with new hair.
“Oh God Thompson, you’re a fuckin’ Iraqi lover,” SGM Walker said. The Apache 1SG (first sergeant) said something I would expect from a redneck about Iraqis and I just ignored him. The baby was so precious though, and his head would bob back and his eyes would meet mine.
‘Hey little man,’ I said patting his little head. He was so precious and fragile, but beautiful. I haven’t seen anything that precious since looking into your eyes for the last time before I left. I love you Spatzi! SGM Walker looked nervously at the baby – big macho man confronted with such tenderness! It was funny! ‘You want a picture holding the baby, Sergeant Major?’ I asked already knowing an artificially coldhearted answer would follow.
“No, I’m no Iraqi lover!” he replied. I laughed and motioned to the boys to go over to Walker with the baby. SGM Walker got all nervous around the baby and tried to maintain his macho posture, but kept stepping away from the baby.
‘Ah, he’s a softy for sure!’ I laughed to myself. One of the sergeants said it would be a good picture with the kids, so I gave him my camera to get a picture taken. I really enjoyed being out there with those people. Especially the kids. I like being the “good American,” but more importantly a good brother to fellow human beings, and a practicing Christian. It does matter, even though I am told a thousand times a day that it doesn’t matter. It matters to me.
As we went home that afternoon, we listened to U2 on the car stereo I installed in the Hummer. It was the first real time since I go to Iraq that I felt a sense of accomplishment. We removed killers, and found undeniable evidence that they were preparing to kill. Innocent people would or could have died, and they have no right, no legitimate reason to execute people on their own whim. They were living nicely, well educated, and obviously living peacefully – there are thousands of people living here in filth that have experienced great loss. They have faith though, they are surviving. Saddam was far more corrupt and abusive than U.S. forces, and no one really challenged him so vigorously. If they did, they would have been tortured and killed. All these prisoners had to endure was walking to the truck on gravel, barefoot.

My Hummer became my hobby, my diversion while I was in Iraq. I jokingly suggested that I should build a car stereo into the Hummer so we wouldn’t have to deal with the sometimes maddening silence of night patrols. Sergeant major agreed and I installed a car stereo with two speakers into the Hummer. It was great. When possible, we would drive around Baghdad listening to rock music during our patrol. It did a lot to calm my nerves and a lot to break that silence – a silence you wait to break into an explosion. The music soothed that fear. I then installed a spot light on the truck, with a toggle switch the sergeant major could control. He also had a writing board and map board build into the dashboard, along with a cup holder made of steel. I learned a lot about wiring, and I learned a lot about mechanics in general just wasting time on that truck.

[1] Graf is the short name of the Grafenwohr Training Area in Germany.
[2] Thank you in Arabic


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