Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


Morale and Welfare

Highlights of my week have been interesting. I have been up since 4:30 again and it is close to midnight now. The battalion has been talking rumors about moving again. So much for being settled. The weather has also changed again. Last week was chilly after the rain storm and this week the temps are already pushing into the 90s. Just in time to celebrate the warmer temperature, we have received threats of coordinated attacks in our area. I am not surprised. The next two weeks are Muslim holy weeks marking another pilgrimage from our town going north. Also the Christian holidays of Palm Sunday and Easter are the same two week period. To celebrate, we have been given the opportunity to wear our chemical gear and gas masks around camp wherever we go. The definition of terrorism is to cause terror, not to necessarily achieve any physical damage, but to achieve psychological damage. Therefore, airing on the cautious side we are now dragging more gear around in 90 degree heat. It's not so bad, except the portapotties are now that much smaller and quite a bit warmer.

In an attempt to increase morale, someone decided to host a salsa night. One of my soldiers tried to talk me into going. I told him I heard about this in Kuwait. A salsa night in a camp like this will turn out to be more like sausage night. There should be a prerequisite number of females attending or it will just be a bunch of guys standing around staring at each other listening to the music. He came to me the next day and told me I was mistaken. So I agreed to go with him again on another night and see for myself.

Today I spent a few hours talking to some of the Iraqis in the marketplace where they do haircuts, sewing, and sell some various creature comforts. At great detail he told me that all the Iraqi people are happy to see the Americans here. Before the war the people were, "very desperate and afraid and poor." He said the children would go to school and sit on the floor with no books and be very discouraged. Saddam and the Ba'ath party would keep most of the money and not give it to the people. He (Saddam) would spend the money on weapons and not the communities. He said our town was not so dirty until the war because they stopped putting money into the cleaning and the community. He said people were scared but they knew what to expect. The police shot people for not following Saddam's way and he controlled many things from the schools to the hospitals. My new friend lost both of his parents because of poor medical care. His doctor did not know how to treat a stroke victim or a heart condition (blocked artery).

He said things have changed and the people are happy to have the Americans here. The kids have desks, books, blackboards. Things are being rebuilt. He says some people do not understand; they see the American gas trucks coming into the camps and wonder why they have to go without power or heat. He says they don't understand that although Iraq has oil they still need to make it useful (refine). He says the problem with Iraqis right now is they have so many beliefs and political parties that nothing can be done. Muslims, Christians, Sunni, Shi'a, the different tribes, they all want their way. The Iraqi people need unity.

I told him America is like this, with many beliefs and parties and states. He said yes, all the Americans he meets are very kind, sympathetic, and good people. I did agree that it took time for America to become unified as well. We declared independence in 1776 but we were not really unified until after our civil war in 1865. He said yes, many people wish the Americans to leave but he feels there will be civil war. He continued to explain how the Iraqi people were good people and welcome these freedoms, but they are scared of the changes and not used to having this freedom. He said the real problem is that the Syrians, Jordanians, and Iranians think they need to free the Iraqi people from the Americans, when in fact they are hurting things. They are the ones with suicide bombs, attacks, and doing things to make Iraqis fight other Iraqis.

I told him it was hard for us to understand how to react in the town, since we have always trained to fight aggressively. Once we relaxed a little and looked around more, we noticed that the people here are nice and grateful. I also spoke with his boss who told me about his son and how much the American army has impressed him. I gave him a toy to bring home to his son. I think this war will take time, but we will have to win it through the generations starting with the kids.

The adults however, we have a different mission. We have been training the Iraqi Army, National Guard, police, and border patrol. One of the problems is non-Iraqis are smuggling weapons and attackers across the borders. One way to help the people here is to stop the combatants from entering the country. We have been sending these groups to various training camps. Coordinating transportation has been a difficult chore. Ground transport for Iraqi trainees is difficult, since a few classes received a bullet in the head after being hijacked on graduation day. So air transport is requested. As usual things get delayed for weather or to prevent conflicts in airspace. The trainees we were working with one day had graduated and were waiting transport home. The transportation was hours late. They became upset and argued with the translator. We asked what was going on and it was explained they were upset and missing their families. My boss told them, "We are here to train you so that you can run your own country without our help. You all volunteered to come here and train for your country. It has only been a few days since you have seen your families, but now you know how all the American soldiers feel and most of them will be away from thier families for more than a year." They all sat quietly after that and were very proud to leave when the transportation came and eagerly shook our hands goodbye.

Today was exeptionally exciting for me. One of my jobs is to keep the vehicles running and work with the maintenance shop. I stopped by in the morning after talking to my new friend. The maintenance shop told me they had all the parts in and we were trying to decide when a good day would be to work on our vehicles. We agreed on a few options and I went to pitch the idea to my boss. We agreed on taking tomorrow morning off, got permission from higher, and when the vehicles returned from patrol we were going to send them for maintenance. So I ran around and set everything up with all my gear on. Then a call came in and my commander had to go out on a short notice patrol. I had to run across the camp with all my crap and get to the mechanics before they took the vehicles apart, get the crews in their gear, and complete the passes. After all the running around I sent the patrol on their way and a call came over the radio that another class of Iraqi trainees were here. I had to run back across the camp and make arrangements for somewhere for them to stay until my commander returned and ended up seeing them off about an hour ago. I almost missed dinner again and then I had to get the guys and brief the training plans for the next couple of days.

Lent is almost over. I think I still have much more to give and give up in the months to come.

Here are a couple more pictures of my adventures this week.

posted by Scott | 00:49 Baghdad time | © 3.21.2005
Comments (1) | | permalink | main | email this

Feedback from readers: 1

Since you haven't seen a comment in a while, I just wanted you to know that "someone out there" stops by almost every day to make sure you're ok. Thanks, in particular today, for the interesting insight into the hopeful Iraqi. Their patience is to be respected, as are their ultimate choices. I am glad that our government is not trying to arrange the outcome of the negotiations. At least they claim they are not. Hang in and stay safe.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 21/3/05 14:51  

Post a Comment